Michael Walker: Spurs daring to dream of FA Cup glory
Club history in magical tournament may weigh heavy but confidence oozing from side
Tottenham Hotspur captain Danny Blanchflower holds the FA Cup aloft after his side’s 2-0 victory over Leicester City in the 1961 FA Cup final at Wembley. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images
At the end they were made to stand in line and listen to God Save The Queen. It makes for remarkable viewing.
Tottenham Hotspur had just won the 1961 FA Cup final at Wembley. With five minutes to go, and Tottenham leading 2-0, commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme informed viewers that there were “300 seconds til Tottenham do what no other club has done since 1897”.
And Spurs did it. Glorious captain Danny Blanchflower felt they had not played well at Wembley but they got the job done: Tottenham won the first double of the 20th century, in an era when common opinion said it simply could not be done. They did it in the last match of the season and they did it against Leicester City.
Now those players – knackered and triumphant or knackered and beaten – were asked to stand to attention while the band played on. They did so, then peeled away to the opposite ends of the stadium to acknowledge their followers.
Blanchflower, about to be crowned Footballer of the Year for the second time, carried the cup with the scorer of Tottenham’s first, Bobby Smith.
Blanchflower, massively influential as Spurs captain and emblem, had gone with his team-mates to watch the Guns of Navarone at the cinema the night before. He had wanted to take minds off Wembley and the possibility of history. The day after the final, hundreds of thousands gathered in north London and the only thing on their mind was celebrating this historic set of players.
At 35, Blanchflower might have been expected to retire there and then. But he stayed on as Spurs defended their titles. They finished a close third to Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich in the league in ’62 and won the FA Cup again. Burnley, second in the league, came second at Wembley. The next season Tottenham were back up to second in the league, the following season fourth. They were an established power.
Yet here we are 55 years on and Tottenham Hotspur have not won the league since, nor have they even finished runners-up.
Third has been Spurs’ best and the gathering feeling around Mauricio Pochettino’s team, that they are on the cusp of something, inevitably takes a measure of historical context into account.
Unfortunately for Tottenham’s self-belief, that context brings doubt.
Considering Spurs have taken 10 points from the last 12, are up to fourth in the Premier League, and now have two home games, doubt should be eased aside.
Today at White Hart Lane, in a reprise of that 1961 FA Cup final, Leicester are the visitors. It is in the Cup, which Spurs have not won since 1991 – five years before Dele Alli was born – and which they exited at the fourth round last season – at home to Leicester.
Then next Wednesday, in the league, Leicester are back in north London. Claudio Ranieri’s side offer Tottenham the prospect of a very different kind of double, and with Sunderland at home on Saturday week, that doubt which clings to Spurs might need to take a seat on the bench.
This is the positive spin. This is the view that Harry Kane carries the goals that will sink Leicester, not once but twice, and damage them to the extent that the Foxes will soon be surpassed by the Spurs. The gap as it stands is four points.
This is the view that says Tottenham have the meanest defence in the Premier League – just 16 goals conceded in 20 games. And Jamie Vardy is expected to be out for a fortnight.
This view also includes the notion that in Pochettino’s second season at the Lane, the players appear more integrated and solid as a team.
There is something to this, that the Gareth Bale departure has at last been overcome. Spurs splurged on seven signings with the Bale money and only Christian Eriksen and, belatedly, Erik Lamela, have gone some way to justifying the outlay.
Nacer Chadli is a five-minute substitute, Etienne Capoue is thriving – at Watford – and Roberto Soldado has been sold back to La Liga at a heavy loss. Vlad Chiriches is at Napoli. As for Paulinho, he’s in China at 27.
Whether by design or not, the club’s policy changed to embrace an MK Dons teenager, Alli. Bought for one-fifth of Lamela’s price, Alli, still just 19, has blossomed of late and has scored three in his last six league games. Alli gives Spurs a young, hungry profile.
They need more than that, though, to make it into the top four, never mind challenge for the Premier League. Can a title challenger really be so reliant on a teenager with six full 90-minute Premier League appearances?
The doubts return. Tottenham’s last three finishes have been 5th, 6th, 5th. A rise to 4th or 3rd is more achievable, and realistic, than a jump to first.
This most unusual season, however, offers opportunities that Tottenham would regret spurning. They could be on the cusp; they could be on the brink. This double fixture against Leicester will tell us if Spurs 2016 have the capacity to get the job done.