From a 16-goal double-header in 1963 to a Klinsmann classic, here's a selection of some great matches between the two sides
It was Easter weekend, and Spurs were going for the title in a three-way tussle with Everton and Leicester City. A win on Good Friday at Anfield would have taken them top, which is where they looked to be heading when goals from Terry Dyson – with a shot so ferocious that it walloped a stanchion at the back of the net and rebounded halfway up the field– and Cliff Jones gave them a 2-0 half-time lead.
But Spurs – more of this later – had not won at Anfield since the HMS Titanic sank. And they would have to wait a wee while longer, as Bill Shankly's newly-promoted side – still technically in the title race themselves with games in hand, but not realistic challengers – hit five unanswered second-half goals. Tottenham's capitulation began with a fresh-air miskick from, of all people, Dave Mackay, allowing Willie Stevenson to whip the ball past Bill Brown from 20 yards. Jimmy Melia equalised, Ian St John gave Liverpool the lead, and Kevin Lewis and Melia added to Tottenham's woes with late goals. The Kop cheered wildly, as you'd expect, though contemporary reports claim the 54,463 home attendance was supplemented by a sizeable Evertonian contingent, who had turned up to put the heat on Spurs. Hit song of the day: London Bridge Is Falling Down.
But Spurs went top on Saturday after a draw at home to Fulham, and were in good heart for the Easter Monday visit of – wait for it – Liverpool to White Hart Lane. And if the match between the two sides at Anfield had been remarkable, this one was simply ludicrous. Jimmy Greaves opened the scoring after nine minutes. Roger Hunt equalised for the Reds, but it only served to tweak Tottenham's tail: Jones and a Greaves penalty made it 3-1 by half-time, Jones adding another on 55 minutes. Hunt scored a second to make it 4-2, but Spurs would not be denied their revenge: Frank Saul and Greaves, with his third and fourth goals of the match, made it 7-2.
Liverpool had not played badly – Hunt had hit the post and bar, had another fine effort tipped away by Brown, and St John had an effort hacked off the line – but the class of Greaves was too much. Not that he was man of the match for Spurs. Mackay, culpable in the defeat at Anfield, was imperious. "Mackay calmly productive is perhaps more dangerous than Mackay dominatingly aggressive," reported the Times. "Once he realised Liverpool were luring him upfield, it was virtually the end of the visitor's threat." He played "as if the memory of Friday was a personal affront", and "his inexhaustible skill did more than anything to turn the tide for Tottenham". Spurs crashed through the 100-goal barrier with this win, but their efforts in attack wouldn't be enough to land the title. Everton prevailed by six clear points, scoring 27 fewer goals than Tottenham's final total of 111, but losing four fewer matches, letting in 20 fewer at the other end. The two games against Liverpool, then, illustrated perfectly why most romantics wanted Bill Nicholson's swashbuckling side to win the league, and also why they did not.
"Did you ever see the likes of that?" said a stunned Bill Shankly, shaking his head in awe and wonder. "Did you ever see anything so incredible?" He was talking in the aftermath of a draw with Tottenham at Anfield, as his championship-chasing side looked to have dropped a crucial point in their title race with Arsenal and Leeds United. That they had dropped a point was single-handedly down to one man: the Spurs keeper Pat Jennings.
"The Liverpool players – Peter Cormack, Kevin Keegan, Brian Hall, and Tommy Smith especially – were reduced near to tears as goalbound shots or headers were turned round the posts, flicked over the crossbar, deflected, diverted, smothered, or blocked," reported this paper. "The high balls were dealt with majestically. By way of light relief, he once outjumped Cormack and nodded the ball into touch. And for special effect, he saved two penalties."
Keegan had seen the first saved, Jennings diving to his right to palm away. Smith put the next one to Jennings's left, with similar results. There is a photograph of Jennings springing up from his second penalty save, punching the air with one hand. The referee looks on, grinning wildly in sheer disbelief. On the turf, down on his knees, is Smith, hammering the ground with both fists in impotent rage.
But it wasn't so bad for Liverpool. Alan Gilzean had scored the opener, but Keegan eventually put the ball past the man mountain with – of course – a mishit, deflected shot. And having gained their point from this morning kick-off – the Grand National was being run at Aintree later in the day – Liverpool sat back to hear news of defeats for both Arsenal and Leeds. They would go on to win the title, and the Uefa Cup – having beaten holders Spurs on away goals in April's two-legged semi-final, Jennings unable to perform quite the same heroics in Europe.
"There has been something in the air at White Hart Lane," reported the Guardian, in a gloriously homoerotic preview to the 1978-79 football season. "It is all due to two Argentinians, one small and dapper, the other tall, handsome and of the build one would expect to see spread across the centrefold of Playgirl." These two saucy devils were of course Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. Keith Burkenshaw had been tipped off by the incongruous duo of Sheffield United manager Harry Haslam and Argentina's 1966 World Cup captain Antonio Rattin that the players wanted to move to Europe, and the Spurs boss wasted no time in getting the pair over.
They immediately made a good impression – off the pitch, anyway. "Both Ardiles and Villa, bedecked with crosses and chains round his neck, have something to teach English players in terms of humour and charm," wrote the Guardian's Richard Yallop. "Thank you for the interview,' I said to Villa. 'On the contrary, thank you,' he said. Find an English player who will say that." On the field, though, things were a wee bit rockier. The pair debuted in a 1-1 draw at the new champions Nottingham Forest, Villa scoring, Ardiles winning rave notices. But after the two were given a ticker-tape welcome at the Lane the following Wednesday, "the carnival", David Lacey noted, "was over almost as soon as it began". Visitors Aston Villa won 4-1. "Villa did not so much stop playing [the Argentinians] as ignore their presence; the pair simply did not see a lot of the ball … at times they almost became lost in the crowd."
Ardiles was very much located by Tommy Smith in Tottenham's following midweek fixture, a 2-2 draw in the League Cup at Swansea. Smith – who had loudly promised to give the new boys a torrid welcome to Wales – crumped Ardiles on the thigh, a disgraceful challenge which looked like condemning the Argentinian to a spell on the sidelines. Instead, Ardiles bravely battled on, and lined up alongside Villa for Tottenham's visit to league leaders Liverpool. He will have wished he had not bothered.
While Spurs had yet to record a victory, Liverpool started the season like a train: a 2-1 home win against QPR followed by 3-0 and 4-1 wins at Ipswich and Manchester City. The difference in class would become quickly apparent. "If poor Keith Burkenshaw had spent his £750,000 on a time machine and had fielded instead of Ardiles and Villa, the entire double-winning side of 1961, the result would probably have been no different," opined the Guardian's Patrick Barclay. Liverpool scored seven: two for Kenny Dalglish and David Johnson, one for Ray Kennedy, a rebound penalty knocked in by Phil Neal, and arguably the greatest end-to-end goal ever scored, a zig-zag of raking first-time Hollywood balls, Steve Heighway's left-wing cross eventually headed home by Terry McDermott, speeding in at the far post.
It was Liverpool's signature performance in perhaps their greatest-ever season. Spurs, meanwhile, would continue on their erratic way. Their next league win saw their first victory – thanks to a Bristol City own goal – but that only came after a 3-1 home defeat in their League Cup replay against Swansea of the Third Division. It would take a while yet for the Ardiles-Villa experiment to bear fruit …
… but bear fruit it did in the 1981 FA Cup final, Villa in particular integral to their romantic and dramatic victory over Manchester City, subbed off in despair during the first game, the slaloming hero of the replay. Come the following season's League Cup final, Spurs were the favourites. Liverpool were the better team – they were the reigning European champions, and were on their way to the league title – but Tottenham's form book made for better reading.
Spurs had not been beaten in 25 cup matches since losing to West Ham in the League Cup the previous season, a run which took in that 1981 FA Cup and advancements in three tournaments the following season. Ahead of their League Cup final date with Liverpool, they had reached the FA Cup semi-finals again, and were about to make it into the semis of the European Cup Winners' Cup. Liverpool, on the other hand, were going through a lean period: they had recently been knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea and the European Cup by CSKA Sofia, and had lost in the league to Swansea and Brighton. Oh, and Spurs had never, ever lost at Wembley Stadium.
They so nearly kept that record alive. "A large part of the match was dominated by the skills of Ardiles," reported David Lacey, "who at one stage promised that if he would not actually win the game for Tottenham, then at least he would help them to avoid losing it. His Latin influence consistently raised the aesthetic level of this perennially mundane English occasion." Steve Archibald's 11th-minute goal looked like being enough for Spurs, with Liverpool struggling to make an impact. The Scotland striker nearly made it 2-0 on 85 minutes, but his shot was sent spinning wide by the leg of Graeme Souness. Liverpool went up the other end two minutes later, Ronnie Whelan beating former Anfield keeper Ray Clemence.
The turning point, according to Lacey, had been the introduction of a patently unfit Villa midway through the second half. "With his natural attacking tendencies," he wrote, "Liverpool and particularly Souness began to find space in the midfield that had not been there before." Bob Paisley's side ran Spurs into the ground during extra-time, Ardiles blotting his copybook by giving the ball away in midfield ahead of Whelan's second goal, Ian Rush tapping in the killer blow in the last minute. Spurs, having chased three cups, would be knocked out of Europe in the semis by Barcelona, and would end up making do with the retention of their FA Cup. Not a bad consolation prize, though, eh?
So, then, the Titanic. That went down a month after Tom Mason and Ernie Newman had given Tottenham a 2-1 victory at Anfield on 16 March 1912. Who'd have thought it would take the Lilywhites another 73 years to record their next win at Liverpool? And that – this is eerie – they would record it on exactly the same day of the year?
Garth Crooks was the hero for Peter Shreeves's side, who had designs on the championship. Reigning champions Liverpool had been playing erratically all season, with Kevin MacDonald – a good player, just not a great one – no replacement for the departed Graeme Souness. This result – Crooks scoring the winner with 19 minutes to go, following up a Micky Hazard shot which had been spilled by Bruce Grobbelaar – was celebrated wildly by Spurs. Partly because of the lifting of the historical millstone the players were allowed to keep their shirts as souvenirs, at a time when such practices were rarer, but mainly because it looked like being the symbolic catalyst to win the title.
Spurs had gone level on points with Everton, albeit having played one game more. But just like back in 1963, they were to fall short while the Toffees claimed the prize. Spurs went on a dismal run, winning only six of their last 13 games – hardly the form of champions, especially when you factor in some five home defeats (Aston Villa, Everton, Arsenal, Ipswich Town and Watford, that last reverse a humiliating 5-1 thrashing) and that three of those wins came after it was too late. They didn't even end up second best: Liverpool, who languished in sixth place after Crooksie's Anfield history-smasher, ended up nicking the runners-up spot on goal difference.
The Spurs-Liverpool rivalry has never been a fierce one, so here's a happy ending to see everyone skipping off into the sunset. Well, it's a bittersweet ending, especially for Spurs, but that's the best we've got. This FA Cup sixth-round tie came at the business end of a season of promise for both clubs after periods of long angst. Liverpool looked to be getting back on track under Roy Evans, while Tottenham – whose infamous Famous Five of Teddy Sheringham, Jürgen Klinsmann, Nick Barmby, Darren Anderton and Ilie Dumitrescu had started the season so poorly under Ossie Ardiles – were getting it together under new manager Gerry Francis.
"It is possible to argue that, had Francis been organising the team from the start of the season, Spurs might now be heading towards a second double," wrote David Lacey in the Guardian. "For consistent quality of performance, they are up there with Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn, and as this match showed, ahead of Liverpool."
Robbie Fowler gave a crisp-passing Liverpool the lead towards the end of the first half, but before the interval Sheringham had equalised with a magnificent shot from just outside the area. Spurs dominated the second half, and eventually won the game with 90 seconds to go, Sheringham's clever flick freeing Klinsmann into the area, the German striker stroking a superlative finish into the bottom right corner.
It was the first time Spurs had ever beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup. Roy Evans would have to make do with that year's League Cup, scant reward for building one of the more attractive sides of recent times. Spurs, meanwhile, celebrated long and hard on the pitch, convinced this was their year in the FA Cup. (They had been thrown out of the competition by the FA at the start of the season for financial misdeeds, only to be let back in by an independent arbitration panel.) Klinsmann, on the verge of tears, milked the applause of his own fans – and that of the Kop, who stayed back to give Spurs a standing ovation. "In a season of rottenness and rancour," concluded Lacey, writing not long after the Cantona-Simmonds episode and England's riot in Dublin, "that was a particularly welcome sound."
But of course Everton – who else? – beat Spurs 4-1 in the semi-final. Oh Everton!