Eighteen years ago, a free-scoring Tottenham Hotspur finished seventh, their highest finish in five years, capping an exciting season that saw the departure of Spurs legend Ossie Ardiles and 30 goals from the prodigy that was Jurgen Klinsmann.
Meanwhile, down the road, arch-rivals Arsenal finished five places below and were beaten in the final of the Cup Winners' Cup by a half way line screamer from Nayim, an ex-Tottenham player. Bragging rights in North London were undisputedly blue and white. A 16-year-old Andre Villas-Boas would have been tasting his first legal beer in a Porto apartment block, unbeknown that a chance encounter with the late great Sir Bobby Robson would eventually lead to him being placed at the helm of the Lilywhite club.
Now picture this. You are a Spurs fan during this great 1994/1995 season. You bet your friend who supports Arsenal £1 that Spurs will repeat that season's feat and finish above the Gooners. When unfortunately this doesn't happen, you do a double or quits bet the following season. Repeat until the current day.
If Spurs fail to come above Arsenal next year, you owe your friend over a quarter of a million pounds. £262,144 to be exact.
So can they do it? Will Spurs ever again come above their noisy neighbours? Why have they failed to do so for the past 18 years? There are a few reasons.
Arsenal being superior?
In 1996, Arsenal appointed a relatively unknown Frenchman called Arsene Wenger as head coach, or 'Arsene Who?' as the Evening Standard referred to him. He advised the signing of Patrick Vieira and placed him infront of Arsenal's already solid back four of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon. Arsenal conceded the least goals in the league in his first season, and won the FA Cup and Premier League in his second.
This success continued and peaked in the years after this as they won the league without succumbing to a single defeat in the 2003/04 season. However, trophies dried up after the 2005 FA Cup, with the steady defence they had build their foundations on diminishing, as the the clubs stars began to leave. 'Les Invincibles' were no more. So why were Spurs not able to capitalise on the fall of their once-great rivals?
Spurs not being good enough?
Despite a few highlights; Jurgen Klinsmann's two spells, League Cup Winners 1999, Sir Alan Sugar saving the club from financial ruin and a large points deduction, the 90's were a torrid time for Tottenham.
In 2001, ENIC bought the club and made Daniel Levy chairman, with Glenn Hoddle as manager. Though it was a slow start in the new millennium, the club showed renewed ambition, raising their average 90s league finish of 11th to 7th, and by the end of the decade had qualified for the Champions League. This incline in fortunes met Arsenal's decline and began a run of four successive seasons where the two teams would be separated by one place. Unfortunately, it was always the team in red on top. How could this keep happening?
To an extent, this may be the case. But there is a cliche voiced by pundits all season long, all around the world, and the reason it is so vehemently repeated it that is is almost certainly true. The table doesn't lie.
In 2006, with a squad arguably still inferior to Arsenals, Martin Jol lead Spurs to the final day of the season with a win guaranteeing them that much sought after fourth place, but perhaps more importantly than that, finishing above Arsenal.
The morning of the game, ten of Tottenham's first team were diagnosed with food poisoning. The effects were clear in the match, and they lost 2-1 to West Ham as Arsenal won their last ever game at Highbury 4-2. United by their hatred of the Lilywhites, the West Ham and Arsenal fans could be seen celebrating together all over London that evening.
In 2012, with Spurs cruising to a 2-0 win over Fulham on the final day of the season, Arsenal were struggling away at West Brom, needing a win to stay above their rivals. A late injury to the consistently solid first choice keeper Ben Foster meant Martin Fulop was brought in as a replacement. The ex-Spurs keeper made three awful errors to gift Arsenal the win and once again Spurs were agonisingly displaced. In the 2012/2013 season, Spurs changed the way they play, with talismanic manager Andre Villas Boas taking the helm.
His early pressing, fast-paced style of play saw Spurs concede a lot less goals, and record big wins against Man United, Man City, Inter Milan and Arsenal, and achieve their highest ever Premier League points total of 72. There were some unlucky moments in the season, but also lucky ones, and nothing to compare to the injustice of their previous two close calls. So how did Arsenal once again pip Tottenham to the post?
After a 2-1 defeat to Spurs in March, Arsenal were trailing by seven points to a team enjoying their best season for a number of years. They couldn't focus on their rivals, but get their heads down and focus on winning every game. Arsenal took 26 points from 30 available in their last 10 games. Spurs didn't slow down, and rarely dropped points themselves, but the astonoshing late run of form from Arsenals' 'worst squad in years' did just enough to seal fourth place and that all important North London top spot. Spurs seem to be shaking off the shackles of 'bottlers' in specific matches, with their pitiful record against the 'big four' of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal seeing a turn in recent years. The club are able to hold onto late leads, and seem to have a lot more resilience and character under AVB. But once again, it's just not been enough.
It's probably a thought of many Spurs fans that they could quite easily come second in the league, but only if Arsenal win it. And perhaps one day if Arsenal are promoted to an inter-planetary super division, the lilywhites can cruise to the title.
Or perhaps the new look Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas will continue its progress and make that one small step in their development, and one giant leap for their long-suffering fans.
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