Mike Rowbottom: Pleat practises poker face as McClaren turns into Mr Emote

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The Independent Football

Years ago, there was a stadium, and people called it Wembley Stadium, and FA Cup finals were played there. Some people believe that one day a new stadium will grow on the spot where Wembley once stood. Who knows? In time, they may be proved right.

Meanwhile we have our memories. And I remember 1987, when, while working for another newspaper, I was allowed to wander freely through the self-styled Stadium of Legends (that tacky title, happily, never did adhere) during the FA Cup final between Spurs and Coventry.

Keith Houchen's horizontal header, Gary Mabbutt's decisive own goal, John Sillett's lumbering dance of triumph... all have passed into football folklore.

I recall the huge camber of Wembley's lush turf when viewed from ground level, and being in a little room with a view of the pitch through thick lozenges of glass, a room in which the Cup was being prepared for presentation. Both sets of ribbons had been attached to the handles so that one could be swiftly removed as soon as destiny had taken its course. It was an obvious ploy - but the fabled silverware looked strange indeed festooned with the colours of two clubs.

Why have I been thinking back to 1987 and all that? Well, it's Spurs, and the Cup, and, come to think of it, the camber, which have set me off...

Circumstances dictated that I covered Tottenham's midweek defeat on penalties in their Carling Cup quarter-final from a position directly behind their dug-out. It was an instructive experience.

So close was I to the home personnel that my team-sheet kept getting crumpled whenever the player in front of me sat down. By the second half, Tottenham's manager, David Pleat, was down on the touchline, hunching into his dark coat, hands in pockets. As his staff began to throw up their hands and become increasingly animated, Pleat remained curiously inert. At times of high drama, the most he did was exchange glances with Tottenham's coach, Chris Hughton, before ambling off with his head down, chewing industriously.

By contrast, Boro's manager, Steve McClaren, was Mr Emote. His gesture of choice was the ritual hurling of a half-full water bottle to the rubberised surface at his feet as if it had become the embodiment of all his frustration, fury and disgust. The bottle made a curious squashy noise as it hit the deck.

Then, right in front of us, Danny Mills clattered Mauricio Taricco. The Argentinian has been known to make the most of such challenges, but there was no mistaking his genuine cause for grievance this time. Never mind hear the thwack - you could feel it.

With quarter of an hour of normal time left, Tottenham's midfielder Darren Anderton came off looking weary but excited. He'd scored an early goal. He'd played well. Now he could do no more. "Well done, Shaggy," someone said, as Gustavo Poyet, who had spent much of the game chatting to the civvy-suited Goran Bunjevcevic, was given the signal to come on.

First, however, he had to confer with Hughton, who leafed doggedly through a notebook full of scribbled symbols and arrows. The experienced Uruguayan nodded at random.

At full-time, one of the coaches, clearly demented with frustration at the way Spurs had allowed Boro back into the game with an 85th-minute equaliser, stormed on to the field, only to be turned back by Hughton's cautionary gesture. It was not the time.

Pleat, meanwhile, was speaking to his fidgety young Portuguese sub, Helder Postiga. I caught the words "If we go a goal down..." As extra-time progressed, the tactics as far as one of the Spurs bench was concerned were reduced to one insistent demand: "Cross! Cross! Cross!" For all the effect it had, he might as well have been shouting: "Brace! Brace! Brace!" With only a couple of minutes left, the two managers, straining towards the edge of their marked areas, momentarily slipped their parallel lines as McClaren deliberately flicked a loose ball away.

Pleat moved across to help retrieve it, giving the Boro manager, who suddenly turned to him with a huge, exaggerated grin, a prolonged, Paddington Bear stare.

Penalties arrived. Hughton, with notebook, was hyperactive; Pleat put a new piece of chewing gum in his mouth and ambled off again. He seemed to be thinking about something very important - his greenhouse, perhaps, or that shed which needed painting.

Franck Queudrue's decisive penalty saw the Tottenham manager switch straight into hand-shaking mode. He gave away nothing, although the same could not be said for his players as they left the field. Taricco seemed close to tears. Poyet, tracksuit collar pulled up over his chin, left at a funereal marching pace.

Tottenham's notional ribbons had parted company with this season's Carling Cup. Close up, it was emotional.

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