Imagine being a young football fan, and in the early years of your football life witnessing the team you grow to love and adore going on a magical journey. A voyage that culminates in the hoisting up of the most beautiful trophy at the citadel of football. Included is the pleasure of witnessing English football’s most important player of the last 30 years in his prime before, in a flash, a career stalls and a club suffers. Growing up it became clear that Spurs were a cup side that can beat any side on any given day.
Following a third-round victory in Blackpool, it was Oxford United next at White Hart Lane. Paul Gascoigne produced one of his best individual performances; picking up the ball, running at defender, scoring from ridiculous angles. At times it seemed the ball was glued to his feet and he was influential as Spurs overcame a deficit to record an easy 4-2 victory.
Fratton Park and Portsmouth followed, and again Gascoigne took the game by the scruff of the neck, dragging his team to victory with two goals including a bullet header. Notts County – at the time managed by Neil Warnock – awaited in the quarter-finals. Despite a slight groin strain Gazza continued his knack for match-winning goals with a late one to help Spurs advance to the semi-final.
Wembley was the stage for the North London derby semi-final. Arsenal, with their famously dominant back line, were marching towards their second title in three seasons whilst Spurs were treading water in the league. Proving that league form goes out of the window in cup games, 14 April would become a glorious day in the annals of Tottenham history.
As the teams marched out, there was an air of confidence amongst Tottenham fans; we were going to be the side to deny Arsenal a possible double. Pre-match fears over Gascoigne’s fitness were banished within five minutes. Although the free-kick was some 30-yards from the goal protected by David Seaman, the unanimous opinion from the Spurs end was that Gascoigne was going to score.
It seemed too far out, and the run-up was enormous, but the ball soared into the top corner, passing Seaman’s despairing dive. The roar was euphoric and Spurs were on their way. Five minutes later Gary Lineker scored a scrappy goal to double the lead. Alan Smith pulled one back for the Gunners but the Lilywhites weren’t to be denied.
In the second half, Lineker’s second goal made it 3-1. Helped by a run off-the-ball by Vinny Samways that took defenders away from the Golden Boot winner, Lineker unleased a shot that Seaman could not hold.
Just as iconic as the action on the pitch was Barry Davies’ commentary: “Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know. Oh is say! Brilliant! That is schoolboy’s own stuff. Oh, I bet even he can’t believe it!”
The final against Nottingham Forest was framed as a clash between legendary manager Brian Clough versus Spurs’ man-of-the-moment Paul Gascoigne. Could Gazza win the trophy for his team and deny Cloughie the one honour he had yet to win as a manager?
The game did not start well for Tottenham in more ways than one. Gascoigne, who had worked himself up into a pre-game frenzy, poleaxed Gary Crosby in the first minute with a high boot. Thirteen minutes in an advance by Gary Charles moved deep into Tottenham territory only to be halted by another wild Gascoigne challenge. For Spurs, the worrying aspect was that Gazza stayed down following the impact, showing no signs of getting up. The talisman was eventually stretchered off, with Stuart Pearce giving Forest the lead from the resulting free-kick.
Lineker had a penalty saved by Mark Crossley, and a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. It seemed that glory was ebbing away. A new hero was needed to stand up, and it was Paul Stewart who equalised having shot across the Forest goalkeeper and into the far corner. With the scores level, and further chances at a premium, extra-time was required to solve the matter. Early in extra-time, a Spurs corner was headed into his own net by the unfortunate Des Walker. Tottenham held on to win their eighth and still most recent FA Cup triumph.
Paul Gascoigne’s injury – one that cost him a year of his career and delayed his transfer to Lazio – dominated the post-match discussion. During those two seasons either side of Italia ’90, Gazza played with a passion and genius rarely seen anymore. He raised a talented team to a higher level, almost single-handedly grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat on more than one occasion, scoring six goals in a cup run in which he always seemed to dominate the headlines.
Part of our Magic of the Cup series