This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth rounds and semi-finals of the 1986/87 FA Cup, which you can view here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
"Seven times we've won the cup, and number eight is coming up". The bold statement penned by Chas and Dave, and sung by the Tottenham squad in their number 18 hit Hot Shot Tottenham!, may have seemed cocky, but the general consensus was that it was a proclamation that would come true as Cup final day on May 16 approached.
Tottenham were heavy favourites to defeat Coventry, a club appearing in their first major final in their 104-year history. But the underdogs were used to proving the doubters wrong during their 1987 cup run. Their Go For It single was an appropriately titled anthem for all that had gone before and what was to follow.
From a purely footballing point of view, you could see why Tottenham were overwhelming favourites to lift a record eighth FA Cup. Of their thirteen man squad, only Mitchell Thomas had not been capped by his country, they possessed a striker in Clive Allen who was enjoying a stunning season containing 48 goals, and their squad contained a vast wealth of experience on the big stage, for example, Ray Clemence was appearing in his 42nd match at Wembley; in comparison only four of Coventry's team - Phillips, Pickering, Bennett and Regis - had ever played at the famous old stadium, and only Phillips was a current international player.
The lead-up to the final was littered with constant references to the perceived differences between the two sides: a pit pony v the Derby favourite; artisans v artists; rank outsiders v red-hot favourites; journeymen v pedigree. Fortunately though the cup final would be played on the lush Wembley turf and not paper, because if the majority of the press were to be believed then Coventry were already a goal down before the match had begun.
The warning signs were evident for Tottenham though. Immediately after their semi-final win over Watford, a possible double had been mentioned, Tottenham ten points behind leaders Everton with two games in hand and a trip to Goodison Park to come. Yet these hopes were well and truly quashed, four defeats in the final seven matches meaning Tottenham had to be content with a third-placed finish.
Conversely, Coventry were flying, unbeaten in the seven matches leading up to the final, and maintaining their upturn in fortunes since the managerial pair of John Sillett and George Curtis had taken over at the end of the previous season. For Sillett, the transformation was marked. In 1984 he had been sacked as Youth Team manager by Bobby Gould, yet his time out of the game taught him a valuable lesson: the next time he got a management role he would die on his feet rather than live on his knees. Sillett's team would play very much in the image of their manager; relaxed, confident, and passionate.
Sillett was not the only manager gaining plaudits before the final. David Pleat's work at Luton, and his fine first season at Tottenham - as well as their strong league position, the club also reached the Littlewoods Cup semi-final - had even seen his name mentioned by the Daily Mirror's Harry Harris as a possible successor for Bobby Robson's England post after the 1990 World Cup. Pleat's work in the transfer market - bringing in players such as Richard Gough, Steve Hodge, Nico Claesen and Mitchell Thomas - and his successful switch to a 4-5-1 formation, had earned gushing praise from press, players and fans alike.
There was a big cloud looming on the horizon for Pleat, however. The FA Cup final would be Glenn Hoddle's last for the club before a move to the continent, although Brian Clough writing in his Daily Mirror column insisted that Pleat should not pick the England midfielder, stating that player power was getting out of hand, and that "it sticks in my craw that Glenn can coolly nominate Wembley for his farewell appearance". The Hoddle issue was a problem that could wait for the distant future though, Pleat hopeful that the player could bow out in fine style during the Wembley showpiece.
"Of course it's a lovely way to leave the club at Wembley, but I'll be frightened just in case we lose," stated Hoddle post semi-final, who had been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, PSV Eindhoven, and Bayer Leverkusen since he had announced that he would be leaving Tottenham. His final match would be a far from joyous occasion though, the main man responsible for Hoddle's ineffectual display living up to his pre-match promises that he would keep the England man quiet.
22-year-old Lloyd McGrath may have been a shy character off the pitch, but in the run-up to the final he was far from quiet in regards to Hoddle. "I'm going to destroy him, stop him from playing. I want to spoil his big day, and make sure it's me who comes off the pitch smiling at the end, and him who's feeling sick," said McGrath, who in fairness did just that. A combative midfielder whose bite was definitely worse than his bark, McGrath was a key component of Coventry's success.
Unhappy players, contract negotiations and injuries were the other dominant factors as the countdown to the final began in earnest. Nico Claesen issued an unwise threat to Pleat along the lines of pick me or let me go, yet Pleat was hardly likely to mess with his trusty formation for the final. Ossie Ardiles had been linked with a player-manager position at the recently relegated Man City, but signed a new deal with Tottenham. And Gary Mabbutt's contract was running down, with Manchester United, Everton and even Arsenal reportedly sniffing around the England defender.
As well as his contract concerns, Mabbutt was also contending with injury problems. Having broken his rib against Northern Ireland in April, Mabbutt was playing with pain-killing injections, and was also suffering from a circulation problem, resulting in him playing matches with a numb feeling in his foot. Numbness was something that Mabbutt would certainly be feeling come the final whistle at Wembley.
Coventry's Cyrille Regis was also involved in contract talks as the final neared. Reportedly wanted by Johan Cruyff as a replacement for the Milan bound Marco van Basten, Regis' form during the season (barring a poor semi-final display) had seen his name repeatedly discussed when England squads were announced, and Coventry were understandably eager to tie down one of their star players. There were big sighs of relief when Regis signed a four-year deal, his subsequent final performance proof of how important he was to the Sky Blues.
One man who looked destined to depart was Micky Gynn. Unhappy at being a bit-part player, Gynn had made noises about leaving in the summer, and was not hopeful of a starting berth, even though he had finished the season strongly with 3 goals in seven games. But just one week before the final came a moment of misfortune for Brian Borrows which would change the landscape for both him and Gynn.
Borrows strained knee ligaments in the final league match against Southampton, and faced a race against time to prove his fitness. The injury was treated three times a day at the team hotel in Bournemouth, Sillett giving regular medical updates to the press, and at one point there did appear to be hope for Borrows. Sadly, Borrows had to admit defeat on the Friday, his admission to hospital for an operation meaning that he couldn't even attend Wembley on what was supposed to be the biggest day of his career. In Borrows' absence Dave Phillips was switched to right-back, allowing Gynn to make the starting eleven. Gynn had his wish, but not in the manner he would have preferred.
Tottenham's only selection headache also revolved around the right-back position. Both Gary Stevens and Chris Hughton had been through a injury hit campaign, Pleat eventually opting for Hughton, allowing him the flexibility of utility man Stevens on the bench. It would be the left-back position that would be under close scrutiny though, with many opining that Coventry's Dave Bennett had the beating of Mitchell Thomas. The Times' David Miller previewed that "the man who could turn the game for Coventry is Bennett," and he had the ability to "torment Thomas" and provide the ammo for the likes of Regis and Houchen.
The rest of Miller's preview seemed to reflect the majority of the other pre-match predictions made by journalists and pundits on the morning of the final; that Coventry would have to play above themselves and Tottenham below their best for their to be a shock. Sir Alf Ramsey rated the two teams, Tottenham coming out on top 96-93; the Daily Express' Steve Curry went for a 3-1 Tottenham win; Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Bobby Robson all picked Tottenham as the likely winner.
Of the few that went for Coventry, Billy Bremner and Graham Taylor could look back with smugness at their forecasts, although neither of them could touch the Express' James Lawton when it came to his analysis: "Coventry really shouldn't live with Spurs. But I think they will...even to the point of nicking it, perhaps by the odd goal in five".
And so to the day itself. Sitting through the three hour build-up on television - including the usual Road to Wembley, player interviews and visits to hotels (but definitely not the Chas and Dave knees-up at 2.10 on ITV) - you got a real sense of anticipation for the match ahead, partly through the naivety of my youthful eyes and the excitement that comes with that, but also because you knew that both teams would play their football, and that there would definitely be no parking of buses on this day. Before you knew it, Pleat and Sillett were leading their teams out - Coventry had appealed to the FA to let both Sillett and Curtis head the walk out, but the FA did not shift - and a thrilling 1987 FA Cup final was about to begin.
And what a start to the match. Chris Waddle, who spent most of the first half terrorising Greg Downs, easily beat the left-back before whipping in a cross for Clive Allen to score his 49th goal of the season with a bullet header that was past Ogrizovic before he could react. "Would you believe it," shrieked John Motson, as those of us hoping for a close cup final and a Coventry win were starting to have doubts even after just two minutes. Trevor Peake's assessment regarding Allen before the match was looking sadly accurate: "I can't guarantee to keep him quiet". Very true.
Allen had so far enjoyed a much happier FA Cup final than his previous experience in 1982, when he was injured early on whilst playing for QPR against Tottenham. However, if Tottenham's start had been perfect, then the more perceptive amongst us had already spotted that something had gone awry before the kick-off. Modelling their new kit for next season, the Tottenham players seemed to be suffering a wardrobe malfunction, five of their line-up wearing shirts with the club sponsor Holsten emblazoned on the front, but six without. It may have been perceived as a trifling matter to many, but to Tottenham it was plain embarrassing, and to the watching Holsten representatives it was a farce.
The story was front page news come Monday, the Daily Mirror headline "WHAT A COCK-UP" emphasising the furore that had been caused by the incident. Reports of Holsten executives storming out of the after match reception and refusing to attend a banquet filled column inches, as Tottenham resolved to discover just what went wrong. Once it was revealed that it was human error that caused the mess, there were bound to be recriminations. Holsten agreed to continue their sponsorship of Tottenham, but club secretary Peter Day was seen to pay the price for the mistakes made, leaving the club after 10 years of employment.
Anyway, back to the football. After the shaky start, Coventry edged their way back into the match, their fans constantly encouraging the players with their rendition of the club anthem along to the tune of the Eton Boating Song. Tottenham's fans turned their attentions to their north London neighbours, countering with "Are you watching Arsenal?" and informing their rivals that this was in fact the proper cup, in comparison to the Littlewoods Cup that Arsenal had won. The 98,000 fans packed into Wembley certainly contributed to a fantastic atmosphere, just part of the full FA Cup final package back in good old days (yes, I know I sound old).
Undeterred by their early setback, Coventry settled down and were rewarded just seven minutes after going behind. A Houchen flick saw Bennett react quickest between Thomas and Hodge, the Coventry winger taking the ball past Clemence who was a little slow in coming off his line, and slotting home the equaliser. Clemence's recent form had been under scrutiny, especially his role in Arsenal's Littlewoods Cup semi-final win, and his shakiness continued as shortly afterwards he let a simple Houchen cross squirm through his grasp before Hughton rescued him.
It wasn't proving a happy day for either keeper so far. When the normally reliable Steve Ogrizovic attempted a dribble and clearance outside his box which only succeeded in falling to Hoddle's feet, the Coventry keeper had to rely on the excellent Trevor Peake to bail him out, but even then a mix-up between the pair almost let Clive Allen in.
Maybe Ogrizovic had a valid excuse given his preparations for the Saturday. His wife had given birth just two days before, their child overdue by ten days. When the hospital informed the parents that the child would be induced on the Saturday at 1pm, you can only imagine the look on Ogrizovic's face. He politely informed them that they might want to push the procedure forwards a couple of days.
Both sides had their moments after Bennett's goal. Waddle's influence continued throughout the first half, and Clemence pulled off a smart save from Gynn after good work by Regis. Just as it seemed that the sides would go into the break level, a needless Nick Pickering foul on Paul Allen led to Tottenham's second goal. Hoddle's free-kick left Ogrizovic in no-mans land, the ball ending up in the net via Mabbutt and/or Coventry skipper Kilcline, although officially the goal was given to the Tottenham man.
The pace of the match did not let up as the second half began, Downs deciding to deal with Waddle's threat through an early reducer, as the end to end nature continued. Bit by bit Coventry turned the screw, Bennett starting to have the impact that many had predicted, Gynn darting around in a tireless fashion, and Regis' pace and power giving Gough and Mabbutt plenty to deal with. During the intensity though, there was even time for a bit of humour, as Peake and Clive Allen tussled on the halfway line, having a good stab at a Torvill and Dean impression.
The force was with Coventry and the deserved equaliser arrived on 63 minutes, as Keith Houchen scored one of the most iconic cup final goals in history. The diving header alone was good enough, but Bennett's part in it all should not be forgotten, his beautiful cross so inviting that it simply begged to be finished off. Houchen propelled himself through the air at full length, the photographs of the moment forever capturing the glory of the occasion.
"The cross came in and I never took my eyes off it. I had to throw myself at it, or I would never have got on the end of it. I can’t say I was consciously thinking: 'If it comes in, I’m going to dive and head it'. It’s all instinct," Houchen explained in Jonathan Strange's A Tenner And A Box Of Kippers. The man with only two goals in the league had again come up trumps in the cup, not bad for someone who had been suffering with food poisoning in the week (Houchen was on the receiving end of a bad trout caught by reserve keeper Jake Findlay). "The man with the Midas touch in the FA Cup strikes gold for Coventry," said Motson, the sounds of Jimmy Hill noisily celebrating in the background apparent to the BBC viewer.
The rest of normal time was frenetic, the to and fro theme of the day showing no signs of slowing. Bennett continued to enjoy his day, confidence seeping from his body; Houchen went close with another header; in a rare moment of aggression, Kilcline wiped out Mabbutt and had to be substituted by Graham Rodger, although he wasn't even booked by referee Neil Midgley (who also had a fine game); and Clive Allen almost snatched a winner late on, Ogrizovic saving with his foot, as the match inevitably went to extra time. Not many were complaining about the extra half hour, after what we had just seen, in a 90 minutes that had seen a staggering 30 shots on goal.
As extra-time began - for the fifth time in the last seven FA Cup finals - the volume of support from the Coventry end grew and grew. "Go for it, go for it, City," came the cry from the terraces, the cup final song being put to full use, the belief felt by the City fans tangible as the minutes ticked by. "Go for it, go for it, City". And so it continued. The excellent support would soon be rewarded with the goal that would clinch Coventry's FA Cup, and a moment from which a fanzine was born.
Rodger's assured display since his introduction carried on, as he dropped his shoulder majestically in his own half, and sent McGrath free down the right. The midfielder, for once free of his marking responsibilities, sent in a cross which struck Mabbutt's knee and looped over a helpless Clemence. It was a cruel slice of misfortune for the Tottenham defender, but one which Coventry fully deserved.
Tottenham looked like a team that had taken one punch too many, the leads they had thrown away against Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup and during this very match, combining to send a physically weary side over the edge mentally too. In fact it was Gynn who had the last clear cut chance of the afternoon, Clemence denying him a goal that his endless running merited.
John Sillett had insisted that Coventry's name was on the trophy and soon it would be. His very likeable team (assuming you were not a Tottenham fan) had provided the viewing millions with a story that had all the classic ingredients of a feelgood sporting occasion: an underdog team with no superstars defeating the favourites after a stirring comeback in a dramatic match. No wonder John Motson stated at the time that it was "The most exciting FA Cup final on which I've had the pleasure of commentating".
As Kilcline limped his way up the 39 steps to lift the trophy, Motson had one more gem to add: "The Sky Blues are sky high". Their feet definitely did not touch the ground over the next few days. A party at their hotel in Rugby went on to the early hours of the morning, and from there the team went to Leamington Spa to visit Borrows in hospital. There then followed a reception in Coventry, with 250,000 people lining the streets as the open-top bus crawled along, whilst in the background the cathedral bells rang for the first time in over 100 years. Heady days indeed for a city that had suffered like most with the recession of the early eighties.
Houchen revealed the full extent of the celebrations in Matt Allen's Where Are They Now? book. "Even the mayor of Coventry went crazy. Everyone was out of it by 2am. Policemen were coming in and filling their helmets with champagne. People were chucking the Cup around the room, bouncing it off the walls. At one point someone realised that the lid was missing. Someone was sitting on it. It was all bent out of shape".
For Tottenham, things were a little different. An evening party and bus parade went ahead as planned, but as you can imagine, the atmosphere was dreadful (Russ Abbot would not have approved), and only a few hundred people turned up for the "street party". A season that had promised so much had ultimately ended in disappointment, not the ideal way for Glenn Hoddle to end his days at the club.
The final word should belong to Lawton, seeing as he predicted the 1987 FA Cup final so accurately. "One of the most stirring performances in the history of the FA Cup," wrote Lawton in the Express on the Monday morning, and it was hard to disagree. Sometimes you worry that your mind can play tricks, that you look back on the good old days through rose-tinted specs. But when I watched the whole of the 1987 FA Cup final on YouTube for research purposes I soon discovered that my memories of this final were not far off the mark. A classic final that has stood the test of time, and the best possible way to end my series on the 1986/87 FA Cup.