I was in the Tottenham team that won the UEFA Cup Final 35 years ago with a penalty shoot out, and I scored one myself. So a lot of people have been asking me about penalties and what the current crop of Spurs players should do if Saturday’s final comes down to penalties.
My advice would be decide what you are going to do with it, practise it in advance and stick to it. That’s my method and it worked for me, other players may have different methods that they are comfortable with but the important thing is that you are taking it with total belief in your method and your style.
It is very much a mind game when it gets to that situation because it’s you against the goalkeeper, a who’s going to blink first kind of scenario. I believe you are better off taking that doubt out of it by making the decision yourself. As the penalty taker I’m in control, I’m the one who decides where it’s going to go, I’m in charge and if you wait for the keeper to move you lose that control.
It was different in those days because the keeper had to be on the line and could not move along the line. Nowadays the keeper has to be on the line until it’s struck but he can move right and left, but this business of players stepping up to the ball and waiting for the keeper to go one way or the other before they strike it is quite high risk. I still believe that if you strike the ball firmly enough and put it tight enough to either post the keeper has got to go a hell of a long way to stop it and he’s only got a split second to get there.
During our successful UEFA Cup campaign we practised penalties before the second leg of every round. The first round we played Drogheda from Ireland and won about 14-0 on aggregate so after the first leg it was never going to go to penalties but we still prepared. We had a team meeting before the second leg and Keith Burkinshaw, the manager, said ‘if it goes to penalties…’ and we almost started laughing because we were 6-0 up from the first leg.
He said ‘who’s going to take one’ and we had regular penalty takers. Graham Roberts was one, Steve Archibald was another one, and Mark Falco was a penalty taker and then it all went quiet and Keith Burkinshaw looked at me and said ‘Gary you strike a ball well you should take one’ and I agreed.
Of course it didn’t go to penalties and then every round I agreed to take a penalty but it never goes to penalties. And then guess what, it gets to the final and we are 1-1 from the first leg away and we play the second leg at home and it finishes 1-1. We go to extra time and we are into extra time and I’m thinking ‘I hope we score a goal because if not I’m going to have to take a penalty’.
The final whistle went and I’m still on the pitch, we’d already decided who was going to take them so I’m down for a penalty. For me there was only one thing that was important because I couldn’t affect Graham Roberts, Mark Falco, Steve Archibald or Danny Thomas, who was the 5th penalty taker.
I said ‘I’ll go third’ and from that moment I didn’t want to have a conversation with anybody, some of our players were shaking hands with some of our players and I’m thinking ‘it’s not over yet, what are we shaking hands for?’ so I just focused.
I knew exactly what i was going to do, i practised that morning at the training ground and I stuck to exactly what I was going to do. I knew that if I struck it hard enough and accurately enough there was no way in the world the keeper could get to it.
I decided to put it in the bottom corner, low down and that’s what I did. I tried to make sure the keeper saw me looking at his left hand post because it was almost like me saying to him ‘that’s where I’m going to put it’ when I was actually going to drill it low to his right. That’s what I did and he barely moved.
I had a little routine and my routine stood up, I stood the test of the pressure and my technical ability stood the test. The rules are different now and the pressure in Saturday’s Champion’s League Final will be huge, but if one of today’s Tottenham players asked my advice this is what I would tell them.