Dejected footballers often complain about being as sick as a parrot. But for those connected with Tottenham Hotspur, yesterday left them feeling nauseated in more ways than one.
On the final day of the Premiership season, Spurs had to get as good a result as Arsenal to claim a lucrative place in the European Champions' League, and bragging rights in north London. But their preparations for the game against West Ham were thrown into chaos when the pre-match dinner on Saturday night left 10 players with food poisoning and police picking over the remains of their buffet supper to check for foul play.
Later in the day, an uncharacteristically lethargic Spurs were defeated by a late winner at West Ham as Arsenal triumphed at Highbury.
It left Spurs to reflect on how a bug in their buffet had derailed a European dream and deprived the club of a potential windfall of £5m to £10m.
Conspiracy theorists wondered whether anyone from West Ham or Arsenal - bitter rivals of Spurs - had poisoned the team buffet, but Spurs officials seemed satisfied that it was more coq-up than conspiracy.
Within hours of the meal, top players such as Robbie Keane and Michael Carrick were using their renowned pace to get to the lavatory.
Police, environmental health officers and Premier League officials were called to the five-star Marriott Hotel in West India Quay where the team often spends the night before a game.
Tottenham will hold an emergency board meeting today to discuss possible legal action against either the hotel or the Premier League. Blood and urine samples taken from the players before the game may be used in evidence.
"I have never experienced anything like this in football before," said the Spurs manager, Martin Jol, who, together with his assistant, Chris Hughton, was also affected by the bug. But he added: "I don't want to blame our defeat on the circumstances and I do not think that there was any foul play involved."
Spurs management pleaded with league bosses for the fixture to be postponed but they were reluctant because the final day of the season, with all games kicking off at 3pm, is designed to give no side an advantage. West Ham were happy to replay, as long as it was after their FA Cup final this Saturday.
Spurs asked for the game to be delayed until 7pm but police rejected that, citing public order concerns around West Ham's Upton Park ground. By lunchtime, the visitors agreed to kick-off at the original time as two hours extra would have made no difference to players' recovery.
Spurs held an emergency training session to determine which players were fit for action. With so much at stake, Jol fielded his first-choice eleven but the side, normally impressive this season, appeared lacking in energy. Carrick in particular looked pale and weak and he was substituted with half an hour to go.
Jol said: "We would like to have postponed the match for one day but that was not really possible. West Ham are playing in the cup final next week, they didn't want to postpone the match and I completely understand that."
The deep disappointment felt by Spurs fans after their 2-1 defeat was in sharp contrast to the mood at Highbury, where Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2 in their last game before moving to their new ground. The crowd at the famous old ground erupted in unrestrained delight when news of West Ham's late winner filtered through.Reuse content