Tottenham at Anfield: The Mother of all Losing Streaks

by | Feb 26, 2021

In 2019, after my Gaelic Football team Roscommon won a provincial championship, my Irish cousin Micheal mentioned a conversation he’d had with a Cavan fan, who was a mix of amazed and appalled at our wild victory celebrations. “Sure, you won it two years ago,” the Cavan fan said. “We haven’t won in Ulster for TWENTY-two years.”

Watching Everton go nutcakes at Anfield on Saturday, after their first win at Liverpool for 22 years, I had a similar “WTF are YOU celebrating?” feeling. Because, as a Spurs fan during my 1970s childhood, I was acutely aware that the North Londoners hadn’t won at Anfield since 16th March 1912. NINETEEN BLOODY TWELVE!! Twenty-five days before the Titanic set sail. WTF WERE Everton celebrating?

On 16th March 1985, a 1-0 win secured by a goal from hideously over-earnest BBC ‘Final Score’ pundit Garth Crooks put an end to an Anfield losing streak lasting 73 years. Seventy-three bloody years (to the day). Even worse than… well… Liverpool’s current Anfield record. WTF WERE Everton celebrating?

However, because football actually started in 1992, this barren Tottenham run may be news to a generation of football fans. While researching this piece, I came across a Sky Sports website preview of a televised Tottenham trip to Liverpool in February 2018. It bemoaned Spurs’ “miserable” Anfield record, described by article author Adam Bate as “particularly one-sided, with Tottenham winning only two of their 25 Premier League encounters on Merseyside” (Everton seemingly not being deemed Merseyside for the purposes of the piece).

Bate gave his piece a historic context, noting that “Harry Kane was exactly four weeks ago” when Spurs won the first, in August 1993. That May, Spurs lost 6-2 at Anfield despite being only 3-2 down on 81 minutes. The match highlights are memorable for 19-year-old Jamie Redknapp’s out-of-control hair (easy target, old hairstyles, but this one’s a floppy horror show). And, more seriously, for Mark Walters stopping some racist abuse mid-grunt by pin-point crossing for…John Barnes to head home.

Anyway, two wins in 25? “Luxury,” as the Four Yorkshiremen might say (google it, you won’t be disappointed). Because from 1912 to 1985, Spurs failed to win FORTY-THREE Anfield league and cup matches. Domestic and European, as that included April 1973’s Uefa Cup semi-final first leg, which Cup holders Spurs lost because, y’know… Full-back Alec Lindsay scored the only goal. And Liverpool beat Spurs on away goals, losing the second leg 2-1, before winning the trophy.

Sadly, the 1970s also produced the run’s most recalled encounter, which I’ll dispose of now, as Spurs fans of a certain age will know what’s coming. Ground-breaking Argentine signings Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa were ultimately successful. But their early days in England were…difficult. And on 2nd September 1978, Spurs were thoroughly dismantled at Anfield.

Kenny Dalglish scored the first two. Ray Kennedy almost apologised after nodding home the third. Half-time substitute David Johnson (when there was only one sub) scored twice in his first 13 minutes. Alan Kennedy thumped a penalty past a too-tightly-permed Barry Daines in the “he’s no Pat Jennings” goalkeeping jersey to make it 6-0, after which Granada TV commentator Gerald Sinstadt suggested, a touch belatedly, that “this is becoming a rout.”
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The most-famous of the seven goals met the “left the best to last” criteria and was deservedly one of six finalists in ITV’s “Golden Goal” competition, which the BBC copied for their ‘Goal of the Season” equivalent. After a SPURS corner, Johnson sprayed possibly the longest pass of his career “into acres of empty space” for Steve Heighway, whose forty-yard, first-time left-foot cross on-the-run found the centre of a very on-rushing Terry McDermott’s forehead.

The 70s had happier days for Spurs, though. On 31 March 1973, 10 days before the Uefa Cup tie, Jennings proved he was no Daines, saving two Anfield penalties. The first was Kevin Keegan’s 37th-minute effort, the second was Tommy Smith’s, four minutes from time. Yet Spurs still only drew. My childhood hero Alan Gilzean put them ahead on 20 minutes. And Keegan equalised 20 minutes from time when, in what the Guardian newspaper reporter Paul Fitzpatrick called “one of those curiosities which give football much of its flavour,” Jennings was “deceived by a mishit, misplaced shot.”

But back in the day, Spurs actually won their first two Anfield visits, both 2-1. But they shipped heavy defeats in two of their next three Anfield visits (4-1 and 7-2). It was 4-1 again in 1934. And Liverpool won 5-2 on Good Friday 1963, a thumping made all the more remarkable by Spurs winning the return game at the Lane 7-2…on Easter Monday, rising from the dead with four goals from Spurs; then nearest equivalent to Jesus, Jimmy Greaves. (Logan Holmes’ article on the “Hotspur HQ” website pointed me towards the Easter games). These wins were exceptions, though.

Most games were close, on the scoreboard anyway. Especially in the 1920s, when 0-0s and 1-0s were de rigueur. Radio and TV may have told different tales, of course. But they’d not long been invented. And Liverpool’s 2-0 win in April 1928 wouldn’t have required any of Sky TV or TalkSport Radio’s incessant sensationalism to generate drama.

It was the sides’ last meeting of the roaring twenties because Spurs were relegated, finishing on 38 points, a point behind SEVEN, teams, all separated by “goal average.” This was the codswallop method of separating teams with identical points totals, goals scored divided by goals conceded, until the far more attack-inspiring and straight-forward goal difference was introduced in 1976/77 (another Spurs relegation season).

The safe seven were Burnley, Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester United, West Ham, Sunderland and…yep… Liverpool. So, even the 0-0 Anfield draws of 1922/23 and 1925/266, or the 1-1 draw of 1921/22, would have saved Spurs. Instead, Tom Bromilow’s first-minute goal and Gordon Hodgson’s late second consigned Spurs to Division Two for all but one season (1933/34… a 3-1 loss at Anfield) until they won it in 1949/50.

Another significant Anfield encounter was in May 1982. Glenn Hoddle gave Spurs hopes of hoodoo-ending history in, even for him, spectacular style, pinging one in from that uniquely-football distance ‘fully 35 yards’ to give Spurs a half-time lead. But Liverpool needed to win to clinch the league title. So, being the 1980s, they did, scoring three unanswered goals to secure their fifth title in seven years, against a Spurs’ defence which could have played the second half at Goodison Park, for all the resistance they offered.

Spurs drew 15 and lost 28 of the Anfield games in this wretched run. It was little wonder, then, that ITV match commentator Brian Moore declared “you’d have thought Spurs had won the Cup by the look of their players” when the final whistle went on 16th March 1985 (“the Cup,” the FA Cup, was still a big deal back then). His pre-match preamble, on the edited highlights anyway, referenced the Anfield losing streak as “the most painful statistic in Tottenham’s history” and called that afternoon’s Spurs team “the latest to try and put that irritating fact to rest.”

It was a team of classic Spurs names. And John Chiedozie. Start crying now, Lilywhites, as you compare Mourinho’s men with Hoddle (“born is the king of White Hart Lane”), Micky Hazard (only a sub), Chris Hughton, Tony Galvin (“Tony, Tony Galvin, Tony Galvin on the wing), Crooks, Mark Falco, Steve Perryman, Graham Roberts. And Liverpool legend Ray Clemence in goal. Clemence had a busy game. But Spurs had their chances too in what was a ‘good 0-0’ until history was made on 71 minutes…

Crooks’ goal wouldn’t have survived VAR, though. Falco’s left arm was not in the most natural position when it blocked Alan Kennedy’s clearance. In front of the Kop, too, so referee Ken Baker really mustn’t have seen it. indeed, NO-ONE appealed, on-field or off. The looping loose ball was guided towards Hazard by a rare-as-rocking-horse-sh*t Hoddle header. Picture THAT if you can (the header, not the roc…anyway). Hazard overcame his shock to bring a fine save from future Matabeleland international, Bruce Grobbelaar with a stunning right-foot volley. Crooks rifled the loose ball into the roof of the net from five yards. And that “irritating fact” was “put to rest.”

Moore called the win “a severe blow” to Liverpool’s title hopes. And Spurs went second, behind Everton on goal difference. On the touchline, straight afterwards, Elton Welsby asked Clemence about “rumours that you were in goal for Liverpool the last time Spurs won here,” which the 36-year-old custodian answered with more grace (“sometimes when I play it feels like that”) than the right-hander he could conceivably have planted on the Everton fan. Moore noted in the Big Match studio that nine of Spurs’ remaining 13 games were at home. However, they lost five of them, including a ‘title decider’ against Everton, who won the league by 13 points.

Two more Spurs Anfield defeats followed, including a Screen Sports Super Cup tie, the competition for the clubs who qualified for Europe after 84/85 but were banned because of the Heysel disaster and years of English fans’ hooliganism in Europe (Spurs also lost the return at the Lane…I know because I was there…with only 10,077 others). But Spurs won again at Anfield in October 1986, Clive Allen securing another 1-0, one of his 49 goals that season, when he thought he was Jimmy Greaves.

Since then, the two Premier League wins, in what is now 29 games. Yet even Spurs might have won at Anfield last Saturday, or anytime recently, given Liverpool’s 2021 Anfield form, despite those 73 winless years. WTF, indeed, WERE Everton celebrating?