1962 European Cup: The 'sliding doors' match when Tottenham fell just short of glory

The game against Benfica recalls one of the great nights at the Lane when the Tottenham Double side came agonisingly close to being crowned Kings of Europe

It is one of those Sliding Doors, 'what-if?' matches. What if Tottenham had beaten Benfica in 1962 and gone on to become the first British team to win the European Cup? Would they have spent the last half-century trying to regain a place at the top table? Or would they have gone on to greatness?

We'll never know, but Benfica's return to White Hart Lane for the first time in 52 years will stir a few memories for Tottenham fans of senior years for their previous visit was one of the stadium's great European nights, one when Danny Blanchflower's comment that 'the game is about glory' rang true.

Blanchflower was Tottenham captain when, on April 5, 1962, Spurs found themselves 90 minutes from the European Cup final. Barring their way were holders Benfica, led by Eusabio, supported by other stellar players of the early Sixties including another Mozambican, Mario Coluna, teenage winger Simoes and defensive pillar Germano.

Eusebio relaxes before the game Eusebio relaxes before the game (Getty)

The previous year Benfica had defeated Barcelona in the final, becoming the only side other than Real Madrid to win the trophy. But Bill Nicholson's Tottenham had won the Football League and FA Cup Double, the first team to do so in the 20th century, and had great players of their own in Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves, Cliff Jones and John White, who was to be tragically killed by lightning two years later.

Spurs trailed 3-1 from the first-leg where they had been overwhelmed by the 86,000 crowd. They may not been the only ones, the officials disallowed goals by Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith for offside, the latter extremely controversially as two defenders were reported to have been standing on the line.

Nevertheless, Spurs were confident with Welsh winger Cliff Jones putting his faith in Bobby Smith's physicality rattling Benfica's goalkeeper as it did most European No.1's. Costa Pereira, however, was an exception and, recalled Jones afterwards, “wouldn't be intimidated by him”.

As now, the game was played on a Thursday and 64,448 filled the Lane. They were aghast when, in the 15th minute, Jose Aguas turned in a mis-hit shot by Simoes to put Benfica 3-1 up. Spurs' prospects looked hopeless, the more so when it appeared the officials were again against them as Greaves had an 'equaliser' ruled out by another contentious offside decision.

Blanchflower scores a penalty Blanchflower scores a penalty (Getty)

 “I thought it was a good one, I ran past two Benfica players before shooting,” he said afterwards. Pathe newsreel tends to support his claim but suspicions that the officials were crooked - not unknown in European football in that era - are to an extent allayed by the same linesman chalking off a later Benfica goal that also looks onside, and the referee awarding Spurs a penalty.

Spurs did level ten minutes before the break when White's cross was volleyed in by Smith. Benfica, trading attacks, then hit the bar before the half ended. The penalty came soon after the resumption. White fell under Coluna's challenge as both contested a cross. Blanchflower tucked away the kick.

Benfica keeper Costa Pereira saves a header from Maurice Norman Benfica keeper Costa Pereira saves a header from Maurice Norman (Getty)

With no extra-time in those days another goal would force a replay (in Belgium) and Spurs, roared on by an engrossed crowd, attacked and attacked. Twice they hit the post, then, late on Mackay's header from Ron Henry's cross looped over Pereira, onto the bar and over. They were out.

Benfica beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the final, the second of their five finals in eight years. Tottenham had to settle for retaining the FA Cup, but went on lift the 1963 European Cup-Winners' Cup. But they had to wait until 2010 before they played again in the European Cup/Champions League.

Disappointed as he was Blanchflower observed: “It would be difficult to conceive of a more potent or popular soccer competition. Playing in the European Cup has been the greatest emotional experience of my career.”

Match details

5 April 1962, White Hart Lane. European Cup semi-final, second leg

Tottenham (1) 2 Smith 35, Blanchflower pen 48 Benfica (1) 1 Aguas 15

Tottenham Brown; Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Medwin, White, Smith, Greaves, Jones

Benfica Costa Pereira; Joao, Angelo, Cavem, Germano, Cruz, Augusto, Eusebio, Aguas, Coluna, Simoes

Referee A Poulsen (Denmark)

Attendance 64,448

Benfica won 4-3 on aggregate

Bibliography

Danny Blanchflower (1997) by Dave Bowler

This One’s On Me (1979) by Jimmy Greaves

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor