Sweet FA

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The first season I started supporting Spurs, 1966/7, we won the FA Cup, beating Chelsea 2 – 1. In the 47 years since then, we’ve been largely thought of as a cup team, rarely threatening, until relatively recently, to challenge for one of the top three or four places in the Premier League, or its predecessor, the old 1st Division, apart from, if memory serves correctly, a 3rd place finish under Keith Burkinshaw in the early 80s.

Keith’s ill-advised decision to usher goalkeeper Pat Jennings – a stalwart of that 66/7 cup-winning side and our best keeper ever by a mile – prematurely out the door probably cost us a genuine crack at the title at the time. Despite fashioning a side with much attacking threat – strikers Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald, backed up by the Hoddle, Ardiles, Villa, Perryman (or Yorath) midfield and some quality defenders such as Chris Hughton and Graham Roberts – we suffered from, never, in that period, having a goalkeeper that came anywhere close to the athleticism, resourcefulness, reliability and consistency that Pat had showed throughout his time with us and went on to demonstrate for Arsenal (of all clubs!!) and Northern Ireland for some years afterwards. I wonder how many younger Spurs fans will have heard of the likes of Barry Daines, Mark Kendall, Milija Alexsic and Tony Parks. The last –named might ring some bells, as he famously saved a crucial penalty in a shoot-out to win us the UEFA Cup in 1984 and he’s been a goalkeeping coach at the club but I doubt that the others will strike a chord – and with good reason.

Strangely, when the subject of Arsenal in the FA Cup comes up, it’s one of Pat’s few mistakes that come to mind, and one that Spurs fans will certainly forgive him for, given that he was in Arsenal’s goal at the time and his failure to smother a rather tame Garth Crooks shot won us the game at the Lane. And David Seaman didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the 1991 semi-final when Gary Lineker’s only shot ever from outside the box went in off his palms to add to Gazza’s long-range cracker. Gazza, of course, went on to self-destruct with a ludicrous tackle on Forest’s Walker in the final, though that did not stop us ending Brian Clough’s dream of a first FA Cup win, courtesy of Paul Stewart’s winning goal.

That was Spurs’ 8th FA Cup win, the most of any club at the time. In the two decades and more since then, however, while we’ve flattered to deceive on a few occasions, our best cup runs have ended in abject semi-final performances: 1-4 against Everton in 1995; 0-2 against Portsmouth in 2010; 1-5 against Chelsea in 2012. And while we’ve ended up with sweet FA, both this Saturday’s opponents and Man. Utd. have raced away from us in the FA Cup league table (if you get my meaning).

We all know, of course, that the FA Cup has been devalued since the inception of the Premier League, with many managers often fielding weakened sides, arguing that their prime motivation for the season, and what they’ll be judged on by fans, owners and directors alike at the end of the season, is not whether they have something to put in their trophy cabinet but whether they’ve retained their Premier League status. It’s a shame, and it would be interesting to see what Wigan fans might say when looking back on last season’s heroics against Man. City a few years on from now.

If I’m honest, I think I’d choose that New Year’s Day league win at Old Trafford over a win at the Emirates on Saturday if I had to. We’ve got plenty of cups in our trophy cabinets already but precious few league titles. The point is, I don’t see why I should have to choose. Winning should breed confidence ( though that hasn’t always been the case with us). And it is the old Arse-enema we’re talking about here. Wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, we could turn in a performance that has Wenger kicking his water bottles around like a spoilt child. Victory there would be sweet indeed – whether or not we end up with FA at the season’s end Come on you Spurs.

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