Seventy-three years; four UK monarchs; 15 prime ministers; 14 US presidents; two World Wars; the invention of television; the creation of a football World Cup; and enough events to inspire lyrics for a thousand We Didn’t Start the Fire songs: for Tottenham fans who managed to live through some or all of 1912 to 1985, these years would prove to be the longest time.
Winning at Anfield, especially during the years of Liverpool’s domination of English football, was never an easy task. But to go 73 years and not once taste victory at Liverpool’s home was some achievement. It wasn’t as if the teams met rarely during this period. After Tottenham triumphed 2-1 in a Division One match on 16 March 1912, the two clubs would contest another 43 before the away team departed L4 with a win to celebrate on the journey home.
Time did pass between some encounters. With Tottenham in Division Two between 1935 and 1950, the Anfield fixture wasn’t contested for 16 years. But even when Tottenham gained promotion and won the 1950/51 title, one of their seven defeats that season was inevitably at Liverpool.
Tottenham did manage to go draw six matches between 1968 and 1973. Yet from this point on, journeys to Anfield were a painful experience. Fourteen consecutive defeats at the home of the red machine cemented the venue in Room 101 for anyone associated with Tottenham. The 7-0 hammering suffered in September 1978 neatly summed up their relationship with the ground.
Therefore, you can probably guess the reaction of Tottenham supporters when the two clubs were paired together in the 1985 FA Cup fourth round. Flying high under Peter Shreeves, the Express described the fixture as “the FA Cup clash that would have graced Wembley”. Having beaten Liverpool twice at White Hart Lane in the League and Milk Cup, could Tottenham break their Anfield hoodoo?
The Mirror’s Harry Harris certainly thought so: “Tottenham will tear up the history books and end a 73-year nightmare tomorrow. The hoodoo that has carried through two world wars and four monarchs should end at Anfield with Spurs getting the most significant result of the FA Cup’s disrupted fourth round.”
Alas, the outcome would be a familiar one, with Ian Rush scoring the only goal of the match broadcast live on ITV. Tottenham had a strong claim turned down for a penalty, but it was a case of same old, same old as the final whistle sounded. “We’re out of the cup now, so we can concentrate on the League,” Shreeves commented. “We’ve got to come to Anfield in the league so we’ve got one more tilt at them – another chance to refloat the Titanic.”
Shreeves’ last comment was a reference to the year Tottenham had last won at Anfield. A month after this rare occurrence, the Titanic left Southampton for its maiden voyage, and the media simply couldn’t help themselves linking back to the event.
The run-up to the league clash was far from smooth for Tottenham. A 1-0 defeat at home to Real Madrid in the UEFA Cup quarter-final was followed by a 2-1 home league reverse against Manchester United. The second loss was costly in terms of Tottenham’s title aspirations, and from a squad perspective, with Gary Stevens ruled out for the rest of the season due to a knee ligament injury.
Stevens’ injury did provide an opportunity for Danny Thomas, who had put in a transfer request earlier in the campaign. With Thomas coming in for a rare start, skipper Steve Perryman moved into midfield, hoping to experience a win at Anfield 16 years after making his first appearance at the ground.
Although Tottenham possessed an impressive away record – nine wins and three draws in their 16 matches on the road – their concern prior to the fixture was the ominous form Liverpool were showing. After initially struggling to cope with the departure of Graeme Souness, Joe Fagan’s side were starting to crank through the gears.
Unbeaten in 12 domestic matches since Boxing Day, Liverpool had moved up to sixth in Division One and were desperately trying to force their way back into the title race. “Liverpool have showed exceptional form lately and this will be a test of everything for my team,” Shreeves admitted. “But I don’t think the lads are short of character.”
Tottenham’s success on the day was built around an offside trap, Liverpool flagged a whopping 24 times. And when they did find a way through, the home team discovered former goalkeeper Ray Clemence in inspired form, his stunning save from a Steve Nicol header a particular highlight.
Thomas would make an impact, heading an Alan Kennedy effort off the line just before the break, and although Tottenham had created a couple of half chances, getting to half-time level proved crucial.
Attacking the Kop in the second half, Tottenham continued to weather the storm, as Liverpool probed relentlessly. But in the 65th minute came the moment that was 73 years in the making. After Bruce Grobbelaar failed to hold a fine volley from substitute Micky Hazard, Garth Crooks fired in from close range, as Anfield fell silent.
Tottenham’s travelling contingent soon found their voices, singing “here we go” and “Jingle Bells” as the minutes ticked by slowly. Clemence pulled off another fine save in the dying minutes, thwarting Phil Neal. “He had a marvellous game and in my view he’s still the best,” Neal stated after the match. “You won’t see a better goalkeeper.”
As referee Ken Baker blew the whistle for full time, Tottenham’s players jumped for joy. “And you would have thought Spurs had won the cup by the look of their players,” the excellent Brian Moore commented. Tottenham had finally won at Anfield, exactly 73 years to the day since their last triumph at the ground.
Ending the Anfield curse was cause for celebration alone, but in terms of the title race, the win was massive for Tottenham. “Tottenham raised more than their Titanic on Saturday,” wrote Stuart Jones in the Times. “In winning at Anfield for the first time since 1912, they lifted themselves into the position of championship favourites.”
Shreeves praised the display of Clemence, with Perryman, Hazard and Crooks also outstanding on an historic day for the club. With nine of their 13 remaining matches to be played at White Hart Lane, the press seriously started to talk up Tottenham’s chances of landing a first title since 1961.
“Tottenham’s weighty advantage of remaining home games could prove too great even for Everton to handle,” Alan Thompson declared in the Express. The only problem was that it was Tottenham’s away from that had catapulted them to championship contenders. Five defeats at home followed, including a crucial loss against Everton, as Tottenham slid to third in a bitterly disappointing end to the campaign.
Shreeves’ season in the sun would seem a distant memory during the following year. By May 1986, he was shown the door at White Hart Lane, unable to build upon the promise of 1984/85. The win at Anfield turned out to be his zenith. Ultimately, Shreeves came up short at White Hart Lane, unable to bring the title to the club like many since the double of 1961. But at least he could boast one significant achievement on his CV; the first Tottenham manager to win at Anfield in 73 years.
By Steve Pye @1980ssportsblog