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TALKING SHOP - City Memories

Posted on 3 January 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

David Pleat takes a reflective look at the challenge presented by our FA Cup third round opponents Coventry...

COVENTRY CITY HAVE always been a club that has enjoyed a pleasant association with Tottenham Hotspur - even though we were the victims in their only FA Cup final triumph ever in 1987.

They stretched us into extra-time and Gary Mabbutt's own goal proved to be decisive in the 3-2 defeat for us.

Sadly the referee that day, Neil Midgely, is no longer with us. I always used to say to Neil that had he sent off the giant centre-half Brian Kilkline for a horrendous tackle in the centre of midfield, and reduced Coventry to ten men, it could been the break we needed.

We were a tiring team; Richard Gough and Mabbutt were carrying injuries, but somehow kept going. They were really struggling, it had been a long season, and it was only with two league games to go that we finally conceded that the highest we could finish was third in the old Division One.

The Cup final will always be remembered as the game that Tottenham players were incorrectly accused in some quarters of a pact not to wear our sponsor's shirts.

Very few of the 100,000 people spotted this, but Mike Rollo, the commercial manager at the time, did. He will always be reminded of the famous story of him attempting to reach the dressing room at half-time.

He showed his pass saying 'Commercial Manager', but the not-for-budging Wembley steward followed his directives to the letter and did not allow him past the gate. Nobody else informed the team during the break because, quite simply, nobody noticed it.

In the excitement of the game and the fine football being played, concentration was on the ball and nothing else. After sadly losing the game 3-2, a board meeting was hastily arranged to discover how the shirt mishap occurred. Some 24 hours later I accompanied the chairman to a meeting with Holsten where the evidence provided helped to explain the reasons for this mistake which gained some massive commercial publicity.

It will certainly make for a wonderful chapter eventually - when it comes to writing my book!

Tottenham played some great football on that May day but tired as they might have been Coventry refused to buckle. Many people will remember Keith Houchen's superb headed goal as well as Mabbutt's ill-fortune in extra-time.

Only a few months later Tottenham opened the season with a trip to Highfield Road and both sets of supporters warmly chanted 'there's only one Gary Mabbutt'. We lost that game 4-3.

At present Coventry are going through a tricky period, plans for a new stadium are on ice, they have a well-publicised debt, a new management team in place consisting of Roland Nilsson and Richard Money, while chairman Bryan Richardson has come under fire for his association with the Phoenix League idea.

I'm sure Coventry will pull through. Since the days of Jimmy Hill as manager they have organised themselves in a very professional manner. They were of course among the longest survivors in the top flight - along with Arsenal and Everton - before dropping out at the end of last season.

Now the bubble has burst and the sales of John Hartson, Craig Bellamy and Mustafa Hadji have helped redress the balance on transfer trading. It is a stark warning to all clubs that think they can live above their means. They can for so long, but eventually they have to face the reality.

Saturday's game will be, for sure, one of the closest cup ties and home advantage will give Coventry some confidence to take the game to Tottenham.

I have seen Coventry on several occasions this season and have been impressed by the shrewd signing of the little Moroccan midfielder Youssef Safri. He is a holding midfield player in who Tottenham supporters will see shades of Ardiles in the way he sees early passes and moves the ball.

The other big signing, Lee Hughes from West Bromwich Albion, has so far found goalscoring a little bit more difficult with new colleagues and, surprisingly, fellow new boy Julian Joachim has not started regularly.

Not many people know this, but I managed both these players for brief periods. Hughes came to Sheffield Wednesday on the recommendation of his Kidderminster Harriors manager, Graham Allner, after scoring goals frequently in the Conference.

Wednesday was the third or fourth club he attended for a trial period and after only three days he suffered from hamstring trouble, which prevented him, staying more than seven days and showing his abilities. The following Monday he was back doing his job as a roofer and playing for Kidderminster.

The rest, of course, is history. His local club West Brom recruited him and he was afforded cult status by the Hawthorns crowd with his goalscoring exploits.

Joachim I signed as a young boy from the Boston area for Leicester City. He had terrific power and pace despite his small frame - he used to race past players at youth level to score with his outstanding pace.

When he became a senior player he found the equalisation of physical attributes more difficult to contend with, but has still enjoyed an outstanding career and he will always pick up goals. What Julian desperately needs in any team is a regular place - he thrives on goals and will get behind defenders with his anticipation.

Coventry have been attracting over 20,000 and there will be a good atmosphere at Highfield Road this weekend. Glenn will emphasise the importance of not underestimating any opposition. Fortunately, because Coventry were a Premiership side last year, we know this isn't a giant-killing scenario - we are well aware of the abilities of the team we are playing.

We would probably be more vulnerable playing a team lower down who we know less about and who, if taken too lightly, are capable of producing a shock.

The year might not end in one, but that is no reason to doubt that we have as good an opportunity as anyone of getting to a Cup final. Usually, the finalists come from the top half of the leading division at the turn of the year. We already know that Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds are engaged in European competition and will be fighting out the championship to the last kick.

The Premiership door is open for European qualification, while we do not know at this stage if we are going to beat Chelsea over two legs and good enough to win a final. The other door to the playing fields of Europe opens this Saturday.