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Spurs v Manchester United, 10.08.1997

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published 10th August, 2017, but first written in 1997 by the late Brian Judson

Sunday, August 10th, 1997

FA Carling Premiership


Tottenham Hotspur : Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Edinburgh; Howells, Nielsen, Ginola, Clemence (sub Sinton, 77); Iversen, Ferdinand.

(Substitutes *NOT* used : Baardsen; Scales, Calderwood; Fenn).

Booked : Vega, Edinburgh.

Manchester United : Schmeichel; Irwin, Johnsen, Pallister, P Neville; Scholes (sub Beckham, 65), Butt, Keane, Giggs; Cryuff, Sheringham.

(Substitutes *NOT* used : Van der Gouw; G Neville; McClair, Poborsky).

Scorers:- Butt (82), Vega (o.g.) (83)

Booked : Scholes, Cryuff.

Referee : Mr G Poll (Tring).

Attendance : 26,359.

Although Tottenham ultimately lost the match, I felt overall they were not disgraced in losing 2-0 to the Champions. I know there are those who will seize on the defeat as evidence that Tottenham are rudderless and drifting perilously close to the rocks of relegation. I saw many signs that Spurs could do very well this season given some luck that deserted us all too frequently last season. I will go so far as to predict that we may well finish in a top five spot given a rub of the green for a change.

Spurs fielded a side that mixed old and new faces. Walker was in goal, wearing an awful salmon pink outfit that made me worry he was in the grip of anorexia so thin did it make him look. Vega and Campbell are the rocks on which our defence will depend this season. Both are largely unflappable characters, unlike Calderwood whose main ambition seems to be to play for Scotland at Twickenham.

There were new faces in Stephen Clemence, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola with the promise of more to come. Sporting Lisbon winger Jose Dominguez signed for Spurs too late to be considered for this match as Spurs have to wait for international clearance.

Clemence had made a highly impressive debut in pre-season matches in Norway and retained his position to make his debut against Manchester United. Ferdinand and Ginola also made their debuts despite having missed much of the pre-season build-up for different reasons. Ginola had asked to leave Newcastle when it became clear that Kenny Dalglish did not include him in his immediate plans. Ferdinand was also given the go-ahead to leave as Newcastle's accountants decided they needed some cash inflow to improve the end of the year balance sheet. On the eve of Ferdinand's move, Shearer had sustained a long term injury which had led to frantic calls from Dalglish in a last minute bid to ask Ferdinand to change his mind but failed to do so.

Manchester United had made only one change to their playing staff by snapping up Teddy Sheringham when he had rejected an extension to his existing contract that did not meet his expectations. Sheringham had departed, complaining that from a fan's point of view, Tottenham lacked ambition and clearly did not want to keep their best players.

Not surprisingly, Sheringham was barracked by some sections of the much reduced crowd when the two teams emerged into the red hot cauldron shortly before 4pm. The reconstruction of the Members Stand on the northern side of the ground had opened up a rarely seen view towards Eastern Enfield, where I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. Much of the skyline has changed but I could still recognise some buildings.

Spurs began the game defending the Edmonton end of the ground. Both sides took time to settle. Clemence patrolled the left wing, releasing Ginola to go to where the urge took him. Ginola's unpredictability puzzled Manchester United for a long spell as they did not seem to work out what to do with him at times.

Some of the first half exchanges were red blooded to say the least. Sheringham was quite taken aback by one ruthless tackle Vega made on him that led to the latter's booking.

Part of the trouble in the first half, from Manchester United's point of view, was the lack of a striker up front. With Andy Cole side-lined, there was no one up front to aim for. Neither Cryuff nor Sheringham showed the nous to take the game to Tottenham. When United did attack, both Vega and Camphell were quick to snuff their attacks out. Giggs, as usual, was predictable in his running and thinking. He certainly is no successor to George Best who would have torn Spurs apart in his hey-day.

In the early stages, both Ferdinand and Iversen were frequently caught in the offside trap that Johnsen and Pallister were very effective in springing. Ginola and Clemence tried hard to spring the trap but both frequently over-kicked the ball which made Schmeichel's job that much easier. The Dane, in fact, was frequently annoyed by the failure of his outfield players to catch the long throws he frequently made to initiate counter-attacks. Schmeichel was becoming so worked up at one point I wondered if he would collapse in the heat as he was expelling so much air from his lungs.

United were never really stretched when Tottenham attacked, although Ginola once tried to win a penalty by seemingly diving. The Mancunian side were incensed but the referee took no action much to my surprise.

In the early stages of the second half, it was soon clear that Tottenham had shot their bolt. It must have been very difficult playing in the centre of that hot cauldron so it was understandable. The question was whether Spurs could continue to ride their luck.

On the hour Manchester United were very fortunate to win a penalty. Cryuff dashed into the area but Edinburgh robbed him of the ball and tried to clear the ball upfield but slipped. In the process of falling over, Edinburgh completed his kick which struck his hand, in my view accidentally. The referee promptly awarded a penalty before he was even surrounded by protesting red shirts. Sheringham took the penalty as Walker danced on the goal line. His shot hit the post and Sheringham, forgetting that he could not touch the ball again until someone else had, ballooned the ball over the bar. The Spurs fans roared in amusement "Oh Teddy, Teddy, Teddy!"

Soon after that, Ferguson and Kidd had had enough. They called off Paul Scholes and sent on the precocious David Beckham. It did not take very long for Beckham to scheme things so that Tottenham were on the ropes in boxing parlance. It was only Vega and Campbell with some reflex saves by Walker that kept the visitors at bay.

In the 82nd minute, Beckham lofted the ball to Sheringham, whose shot was blocked and ran loose to Butt. The Tottenham defence evidently thought Butt was offside but the referee waved play on and Butt was unmarked as he let fly.

A minute later, Sheringham was still celebrating, Beckham flighted a cross that Vega got to first. Vega was evidently trying to head the ball for a corner but only succeeded in diverting it into his own goal. As the red shirted hordes celebrated, Vega held his head in total despair and was unconsolable.

Spurs were left with far too much to do and had no reserves left to pull themselves back into contention. Thereafter, Manchester United were content to play out time, pushing the ball around to humilate Tottenham.

Gerry Francis thought there was a lot to be pleased about despite the fact Tottenham had lost. "There were some pluses for us with the outstanding form of Sol Campbell and Stephen Clemence did well on his debut." When asked to comment on the reports that Sugar had demanded a top five finish this season, Francis commented, "It is something everyone at Tottenham is striving for. It took Alex four years to get United off the ground but time isn't something managers always have. I can't worry about that. It's life. Perhaps if we win the FA Cup and Coca-Cola Cup and finish sixth people will still be asking questions."

It is vital that Spurs extract something from Wednesday's match at West Ham if Spurs are not to lose contact with the early pacemakers. I am confident that Spurs will do so.

Cheers, Brian

Read Brian Judson's preview for this game.
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