Catching up with...Steffen Freund
06 January 2018|Tottenham Hotspur
Our FA Cup draw against AFC Wimbledon raised a smile in Germany.
No wonder - it rekindled happy and often bruising memories for our popular former midfielder and Hall of Famer Steffen Freund, who played the club formerly known as Wimbledon, or the 'Crazy Gang', five times in his first eight matches for Spurs almost 20 years ago.
Bundesliga and Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, Euro 96 winner with Germany, Steffen joined us in January, 1999. He made his debut at Sheffield Wednesday on January 9 and a week later, faced the Dons in the Premier League at the Lane. On January 23 we drew 1-1 in the fourth round of the FA Cup, followed by a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final on January 27. We won the FA Cup replay 3-0 back at the Lane on February 2 and a fortnight later, wonderful scenes at Wimbledon’s ‘home’ of Selhurst Park, where Steffen Iversen’s late goal clinched a place at Wembley. Of course, we went on to lift the trophy against Leicester City.
"Talk about 'welcome to English football!'" said Steffen this week. “For the first six weeks at Spurs I was living out of the Swallow (Marriott) Hotel on the M25 at Waltham Abbey. We would play against Wimbledon, I’d come back around the motorway, get to the hotel and go straight to the Jacuzzi and relax - I’d be in pieces!”
Below: Steffen in action at the Lane
Managed by Spurs legend Joe Kinnear, Wimbledon were regarded as one of the toughest, most physically testing opponents in the Premier League of that era. They finished in the top 10 in 1994, 1995 and 1997 with the likes of Robbie Earle, Carl Cort, Michael Hughes, John Hartson, Neal Ardley - now manager of AFC Wimbledon - Marcus Gayle, Jason Euell, Efan Ekoku and three players who would soon join Steffen at Spurs - Neil Sullivan, Chris Perry and Ben Thatcher.
“I can remember when I signed, the team had already qualified for the semi-final of the League Cup and that draw was against Wimbledon,” reflected Steffen, now a pundit across numerous channels in Germany.
“I must admit, at that time, coming from Germany, I knew the name of Wimbledon more for tennis! Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, a nice area to live, a German school there - that’s what I heard. Of course, I found out quickly what a good side Wimbledon were, really strong and to play against them especially at Selhurst Park, was really tough."
It might have been a bruising introduction to life in the Premier League but the fifth and final match of this series against Wimbledon provided one of the highlights of Steffen’s four-year playing career at the Club - the League Cup semi-final, second leg.
The teams played out a goalless draw in the first leg at the Lane and our first cup final appearance for eight years was in the balance at Selhurst Park on February 16, 1999.
As expected, it was another close, physical encounter, tackles flying in on a heavy pitch and a night lit up by a wonderful Steffen Iversen goal after 39 minutes, a dipper over Sullivan from the edge of the box to clinch the aggregate 1-0 win and a place at Wembley.
Below: Goal hero Steffen Iversen lifted by jubilant fans after our League Cup semi-final win in 1999
Typical of these matches, it was almost so different as Earle hit a rasper that stuck the top of the crossbar in the 93rd minute. We held on and our travelling fans flooded onto the pitch in jubilation on the final whistle, lifting hero Iversen on their shoulders and chair-lifting him back to the tunnel. Of course, we went on to win the final against Leicester City.
“What an opportunity - a great chance for the team to get to a cup final and for myself, a cup final at Wembley after just a few games at Spurs, a dream,” added Steffen.
“To go on and win the League Cup is something I’ll never forget. Happy times. And I’ll never forget those games against Wimbledon. They were so difficult to beat - but I was unbeaten against them!”
Look out for the full interview with Steffen in Sunday's official matchday programme...
PICK UP YOUR MATCHDAY PROGRAMME ON SUNDAY!
Juan Foyth is front and centre on Sunday's official matchday programme for the visit of AFC Wimbledon. The issue includes:
- Cover star Foyth speaks in our main feature interview
- Mauricio Pochettino’s exclusive programme column
- Rare interview with Joe Kinnear, recalling his time at Spurs and Wimbledon
- Steffen Freund recalls a flurry of games against the Dons when he first signed for us
- Road to Russia: Harry Winks on watching the World Cup at school
- 100 Club: Alan Gilzean's century of Spurs goals
- Wembley Memories with legendary former winger Cliff Jones
- Ex-Spur John Scales on 1988 FA Cup glory with Wimbledon
All this and more is in Sunday's programme – buy yours from one of several points around Wembley Stadium, still £3.50 for 100 pages. Alternatively, buy individual issues online here or subscribe for the season here.