There will inevitably need to be something ugly about Tottenham’s performance if they’re to grab a vital victory against Barcelona in Tuesday’s Champions League clash, but it would take something spectacularly dissonant for Spurs to match the foul scenes that marked a meeting between both sides back in 1982.
Barcelona may be famed as a factory of the finest tiki-taka, and Pep Guardiola’s team may stand proud in the history books as the most aesthetically pleasing, technically poetic club side of all time, but 36 years ago they left White Hart Lane with a completely different reputation.
“Animals,” read the newspaper headline the subsequent morning: “The Butchers of Barcelona shake battling Spurs.” Animalistic qualities aren’t usually associated with the Catalans, but as Glenn Hoddle – talking exclusively to Football FanCast – explains, a much-changed Barcelona missing key personnel turned up in north London for the semi-final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a very specific, unusually pragmatic game-plan.
“There were a lot of players who were expected to play and weren’t in the side for whatever reason. And sadly these unknown players came in and they were sort of hatchet men, and they were going to try and come away from White Hart Lane with a decent result, even if it was a 1-0 or 2-0 deficit. It was a real shame that we didn’t actually see the best of Barcelona then but their tactics were definitely changed because of the injuries.”
The opening exchanges were gentlemanly enough, until a loose ball in midfield saw Barcelona’s No.5 clatter into Micky Hazard. At first glance, it was nothing more than a meaty challenge in a straight-up fifty-fifty, but there was something curiously overzealous about it too. Diving in with both legs and targeting the man as much as the ball, it served a precursor for what was about to come. Suddenly, Barcelona’s hatchet game-plan exploded into life and almost every Tottenham touch of the ball was met with an intentionally late nip of the heels.
Tensions soon escalated when Tony Galvin sought to attack a cross into the box, only for it to be cut out by Jose Ramon Alexanko. The Barcelona centre-back, perhaps the most common source of menace throughout the match, responded by shoving Tottenham’s No.9 to the floor.
It quickly became clear that Barca had travelled to White Hart Lane for a brawl, and Spurs’ front-line were the priority targets. Hoddle, Galvin and Garth Crooks would spend much of the first half picking themselves up off the floor and pleading the referee to act.
“They kicked lumps out of us basically. We didn’t have a strong referee, there should’ve been at least two players sent off in the first half an hour without any doubt. The pitch was quite heavy from what I remember and they absolutely kicked lumps out of us. We struggled to get going and where you needed a really strong ref – back in the day the rules were completely different to what they are today, it would never have happened today – we just paid the consequences.”
Eventually, referee Egbert Moulder did act, but only after Barcelona’s butchers had enjoyed nearly an hour of hacking away at the opposition. By this point, the specifics of the game-plan had become patently obvious; whenever a Tottenham player made their way into the central space just ahead of the penalty area, they would be brought down by any means possible, and any means possible largely resulted in instantly going to ground. Hoddle even undertook a mazy dribble across the pitch that drew three separate two-footed lunges, all of which would have resulted in indisputable dismissals today. Eventually, he was stopped.
But when Jan Jose Estella tried to prevent Galvin from venturing down the left wing by sprinting full pelt at the Ireland international and slicing away his standing leg, which was actually a good five yards away from the ball, the Norwegian official could abide no longer.
Considering Galvin was only just inside Barcelona’s half and flicking the ball out wide, it was easily the most ridiculous challenge of the night, even by the standards of a night of completely ridiculous challenges. Not that it put Barcelona off their stride – the two-footed lunges continued and after Hoddle was once again brought down in a dangerous area, Barcelona’s No.7 tried to slap Graham Roberts.
Somewhere in the middle of all that though was Barcelona’s goal, a moment of flattering fortune that justified the agricultural approach they’d taken into a European away leg. Antonio Olmo punted a speculative free kick straight at Ray Clemence, but the Tottenham No.1 unexpectedly let the ball spin off his hands, over his shoulder and into the net. Barcelona had kicked, hacked and fought their way to a crucial lead and away goal, using tactics Hoddle sooner associated with clubs from the Eastern Bloc rather than one of European football’s greatest institutions.
“There were a lot of other teams from Eastern Bloc countries who did that – back then the rules were different and you could get away with it. You could go down the back of people two or three times before a referee would even think about booking you. The game was physical then. Especially some of the away legs we went to – very physical, intimidation from the crowd.
“But you don’t expect that from Barcelona and it was a one-off for them. It wasn’t the way they normally played and they just kicked lumps out of us basically – there’s no better way to describe it. They put us off our rhythm, they put us off our game. They looked at it and thought it would be a mismatch if they’d tried to attack us playing football.”
Tottenham were indeed a very attacking side back in 1980s, as they are today, and eventually their quality told in the 84th minute as Hoddle looped a free kick into the box after yet another two-footed upend just outside Barcelona’s penalty area. Roberts rose highest to convert with a header at the end of a match in which his confrontations with the Catalans had been a recurring theme. Even after the goal, in the game’s dying embers, a nearby policeman was forced to step between Roberts and Martinez Manolo as the latter swung at the former.
Shortly after, the final whistle blew to conclude a European night at White Hart Lane that continues to live in infamy. Manager Keith Burkinshaw would later quip to The Sun’s Brian Wollnough: “If we play in Spain like Barcelona did here, there will be a revolution.”
Play like that in Spain Tottenham did not, as a far less eventful second leg at the Nou Camp ended in a 1-0 win for Barcelona, taking them through to the final where a Barca side not including four of the hatchet men fielded at White Hart Lane dispensed of Anderlecht in a 2-1 victory. Although Tottenham were by no means at their best in the second leg, Hoddle still identifies the initial ninety-minute brawl as where the tie was lost and won.
“Those players recovered [for the second leg], they had their number one side out. It wasn’t a very good game, it wasn’t open, it was very tight, it could’ve gone either way. It was Allan Simonsen who made the difference for Barcelona over the two legs, and he ended up getting the vital goal for them and we lost away from home, which was a real blow to us. But really, looking back, the key moment was White Hart Lane. If they’d taken us on football-wise, we would’ve hammered them but they decided to go the physical route.”
There are very few occasions in recent footballing history in which such a talented team, on such a grand occasion as a European semi-final, has resorted to such underhanded and frankly violet tactics – the Netherlands’ attempts to stop Spain in the 2010 World Cup final being perhaps the only obvious example.
As much as some ugliness is always needed to stop a Barcelona team that still possesses one of the two best players in the world, Lionel Messi, not to mention some exceptional technically-gifted accomplices, Hoddle’s predicting a much different encounter this time around.
“I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. Tottenham had Real Madrid last year, they’ve got Barcelona this year and I can’t wait. I think it was be an exciting game, every Tottenham fan will be excited and hopefully we can get the result that we need.”