Tottenham Hotspur’s best teams?

FOOTBALL folklore used to say that when there was a 1 at the end of a year, Tottenham Hotspur would always win a trophy. Well, we’ve had 2011 and 2021 and the Spurs haven’t won anything since 2008. But way back in time, Spurs were triumphant in 1901, 1921, 1951, 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991. Here’s a selection of the best teams to come from the white side of north London.

1901

George Clawley, Harry Erentz, Sandy Tait, Tom Morris, Jack Jones, Tom Smith, John Cameron, Sandy Brown, Davie Copeland, Jack Kirwan, Ted Hughes.

Manager: John Cameron (player-manager)

Achievement: Southern League champions 1899-00; FA Cup winners 1900-01

Key men: Sandy Brown, Scottish forward who won a single cap for his country. A prolific goalscorer, he was nicknamed “the Glenbuck goalgetter” and scored 64 goals in 84 games for Spurs before leaving in 1902; Sandy Tait, full back who played over 200 games for Spurs. He possessed an excellent football brain and positional sense. Nicknamed “terrible Tait” owing to his ferocious tackling; John Cameron, Glasgow-born forward who played once for Scotland. Joined from Everton and was later an accomplished journalist. He worked in Germany and was interned during the first world war in Germany.

Perception: A skilful Southern League team that shocked Sheffield United in the FA Cup final of 1901.

1951

Ted Ditchburn, Alf Ramsey, Arthur Willis, Bill Nicholson, Harry Clarke, Ronnie Burgess, Sonny Walters, Peter Murphy, Alex Wright, Len Duquemin, Eddie Baily, Les Medley, Les Bennett.

Manager: Arthur Rowe

Achievement: Second Division champions 1949-50; Football League champions 1950-51

Key men: Ted Ditchburn, brave and muscular goalkeeper who won six caps for England. He was responsible for the goalkeeper’s “short throw” which proved instrumental in Spurs’ success of 1951; Ronnie Burgess, Welsh international half-back (32 caps) and skipper of Spurs. Spent 15 years with the club; Alf Ramsey, better known for leading England to the World Cup in 1966, but also won 32 caps for his country. A full back, many felt he was too slow but he had an intelligent grasp on tactics; Sonny Walters, leading scorer in the title-winning year, a fast winger who not only scored frequently, but also created plenty of goals for his team-mates.

Perception: The famed “push and run” side of Arthur Rowe that introduced an innovative style that made full use of laying the ball off to a team-mate and then running into space. Much copied in the 1950s.

1960-1963

Bill Brown, Peter Baker, Ron Henry, Danny Blanchflower, Maurice Norman, Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones, Les Allen, Bobby Smith, John White, Terry Medwin, Terry Dyson, Tony Marchi, Jimmy Greaves.

Manager: Bill Nicholson

Achievement: Football League champions 1960-61; FA Cup winners 1960-61, 1961-62; European Cup-Winners’ Cup winners 1962-63.

Key men: Danny Blanchflower, whimsical and skilful Irishman who was signed from Aston Villa for £ 30,000. A sublime passer of the ball, he was named Footballer of the Year in 1958 and 1961. Won 56 caps for Northern Ireland and captained Spurs to four trophies; Dave Mackay, ranked by Bill Nicholson as the best signing he made in football when Spurs paid £ 32,000 to Hearts for the imposing half back. A brave player who suffered some cruel injuries, he was powerful and determined and an inspiration to his team-mates. Left Spurs to enjoy an Indian summer under Brian Clough at Derby; John White, a talented inside forward who sadly died at 27, struck by lightning on a golf course. Signed from Falkirk for £ 22,000 he won 22 caps for Scotland; Jimmy Greaves, one of the greatest goalscorers in football history. Joined Spurs in December 1961 from AC Milan after he had joined the Italian club from Chelsea. Won 57 caps for England, scoring 44 goals, but famously missed the 1966 World Cup final.

Perception: One of English football’s greatest teams, combining skill, fitness and guile. Bill Nicholson’s first notable Spurs side.

1970-1972

Pat Jennings, Joe Kinnear, Cyril Knowles, Alan Mullery, Mike England, Phil Beal, John Pratt, Alan Gilzean, Steve Perryman, Martin Chivers, Martin Peters, Roger Morgan, Jimmy Neighbour, Ralph Coates.

Manager: Bill Nicholson

Achievement: Football League Cup winners 1970-71 and 1972-73; UEFA Cup winners 1971-72.

Key men: Pat Jennings, with huge hands, he was the ideal goalkeeper and marvellously consistent. Joined Spurs from Watford in 1964 and played almost 600 games for the club before joining Arsenal. Won 119 caps for Northern Ireland and in total, kept goal for over 1,000 games; Alan Mullery, a deep-lying midfielder who joined Spurs from Fulham in 1964. Became a regular England player in the post-1966 years, winning 35 caps but was the first England international to be sent off; Martin Chivers, joined from Southampton for £ 125,000 in January 1968. Took time to settle, but between 1970 and 1973, he was one of the top forwards in Europe. Won 24 caps for England, scoring 13 goals.

2018-19

Hugo Lloris, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Lucas Moura, Fernando Llorente.

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

Achievement: UEFA Champions League finalists 2018-19

Key men: Harry Kane, England captain and centre forward who has scored well over 200 goals for Spurs and 41 in 65 appearances for his country (October 2021). A strong, forceful striker who is good in the air and powerful in front of goal; Son-Heung Min, South Korean international (and captain) with more than 90 caps, joined Spurs in 2015 from Bayer Leverkusen for £ 22 million. A fast, skilful forward who is a popular figure with the Spurs crowd. Ranked one of the top three Asian players of all time. Dele Alli, who was considered one of the best midfielders of his generation early in his career. Since 2019, his career has stalled, perhaps affected by the overall decline of the Spurs team. Has won 37 caps for England.

Perception: A team of nearly men who could have achieved more, but failed at the final hurdle.

These are just five of many Tottenham teams and the list is by no means definitive. Others, such as the cup-winning teams of the 1980s and the 1987 FA Cup runners-up have given fans plenty to cheer about, but never scaled the heights of the 1961 double winners or even the 2019 Champions League finalists. Doubtless, there will be more great Spurs teams to come.

UEFA and the finals they probably hoped for

THERE were plenty of chin-stroking sceptics and prophets of doom predicting the devaluation of European club football when the UEFA Conference League was created. Most questioned why UEFA was introducing another competition when they had done their best to compromise their original franchise. However, with Roma (European Cup finalists 1984) and Feyenoord (European Cup winners 1970) meeting in the final in a few weeks, the governing body has a very decent game to launch the first final. In fact, wind the clock back 30 or 40 years, and this would have made a good UEFA Cup final or even a compelling European Cup final.

One thing has become clear this season is the role the Europa and Conference Leagues can play in providing genuine excitement and expectation outside of the elite group of clubs that usually compete in the Champions League’s latter stages. For a long time, there seems to have been no place for clubs who are not quite big or grand enough to rub shoulders with teams like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on a regular basis. The season’s aspiration for a lot of clubs has become “Champions League or bust”, but in truth, this has been so vital because of the financial benefits, somewhere down the line, the idea of “glory” seems to have been mislaid.

When the UEFA Cup was at its peak, it was a very absorbing competition that was often very powerful and consisted of teams that had often gone close to being domestic champions. It was an important second competition in UEFA’s portfolio. The dear old UEFA Cup was weakened by the over-expansion of the European Cup as it morphed into the Champions League, while the diminishing status of domestic cup competitions meant the old Cup-Winners’ Cup often had a very weak field. The Conference League has, arguably, made the Europa stronger and also introduced another layer to create more winners, or at least, more clubs enjoying prolonged runs in Europe. For once, UEFA may have got it right, judging by the excitement that we’ve seen in both the Europa and Conference Leagues. It could be UEFA have finally realised that the greed-orientated growth of the Champions League did more damage than good to the bigger picture.

Looking at the three competitions, the final line-up is really quite appetising: Liverpool versus Real Madrid in the Champions League; Eintracht Frankfurt versus Rangers in the Europa; and Roma-Feyenoord in the Conference. The passion of the crowds at West Ham, Frankfurt and Rangers underlined just how engaged people were in the prospect of a European final. Nobody was taking these games lightly.

As for the Champions League, UEFA could not have wished for more: the club that has been related to the competition since the concept’s inception, Real Madrid, against the English club with the best record. England versus Spain, as opposed to an all-England final that nobody outside Liverpool and Manchester really wanted. What’s more, the game is now in Paris, the birthplace of the European Cup, rather than St. Petersburg.

UEFA may have realised that over-expansion of the Champions League did more harm than good to the governing body’s competition portfolio.

If there are two clubs that can bring out their best form when all around might not be rosy, it is Real Madrid and Liverpool. Real are La Liga champions, but nobody appears totally convinced about their current side. Real Madrid have already lost four games on their way to the final, including one leg in each of the knockout rounds. Only three teams have lost more games, Bayer Leverkusen and Juventus (2002) and AC Milan (2003) all defeated five times en route to the competition’s climax.

Liverpool, of course, are fighting on all fronts and the pursuit of the “quadruple” has become the new narrative just as the “treble” was in 1977. It’s fascinating to see how some segments of the media have changed their tune about one team winning everything, suggesting only a year ago that Manchester City sweeping-up would be a bad thing, while the nation should now get behind Liverpool because they are a fine outfit. That may be true, but Monopolies are boring, and nobody apart from the Reds of Anfield will be hoping Jürgen Klopp’s team pull-off an unprecedented haul of trophies in 2021-22.

UEFA will no doubt benefit from a showcase final involving two of the best supported clubs in world football. From a commercial perspective, Real and Liverpool will surely generate more income and media interest than an all-Premier tie or an all-Spanish final. The other aspect is the monotony of another Liverpool-Manchester City clash this season. This will be the sixth England versus Spain final and only once (1981, Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0) has the result gone in England’s favour. The others include two Manchester United-Barcelona setbacks (2009 and 2011), Barca beating Arsenal (2006) and Real overcoming Liverpool in 2018.

In the past decade, there have been 11 different finalists in the Champions League, but only one new winner (Chelsea in 2012). Interestingly, of the so-called “new money” clubs, the Londoners are so far the only winners of the competition – Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are still toiling away, invariably going out in dramatic circumstances each year as evidenced in PSG and City’s capitulations at the hands of Real Madrid. Furthermore, while Real have won the Champions League four times in the past 10 years, Barcelona, their rivals, have not lifted the big prize more than once, in 2015. Pep Guardiola, the man hired to make his employer – at Bayern and Manchester City – champions of Europe, has not won the trophy since 2011.

It’s clear that both Real Madrid and Liverpool know how to expertly handle the complexities of the Champions League and seem to have an extra quality that enables them to negotiate the competition at a crucial stage. Conversely, PSG and City seem to be unable to keep their nerve when it matters. At some stage, both may win the Champions League, but they will surely have to make sure they don’t come up against wily campaigners like this year’s finalists.