Wembley Stadium, London
May 14, 1981
Tottenham Hotspur – 3 (Villa-2, Crooks)
Manchester City -2 (MacKenzie, Reeves)
There are times when a single goal defines the career of a footballer. Ricky Villa won a World Cup with Argentina but it was his wonder goal against Manchester City in 1981 FA Cup final than lingers in popular memory as the most everlasting act of the bearded Argentine. It was also a goal that signified the return of Tottenham Hotspur to the big stage.
In mid-70s, things were not going well in White Hart Lane. A golden period under Bill Nicholson had ended and a highly unpopular reign of ex-Arsenal man Terry Neil saw the club almost get relegated in 1975. When Neil left in mid-way of 1976 he was replaced by Keith Burkinshaw. Burkinshaw’s inexperience in top level football was exposed as Spurs finished rock bottom in First Division and were relegated for the first time in 27 years. They were back in top division after just one season, edging out Brighton & Hove Albion by goal difference. Back in top division, Spurs made a bold move of signing an Argentine duo who had just won the World Cup. A season record crowd gathered on 23rd August, 1978 as Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles made their Spurs debut amidst a ticker tape welcome. Their honeymoon didn’t last as Spurs were roundly defeated by Aston Villa. The Argentine duo soon became fan favourite but would take some time to settle down in England. After two mid-table finishes they had slowly but steadily hit their best form by the time 1980/81 FA Cup started.
Tottenham didn’t have much trouble till the semi-final, ending Exeter City’s giant killing run on the way. A last gasp penalty from Wolverhampton’s Willie Carr took the semi-final to a replay after the Lillywhites had led 2-1 for most of the game. In the replay, ironically played in Highbury, Spurs gave no chance to their opponents and ran out 3-0 winners thanks to a brace from Garth Crooks.
Just like Spurs, Manchester City had also entered a lean patch after a successful period in mid-70s. The League Cup in 1976 was their only trophy in half a decade prior to this final and this was their first FA Cup final since their triumph over Leicester City twelve years before. City started their FA Cup campaign in blazing form, smashing in eleven goals in first three rounds without reply. They had to go to a replay in quarter-final after a 2-2 draw with Everton in first leg but comfortably clinched the replay 3-1. A goal from Paul Powers in extra-time against Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town ensured them a place in the final.
Right-winger Tommy Hutchinson gave Manchester City lead in the final at the half hour mark and they were cruising towards the title before the same player got his name on the score sheet with an own goal eleven minutes from the final whistle. There were no more goals in extra time as an FA Cup final went to replay for the first time in eleven years.
Tottenham Hotspur: Aleksic; Hughton, Miller, Roberts, Perryman; Hoddle, Villa, Ardiles, Galvin; Archibald, Crooks
Manchester City: Corrigan; Ranson, McDonald, Reid, Caton; Power, Gow, Mackenzie, Hutchison; Bennett, Reeves
Spurs fans had moved first to buy tickets for the replay final and they occupied more than half the Wembley for this match. Taking a cue from their supporters, Tottenham players also got off the block quicker of the two teams and aggressively won possession reaching the opponent penalty box as early as the fourth minute. In terms of formation, both teams fielded a 4-4-2 but Spurs’ wingers, especially Ardiles, cut back from the wings to turn their system into a 4-3-3 when in attack while City wingers played a more conventional role by hogging the touchline.
Despite losing out in early possession, it was City who created early opportunities, between 4th and 5th minutes. The first corner in the match was volleyed towards the goal by Mackenzie, only to be cleared by Hughton off the line. Seconds later, Reeves broke past Spurs’ offside trap but a last minute block from Villa prevented a perfect scoring opportunity. Few minutes later, a moment of genius from Ardiles gifted the opening goal to Spurs.
Latching on to a throw near the left touchline, Villa got past Power with an overhead lob with his second touch. He took one more touch before evading McDonald with his fourth touch and a split second later he had dribbled past Bennett near the edge of City penalty box. His diagonal shot hit Archibald whose close range shot was saved first time by Corrigan but Villa was following up and he scored a perfect poacher’s goal.
Spurs fans had barely stopped celebrating when 19 year old MacKenzie scored an absolute screamer. A City free-kick was weakly cleared by Spurs defence before Reid headed the clearance towards the midfielder, who was just outside the box. MacKenzie struck a full blooded volley with his right foot as the ball whistled past the Spurs’ keeper into top left corner. 90,000 strong crowd had already witnessed two goals of high quality and the BBC commentary team even suggested that MacKenzie’s strike was one of the finest in FA Cup final. How ironical their words would prove late!
Undeterred by the equalizer Spurs continued to push further as a Hoddle free-kick thundered off the framework. Aleksic came out of his line just in time to punch the ball away to stop a dangerous Manchester City counter in the other end. Couple of minutes before the half-hour mark, another dangerous set-piece from Manchester City was headed away by center-forward Crooks with Caton following up in far post. Tottenham managed to convert their possession into a meaty chance on 34th minute as a Villa long ranger was saved by Corrigan after Spurs had won possession thanks to some sloppy passing from their opponents.
The bearded Argentine was once again in action seven minutes later as he was released by a wonderful over-head pass from Hoddle but his shot from a narrow angle was easily saved. On 42nd minute Villa set-up Crooks after cutting into the penalty box from left-wing but the center-forward’s shot went over the post. Despite Spurs being the dominant side overall, first half ended 1-1.
Five minutes into second half Manchester City pulled ahead again. A somewhat soft penalty was awarded to the Citizens as Dave Benett went down in the box. Reeves made no mistakes from the spot. Desperate for an equalizer, Spurs changed to a more offensive 4-3-3 formation with Villa pushing up as a striker and Ardiles playing a more central role. The change in formation had an immediate impact as Hoddle forced off a good save from Corrigan. Seconds later Spurs players were appealing for a penalty as Archibald’s shot bounced off McDonaldo but the referee waved on.
Tottenham’s incessant pressure paid off on 70th minute, resulting in a picturesque goal. Villa’s square pass found Hoddle, whose delicately chipped pass found Archibald yard away from the goal. Archibald passed to Crooks who easily beat Corrigan from close range. Just like the first goal, this too came after some delightful spadework from the Tottenham midfield.
As good as three of the four goals were in this final they would be overshadowed six minutes later during some of the most iconic moments in English football. Galvin broke out from his own half along the left touchline and found Villa, who was almost 20 yards away from the goal. Advancing into the penalty box, Villa swerved past Cayton and Ranson with a body feint. With four Manchester City players closing in, he pulled back fractionally and dissected the gap between two of them. He took two more touches before rolling the ball beneath an advancing Corrigan. This goal was a brilliant individual strike, and perhaps so good that words cannot properly express it.
Villa’s wonder goal knocked the stuffing out of Manchester City and their players were almost in a daze in accompanying minutes. Near the fag end of the game City had a number of chances to pull level but two long ranged efforts from Tueart went wide.
Spurs had managed to maintain their unique record of never losing an FA Cup final when the final whistle went up. The 100th FA Cup final delivered on the big occasion and Villa had made a place in the heart of Spurs’ fans which he would never lose.
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It was said that Spurs didn’t try hard enough in the first leg. Desperate to prove their critics wrong, Tottenham went off the blocks quickly in the replay final. Spurs pressed their opponents very high up the pitch, often challenging for possession near their box. Their relentless pressure made Manchester City players lose possession in dangerous situations and they could have easily conceded goals from such situations if not for some smart saves from their ‘keeper. City’s offensive plans were also hit by a spanner thanks to Spurs’ pressing. Paul Power and Tommy Hutchinson’s wing movement was absolutely essential for Bond’s strategy but both wingers suffered from a lack of supply as City full-backs were kept busy by the clever movement of Hoddle, Ardiles and Galvin. Spurs’ tactic of playing elaborate patterns in midfield meant that they enjoyed a lion’s share of possession and were able to control the pace of the game and slow it down at will. This in turn hampered Manchester City’s offensive plans which relied on pace and lumping the ball upfield.
In Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, Spurs possibly had the most technically gifted offensive trio in England in 1981. Combined with the variety that Archibald and Crooks brought, these three formed a heady cocktail. Ardiles started on the right-wing but he constantly cut back from the wings and played little triangles with Villa and Hoddle. He patrolled the area around Man City box and tried to find the center-forwards with little through balls – one such pass resulted in the opening goal. Villa, on the other hand, played the role of a modern box to box midfielder. He pressed one of the two City center-backs high up the pitch and also made late runs into the box, interchanging passes quickly with Crooks. Glenn Hoddle, one of the most gifted English footballers of all time, kept spraying passes towards the wings as well as to Crooks, who was making runs behind City back-line. The center-forwards added variety to these three flair players. Crooks was small in stature to be a proper center-forward but he made it up with a sudden burst of pace and excellent positioning. Archibald, on the other hand, added a physical factor to the offence and frequently held off Reid and Caton while his partner or Villa found free space.
Man of the Match
The final of 1981 FA Cup was unarguably the zenith of Ricky Villa’s career in Spurs. The man who would eventually become a cult hero among Spurs faithful went into the dressing room in tears after he was subbed off in the first final and there was a speculation that he might not start in the replay. Burkinshaw kept faith in the bearded Argentine and he repaid with interest. Villa was a vital component in Spurs dominating possession in the match with his high pressing of Man City central defenders. He also tried his luck from long range multiple times and was denied by super saves from Corrigan. He could have had a couple of assists as well had his teammates been more clinical. And of course, there is that little matter of scoring the goal which was selected as the greatest in Wembley Stadium in 20th century.
Keith Burkinshaw had done a stellar job in rebuilding Spurs and by 1982 they were arguably the most exciting side in England. They found limited success in Europe while playing the Cup Winners Cup. Spurs thrashed Ajax in first round and narrowly defeated Eintracht Frankfurt in quarter-final. Glenn Hoddle’s late goal in Frankfurt made a big difference in the quarter-final. In semi-final, the Lillywhites were narrowly edged out by Udo Lattek’s Barcelona, who would eventually win the title.
Tottenham, however, were back in the FA Cup final once again in 1982. This time also the final went into a replay after it ended 1-1 after both Spurs and Queens Park Rangers scored in extra-time. Hoddle, who scored the only goal in first final, scored the only goal in replay final as Burkinshaw joined a select group of managers who had won back to back FA Cup titles. In 1983, Spurs would finish 4th in the league, their best finish in years, thus gaining entry to UEFA Cup the next season. In 1983/84 UEFA Cup, the Lillywhites swaggered to the final after scoring 28 goals and knocking the likes of Bayern Munich and Feyenoord out. A penalty shoot-out victory over Anderlecht would see them win their second European title ever and give a perfect farewell to Burkinshaw, who left as Spurs’ second most successful manager since Nicholson.
For Manchester City, on the other hand, this would mean the beginning of dark days. One year later when Spurs were flexing their muscles in Europe, they would accrue just 11 points in 19 games and lose the final match of the season to direct relegation rivals Luton Town, and get relegated. It would take them years to get back amongst the big league.