Football / FA Cup Final: United try their luck at the Double: Before Tottenham did it in 1960-61, it was said to be impossible. Arsenal and Liverpool have since emulated Spurs. But, as Ken Jones reports, to win the League and Cup is not only a mental feat

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The Independent Online
NEVER one to let history get in the way, Danny Blanchflower set the Double as a target for Tottenham Hotspur eight months before they became the first to achieve it this century by defeating Leicester City in the 1961 FA Cup final. 'It's all in the mind,' he said.

If made less alluring by emulation - Arsenal in 1971, Liverpool in 1986 - the Double remains elusive, very much the cerebral challenge Blanchflower considered it to be. Luck plays a part, too.

In 1957, four years before Tottenham set a benchmark of modern domestic accomplishment, the Double appeared well within the grasp of a Manchester United team whose thrilling potential would be enshrined by the awful losses incurred at the end of a runway in Munich. Instead, directly as a result of losing their goalkeeper, Ray Wood, who fractured a cheekbone in a collision with the aggressive Irish international, Peter McParland, after only six minutes (substitutes had yet to be introduced), they were beaten 2-0 in the final by Aston Villa.

With the Double at stake, Wembley has seen other disappointments. Turned party poopers, Manchester United defeated Liverpool in 1977 and Everton in 1985; more gloom on Merseyside three years later when Liverpool failed against unfancied Wimbledon.

Thus, primed by history and even with two successive championships, United seek against Chelsea tomorrow the endorsement that would come with membership of an exclusive club.

All in the mind? When Tottenham sped to 11 straight victories in 1960, a record from the start of a season, their manager, Bill Nicholson, sensed that the Double was attainable but viewed the task less romantically than his captain. 'I'd got the team I wanted and given reasonable luck felt we were good enough, but my priority was the championship. We took the cup ties as they came.'

Through to Wembley by 18 March 1961, Tottenham became champions a month later, three weeks before the final and with three games to spare. The last of them, a defeat at West Bromwich Albion, filled Nicholson with foreboding. 'I remember Bill being very annoyed,' recalled the Welsh international winger, Cliff Jones, 'and saying that unless our attitude changed we didn't deserve to win the Double. Trouble was that after the excitement of the championship we'd relaxed and gone off the boil.'

Tottenham's performance in the final bore out Nicholson's misgivings. The stylish sweep of attacks that had brought them 31 League victories and an overall total of 136 goals gave way to inept sluggishness. As though drained of imagination, Blanchflower had his least effective game of the campaign. Dave Mackay, the team's heartbeat, looked a stale, tired footballer. It was only when Leicester grew weary from the handicap of an injury that sent their right-back Len Chalmers to hobble on the wing (luck again), that Tottenham took control, winning 2-0 with goals from Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson.

In the making of history, Nicholson, ever the perfectionist, expressed deep disappointment. 'It wasn't just about

winning the Double but living up to our reputation,' he recalled recently. 'And we didn't. After all the years it's something I still think about. You can't take anything away from what those players achieved over a whole season and they deserve their place in history, but I remember being deaf to the celebrations, thinking we didn't do ourselves justice.'

Among the losers that day was an impetuous young Scottish half-back, Frank McLintock, who would experience further disappointments in Wembley Cup finals before the mantle of rare achievement was laid upon him as an inspirational Arsenal captain.

Five days before Arsenal met Liverpool in the 1971 FA Cup

final, McLintock, in maturity an outstanding central defender, led them out against Tottenham at White Hart Lane needing both points to finish above the luckless Leeds United.

All in the mind? Champions through Ray Kennedy's goal three minutes from time, Arsenal barely had time to absorb the possibility that existed in the FA Cup final against Liverpool. 'It was there suddenly,' McLintock said. 'The Double. The prize I'd seen Danny Blanchflower walk off with,

envying his every stride.'

Arsenal's destiny rested with Bertie Mee, a failed player who had been promoted from the treatment room at Highbury to succeed one of England's most famous players, Billy Wright, as manager. Immediately, Mee, a renowned disciplinarian, handed the players over to his chief coach, Don Howe, and held back a flood of media attention. 'Some of Bertie's restrictions

irritated us,' Arsenal's current manager, George Graham, said, 'but in retrospect, his efforts that week taught me a lot about the job.'

Typically, the essence of

Arsenal's Double, clinched when Charlie George scored against Liverpool in extra time, was resilience. 'We had more quality than the critics gave us credit for,' McLintock said, 'but most importantly we battled through the bad days.'

Liverpool's Double was made sweeter by completion in the 1986 Cup final against their great rivals, Everton. Uniquely, Kenny Dalglish achieved it as player-manager. Asked where he was going from there, Dalglish replied, laconically, 'To the biggest party Merseyside has ever seen'.

There has been plenty of activity in that department since Manchester United finally saw off a sterling challenge from Blackburn Rovers in the Premiership after reaching Wembley when all seemed lost. Conceivably, but for Mark Hughes's marvellous late equaliser in the semi-final against Oldham, there might not have been anything to celebrate. Now, in seeking the Double as an endorsement of superiority, they should heed the lessons of history. It's all in the mind, but you need a bit of luck, too.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE TEAMS WHO WON THE DOUBLE THIS CENTURY ----------------------------------------------------------------- TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (1960-61) ----------------------------------------------------------------- (2-3-5) Brown Baker Henry Blanchflower Norman Mackay Jones White Smith Allen Dyson ----------------------------------------------------------------- ARSENAL (1970-71) (4-3-1-2) Wilson Rice McLintock Simpson McNab Armstrong Storey Graham George Radford Kennedy ----------------------------------------------------------------- LIVERPOOL (1985-86) (4-4-2) Grobbelaar Nicol Lawrenson Hansen Beglin Johnston Whelan Molby MacDonald Dalglish Rush -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)