Few teams have experienced the highs and lows as dramatically, over the years, as North London’s Tottenham Hotspur. They’re a team that have regularly bounced around all the positions in the top division like the ball they play with: sometimes having brilliant years and sometimes having awful years but consistently being a threat to any team and a name that brings with it a notable history.
Over the years they have always prided themselves with attracting top-class English, and more recently world players. Alongside their close neighbours, arch enemy Arsenal and their West London rivals Chelsea, they have been a dominant force in London’s club football. They were the first English club to win the ‘double’ and the first to win a cup in European competition. Like them or loath them, Gazza and Lineker saw something in them. That must say something.
What we all know as Tottenham Hotspur began in 1882 when the grammar school boys from a bible class at All Hallows Church in north London, had a pair of teams in different sports called Hotspur Football Club and Hotspur Cricket Club. The word Hotspur is thought to have come from a man who lived in the area around the 14th Century, nicknamed Sir Harry Hotspur. The name Tottenham Hotspur came about that year and the boys turned pro in 1895. They copied Preston North End’s white and navy colours, in the hope that they could repeat their success, and they were allowed to join the Southern League that year.
Before they found a suitable site to set up shop, Spurs drifted around North London until in 1899 they settled on the spot on Tottenham High Road, which later became called White Hart Lane. They were owned by Charles Roberts, a local entrepreneur who ended up being the chairman at Spurs for the next 45 years.
Tottenham were one of many southern clubs to benefit from the controversial shake-up in the laws of the game, which involved the unionisation of players in the north of England. A couple of big names came to the new and hopeful Spurs in the form of the two Johns (Cameron and Bell) both from Everton. With the Johns at the helm, Tottenham won their non-league Southern League and then unbelievably the FA Cup in 1901, something never done before by a non-league team.
Their reward was a season with the big boys in the Second Division. They finished second and won promotion to join the cream of the crop at the top in the First Division. However, things then weren’t quite so hot for Hotspur and in the ten years before war broke out, you would have found Tottenham sitting at the bottom of the league.
After the war the highest high came in 1921 when they won the FA Cup again but then the lowest low came in the 1920s too when they were relegated back to the Second Division. They were to remain there for a while, ironically along with a number of other clubs that would later go on to be giants of the game such as Man United and Liverpool. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 you’d have found Spurs mid-table in the Second Division.
Push and Run
"Push and Run" was a term coined by the staff at Spurs who, after the war, sat down and draw up plans to improve the team’s tactical performances on the pitch. The man who led this was master-tactician Arthur Rowe, who came to White Hart Lane in 1949 and would develop this style. A quick pace, a fluid movement of the ball forward, this tactic quickly paid off and up Spurs went to the First Division again and then beyond that, in 1951, they won their first ever top-league title. The boys on the pitch were quickly making a name for themselves and none more so than Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson, the latter becoming a crucial part of the swinging sixties for Spurs.
A Double Nicholson please
As a player Bill Nicholson was brilliant. As a manager he was amazing. Never has a club manager made more of an impression on taking over a club as Nicholson did in Oct 1958 when they beat Everton with a record-breaking 10-4 win. Then came the famous ‘double’ in 1961, when he led them to victory in the FA Cup and the First Division title for the first time in English history. Success continued for him and for famous names such as Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay and Danny Blanchflower throughout the early sixties. Then the success started to dwindle and Nicholson had to draft in some replacement players.
Terry Venables, Mike England, Alan Mullery and Joe Kinnear were but a few of the new faces at White Hart Lane. They all helped Spurs get back on top and in 1967 they won the FA Cup again and came third in the First Division. They kept their chins up into the seventies and Nicholson remained as trusty as ever. They won the League Cup in ’71 and ’73 and then the UEFA Cup in ’72. However, things went wrong for Tottenham and the fans could be said to be the reason. There was rioting on the streets of Rotterdam in the UEFA cup final and as a result of this, the man who had been loyal to the club for just over 15 years, stepped down as boss having notched his beloved Tottenham 8 pieces of silverware. Nicholson’s recommendation to the board and chairman for his replacement were ignored and instead they appointed Terry Neill in 1974. Relegation loomed for the ageing and deflated Spurs, the fans called for a new leader and in 1976 they got Keith Burkinshaw.
Subsequently a massive hole was created in the Spurs side when their ace in goal, Pat Jennings, was sold to their biggest rivals Arsenal, stoking fires that didn’t need stoking and eventually resulting in relegation and a period when Burkinshaw seemed to be relying on his finger nails. Finally Ray Clemence from Liverpool donned the number 1 shirt and gloves for Spurs and in 1978 they won promotion back to the First Division. Then came a shocker. Burkinshaw brought a pair of young Argentineans to north London called Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, said another London boy, Charles Dickens, and he could have easily been talking about Tottenham. They had always played with flair but that didn’t always bring results. During the 1980s though, Spurs would field some of their best players and they hoped it would bring the best of times.
When Tottenham looked Hot-stuff
Tottenham always had potential but not since Bill Nicholson had they delivered the goods. Liverpool would take some beating but Spurs looked as if they finally had some major clout. Players like Crooks, Archibald, Hoddle and Ardiles took them to FA Cup wins in 1980 and the year after, and to victory in the UEFA Cup in 1984. They had managed to bag three pieces of silverware in four seasons and under Burkinshaw had a leader who had made them a major force to be reckoned with, but the run would end when their big brother announced he was off in 1984.
Peter Shreeves was the new manager, but financial problems at White Hart Lane would mean there was only so much he could do to help the club. Their luck turned when they appointed a new manager fresh from Luton Town, David Pleat, and a potent midfield of eighties throw-backs, Waddle and Hoddle, provided the necessary sticking factor in cup wins, although Liverpool and Arsenal stood above them in the league. Pleat brought such high hopes but they were never delivered. Typical Tottenham.
Then came Tez. That’s Terry Venables. He was Tottenham through and through and loved the club as much as the fans. He also had a few quid of his own to invest. Could he make Spurs everything they had always wanted to be? He started off well by bringing two of the best English players in history to the team: first of all Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne from his home club Newcastle Utd in 1988 for a record fee at the time of £2.3 million and then Gary Linekar in 1989 from Barcelona. This didn’t mean things were suddenly rosy at White Hart Lane but hopefully things would improve soon. The major problem at Spurs was with money: they just didn’t have any.
Local entrepreneur Alan Sugar bought the club in 1990 and tried to sort out their debts. They were forced to sell Gazza to Italian club Lazio for £6.5 million but that would just be the start. Venables, who had some of his own cash now in the club, moved to the back-room and, when they ended in the disappointing middle area of the table, Sugar called for Terry’s departure and replaced him with another old player Ossie Ardiles.
Ardiles brought in some big names to Spurs. The Famous Five were Sheringham, Klinsmann, Barmby, Amderton and Dumitrescu. Some were more prosperous than others. Man United were dominating the domestic league and cups and no one else really stood a chance. Ardiles was the next to get the chop after a dirty scandal involving illegal player payments, which would have brought more financial problems had it not been for Sugar’s shrewd power of persuasion.
The new boss was Gerry Francis but he couldn’t deliver the goods either, and continual bad form in the league and failure to gain money from European qualification, meant their star striker, Teddy Sheringham, had to go to United for a bargain price of £3.5 million. Francis was told to pack his bags.
The next man to take the poisoned chalice was the Swiss, Christian Gross, but he too struggled, even when Klinsmann came back on loan in 1997 for a season from Sampdoria to score nine vitally needed goals in 15 games. Gross went. George Graham then tried to bring some temper to Tottenham but the curse of being an ex-Arsenal manager brought with it poor results and off he went. Some hope for the Lilywhites came in the form of Frenchman David Ginola, who lit up the Premiership with his technique, skill and good-looks, but he would prove a perfect encapsulation of Tottenham’s problems: all flair and no results. In 2000, Alan Sugar finally realised things weren’t ever going to get better so he fired himself.
The next man to take over was another ex-player Glenn Hoddle, and his hopes lay in the signing of the goal-machine Robbie Keane from Leeds, when they sold everything but the kitchen sink in 2003. Keane worked out well but Hoddle didn’t. He wasn’t liked by the players, fans or board and he had to pack his bags.
Some Dutch courage finally
After an awful decade of instability for Spurs, they finally found some hope with Dutch coach Martin Jol. He was boosted from assistant coach to manager in 2004 and was the first boss the fans took a shine to in years. His ordered and calm style brought Spurs out of the mid-table doldrums and into the top 6 for the first time in years. They finished 5th in 2005, qualified for Europe with Jol’s smart eye for scouting overseas players, and brought in top quality men at affordable prices with the likes of Berbatov, Chimbonda and Malbranque. Although they would suffer with players getting injured left right and centre, finally Tottenham was a place that players seriously considered moving to, and their European success restored their confidence.
However, things would go down-hill again for Spurs, when in Oct 2007, following an appalling start to the 2007/08 season, which many thought would be their best for many years, Martin Jol was sacked by the board and Juande Ramos came in to replace him with another ex player Gus Poyet as his assistant.
Tottenham will always be a big club in England but they will always fail to justify fully to their fans why they haven’t achieved their potential. They’re a team that play with flair and style and have the classic English mentality of it not being about the winning, but the manner in which you play. With players such as Gazza, Waddle, Ginola and now Berbatov, they have favoured style over substance.
They will always be a force to be reckoned with though, and will always possess enough history to be a promising venture for any investor. With the right combination of manager, money and players they could one day repeat success similar to that found in west London at Chelsea. Something makes you think they might not though.
- FA Cup
1901, 1921, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1991
- Football League Cup
970-71, 1972-73, 1998-99
- FA Community Shield
1920-21, 1951-52, 1961-62, 1962-63, 1967-68, 1981-82, 1991-92
- Football League First Division / Premier League
1921-22, 1951-52, 1956-57, 1962-63
- Football League Second Division
- Southern League
- Western League
- Football League North and South
- UEFA Cup 2
- European Cup Winners’ Cup
- Anglo-Italian League Cup