Cup finals and pressure

The other day someone asked me how I coped with the pressure ahead of the 1984 UEFA Cup Final, and whether I had any advice for the Tottenham team who are going to play in an even bigger European final later this month.

This business about pressure, it’s down to the individual. People talk about footballers being under pressure but I would suggest that if you’re out of work and struggling to pay your mortgage and feed your family you’re under far more pressure than any professional footballer.

As a sportsman it’s about how you deal with any given situation psychologically. I took the third penalty for Tottenham in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final against Anderlecht and I simply decided that I was a competent penalty taker and therefore it wasn’t going to be a problem, and it wasn’t.

If I had decided that taking a penalty in a UEFA cup final is a major problem for me then it immediately becomes a major problem but I knew what I was doing. I’m a believer that pressure is the individual’s decision, and I had already decided that this was something I could do.

I think i was probably more nervous playing for Bury North End, a youth team in Suffolk, in an Under 15 cup final than I was playing for Spurs in the UEFA cup final because, actually, as a young kid I wasn’t totally sure of what I was doing. But when we played Anderlecht I was 22 and I’ve played for England Under 21s and I’m knocking on the door of the international team and I’ve played in an FA Cup Final, I’m well and truly in there.

It’s your job, it’s your business and the Spurs players who are going to be in the squad for this year’s final know that they have reached the peak of their profession and are getting well rewarded for it. I guess it is down to individuals but nerves never really got the better of me.

If anything, the bigger the game the more I liked it. I just had more energy, I thrived on the big occasions and it was much easier for me to motivate myself for an FA Cup Final against Man Utd, or a UEFA Cup Final against Anderlecht than an away game against Oxford Utd (no offence to Oxford Utd!).

My advice to the Spurs players would be to focus on the performance, not the result. If we perform right; we defend well, we attack well, we pass well, we close down, we’ve got energy and we do all the technical stuff right then there’s a good chance we will win the game.

Winning a European final with Spurs

The last time Tottenham won a European final I was there. I played the whole 120 minutes in the second leg against Anderlecht and scored in the penalty shoot out.

With Tottenham set to play in the Champion’s League final for the first time in their history I have been thinking about that night at White Hart Lane in 1984. A lot has changed in football since then, but some things will always be the same.

Football wasn’t as big back then as it is now but both legs were live on ITV. Brian Moore was the commentator and Brian Clough was the pundit and in those days there were only four channels so I would think the viewing figures would have been absolutely huge.

Of course there will be far more people watching the 2019 Champion’s League Final. But there are other similarities to 1984 because we nearly ended up with an all English final that year too.

It was Nottingham Forest against Anderlecht in the other semi final so once we got past Hadjuk Split in our game the last thing I wanted was for us to be playing Forest in a European final. It was a European tournament and I wanted to play European sides.

For me personally it was the first time I’d played European football. I’d played internationally at Under 21 level for England but I’d never played club European football. For me it felt like an adventure, I had a difficult season  domestically in my first season with Spurs, I found it hard to adapt and it was like a breath of fresh air playing European football.

It was different, we were going to play at Feyenoord, Bayern Munich, Austria Vienna… but leading up to the final I think there was just a real belief in the club that it was our year, we were going to win it.

I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like the 95th minute winner against Ajax which took Spurs through to the final because when I used to play if you had 1 or 2 minutes of additional time it was exceptional. You played 45 minutes and the whistle went and that was it so I never played in games like that with 5, 6, 7 minutes of stoppage time.

When you win as dramatically as that I think it does start to positively affect you and you think ‘it could be our year’. You look at the things that have gone your way, at one stage it looked like Spurs weren’t even going to get out of the group and then they drew Man City, Man City were the team no-one really wanted to draw at that stage but Aguero missed a penalty and Spurs got through it. Deep down inside you start to think ‘it could just be’.

My advice to the Spurs players would be to focus on the performance, not the result. Go out and enjoy it because if you enjoy it it will almost certainly mean you have played close to your full potential, and if you do that you’ve got a good chance of being victorious.