Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping to avoid a repeat of recent history tonight, two months on from their damaging 3-0 home defeat to West Ham United. But some in the crowd might want to avenge another loss too, from further ago.
Spurs met West Ham at this same stage – the quarter-final of the League Cup – back in December 1980. That was a very good Tottenham team, with some excellent players, which went on to win the 1981 and 1982 FA Cups. West Ham had won the cup in 1980, and although they were in the Second Division, they were top of it, on their way to winning it by a distance.
All games between Spurs and West Ham are important, but this one especially so, at Upton Park, under lights, for the right to face Coventry City in the semi-final in January. It was a 36,000 sell-out, West Ham making a very healthy £85,000 from ticket sales, with the footage being sold for live broadcast in London cinemas for another £50,000.
Upton Park has never been a welcoming place to visiting teams and it certainly was not this year. West Ham had won their last 13 straight home games before this quarter-final and it was their home league form – 19 wins, one draw, one loss - more than anything else, that took them back into the top flight.
David Cross, who played up front for West Ham that day, fondly remembers the feel of those Boleyn Ground evenings. “I absolutely loved playing there, it was a great place to play,” he told The Independent. “It was so tight, the crowd were almost on top of you. It was a great atmosphere that night.”
That West Ham side were desperate to knock Spurs out. They believed they were a First Division side – understandably so, with players like Alvin Martin and Trevor Brooking – and just like the cup final against Arsenal seven months before, they had a big game in which to show it. “We felt that we should have been in the top division and it was our own fault that we were not,” said Cross. “We had underperformed and so playing against Tottenham, or against Arsenal, was where we should have been.”
There was so much frost that there was a risk of the game being postponed, but it was not, and Tottenham started strongly. They had bought young forwards Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks in the summer, and with their high-class midfield – featuring Glenn Hoddle, Ricky Villa, Osvaldo Ardiles – they dominated the early exchanges.
“We could play some terrific attacking football,” recalled John Lacy, Spurs defender, “we could beat anybody on our day.” But Martin was heroic at centre-back and Phil Parkes kept out Hoddle more than once.
It took commitment and some good luck, but West Ham stayed in the game. In the second half, they began to dream of more. “It was a tight game, very tight,” said Cross. “But I remember thinking, as the game went into the second half, ‘we could win this, with a bit of luck we might nick one here.’”
West Ham, inspired by the crowd and Brooking’s midfield promptings, started to test Barry Daines in the Spurs goal. He saved from Ray Stewart from distance, and from Barry Bonds’ header, before Chris Hughton had to block Brooking’s shot on the line.
Then, with 10 minutes left, Cross picked up the ball on the break. He remembers perfectly what happened next. “I took it down on the half-turn and as the Spurs back-line came out I slipped a through-ball to Trevor Brooking. He got in behind, and shot, and Daines came out and parried the shot. The ball broke out to the right, and I’d followed it. As I got it, Barry was still trying to get back, the goal was empty and I just chipped it in to the far post.”
It was a brilliantly taken goal, the product not just of quick-thinking but pre-planning. West Ham manager John Lyall had seen Spurs play the week before and sensed that Daines was vulnerable to being chipped. Cross remembered that as he got the ball, before executing it perfectly.
There was a late surge from Spurs but nothing that West Ham could not handle. They saw out the famous win to reach the semi-finals, where they beat Coventry City 4-3 on aggregate. At Wembley they faced Bob Paisley’s Liverpool. 1-0 down in the last minute of extra time, Ray Stewart forced a replay. West Ham took the lead in that game, but they were beaten by goals from Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen.
Spurs were out, but had their own replay triumph at Wembley, beating Manchester City 3-2 at the second attempt in the FA Cup final in May. Even if they are knocked out tonight, all is not lost.