The much-anticipated Champions League Final between Tottenham and Liverpool turned out to be little more than a damp squib in comparison to its expectations. However, a trawl through the troves of history finds us looking at the first time these two clubs met in Europe and at what turned out to be an altogether more engrossing and finely-tuned engagement.
Back in the early days of European football, there was the European Cup. As quaint and outdated as the idea appears now, this competition was designed for solely the champions of the major domestic leagues to compete in, and to begin with at least, English sides were not too successful in the competition with Manchester United’s 1968 victory being the only success in the first two decades of the tournament.
Running alongside the European Cup was the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, which was like the name suggested, for winners of domestic cup competitions to contend. English sides did a little better in this competition in its early days, with London sides Tottenham, West Ham, and Chelsea winning the trophy in addition to Manchester City.
The third European competition competed for was the UEFA Cup. This was, in truth, a competition for the also-rans: the nearly-but-not-quite sides who failed to win a major domestic trophy but finished in the top four or five in the league. In other words, the competition Liverpool and Tottenham would have found themselves competing for in 2018-19 under the old rules.
The competition was inaugurated in 1955 as the Inter-City Fairs Cup. The idea was that cities around Europe that had held a trade fair would be invited to enter one team into the competition. This meant that no city could have more than one entrant and it also meant that on occasion sides made up from an amalgamation of several clubs would be cobbled together.
This was the case with one of England’s first representatives in the competition. In the inaugural competition, that actually lasted three seasons from 1955 to 1958, a London XI made up of players from several of the capital’s clubs represented England and made the final where they were defeated 4-2 by Barcelona.
Initially, the competition was not UEFA-sanctioned, and it was not until 1971-72 that it finally came under the control of Europe’s governing body. It was at this point that the competition was renamed the UEFA Cup and the rule concerning one club for one city finally revoked. However, the Football League in its infinite wisdom decided to arbitrally keep this rule in place for another four seasons.
The revamped UEFA Cup saw the first all-English European final in any competition as Tottenham Hotspur defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate in a two-legged final.
As holders, Tottenham then qualified for the 1972-73 competition, alongside Liverpool who had finished third in the table, Manchester City who had finished fourth and Stoke City who had won the League Cup. Meanwhile, champions Derby competed in the European Cup, while runners-up, Leeds United, also won the FA Cup and so entered the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Liverpool victories over Eintracht Frankfurt, AEK, Dynamo Berlin and Dynamo Dresden saw the Anfield men safely through to the last four, while victories over FC Lyn Oslo, Olympiacos, Red Star Belgrade, and Portugues outfit Vitória FC saw Spurs reach the same stage.
Also making it to the semi-final were German side Borussia Mönchengladbach and Dutch team Twente. Hopes of a second consecutive all-England final were dashed when Liverpool and Tottenham were drawn together with the first leg to be played at Anfield on 10 April 1973 and the return leg in North London fifteen days later.
The 1972-73 season saw both Liverpool and Tottenham successful domestically. Liverpool would go onto clinch their eighth league title that spring, while by the time the two sides met in Europe Spurs had already secured the Football League Cup courtesy of a single goal victory over Norwich City at Wembley.
So, the scene was set. Yet, before the sides met in Europe they had a dress-rehearsal ten days earlier. In an absorbing league game at Anfield, Liverpool and Tottenham played out a 1-1 draw in a game many observers considered to be amongst Pat Jennings’ finest ever performances. On a day that Liverpool dominated, Jennings was in the form of his life and denied the title-chasing side, again and again, capping his day with saving two penalties – one from Tommy Smith and one from Kevin Keegan.
First Leg: 10 April 1973 – Anfield
Bill Shankly stated before the first leg of the final that he was expecting his charges to take a two-goal lead back to White Hart Lane. Anything less, he explained, was not likely to be enough. His team set about trying to live up to the target set and after just 27 minutes made the breakthrough with an Alec Lindsay goal.
Roared on by a home crowd of 42,174, Shankly’s men set about doing their utmost to realize their manager’s prophecy. Wave after wave of attack flooded the Tottenham half, but once again Jennings was in inspired form. Tottenham defended for their lives with players quite literally throwing themselves in front of the ball to stop goal-bound shots on a number of occasions in both halves.
Match reports of the game indicate that at times it was like the Alamo with Liverpool squandering chance after chance to put the tie to bed. Keegan twice had shots blocked by desperate defenders, Jennings saved at the feet of Heighway and Smith, and Brian Hall hit the bar – and this was all in the first half.
The second half continued in the same vein, but still, Liverpool could not add to their single goal tally. Further chances came and went for Keegan, Heighway, Hall, and Cormack in a frantic second 45 minutes but it was arguably the Spurs’ contingent that was the happier at the final whistle with the 1-0 scoreline.
By the time the second leg was played a fortnight and a day later, Liverpool had to all tense and purposes wrapped up the league title two days earlier with a dramatic and emotional 2-0 victory at home to Leeds United.
Although they still technically required a point to be certain their goal difference was such that they could, in all practicality, turn their undivided attention to trying to secure their second European final.
Spurs for their part were on course to finish eighth in the First Division, but they had at least the satisfaction of knowing that their League Cup victory would deny Arsenal, who finished runners-up to Liverpool, a place in the 1973-74 UEFA Cup under the one-city one-club rule the Football League still adhered to.
Second Leg: 25 April 1973 – White Hart Lane
Liverpool came to North London relaxed after their league exertions and Bill Shankly quite clearly decided that attack was the best form of defence, as his side carried on where they had left off two weeks earlier. The majority of the opening half-hour was spent camped out in Tottenham territory, but despite dominating no breakthrough could be made and the teams left the pitch scoreless at half time.
Within three minutes of the restart, the whole scenario changed when Martin Peters put Spurs ahead with almost their first attack of the whole tie. Despite dominating for one-and-a-half matches, Liverpool now found themselves pegged back to all-square with all to play for.
Once more refusing to sit back, Liverpool went on the offensive and within five minutes were level on the night and back ahead on aggregate. Steve Heighway finished a flowing Liverpool move at the far post which left Spurs requiring two goals.
Now the match started to open up and for the first time in the tie, Spurs started to get a foothold. It was Liverpool’s turn to be put under pressure but they seemed to be coping reasonably well while still looking dangerous on the break. Both sides spurned good opportunities before Peters scrabbled home his and Spurs’ second on 71 minutes after Liverpool had failed to clear a corner.
This set up a grandstand finish as just one more goal would swing the tie in Tottenham’s favour, while a 2-1 scoreline would mean Liverpool advancing to the final on the away goals rule.
Now play swung from end-to-end as the sides roared on by 46,919 in attendance fought this titanic struggle to the end. Liverpool were under the cosh but marshalled by Larry Lloyd and Emlyn Hughes, their defending never quite took on the desperation that Tottenham’s had two weeks earlier at Anfield.
Nevertheless, it was an immense relief when the referee’s final whistle brought to a conclusion what had been a truly amazing and absorbing contest with no further additions to the scoreline.
Bill Shankly was delighted in victory, stating: “What a fantastic week this is and our boys really deserve this success. For both teams to give that sort of display after each playing more than 60 games this season was unbelievable. Under this pressure, it is the equivalent of playing two seasons in Europe.
“I’m confident that we at Liverpool can win our first European prize and complete the championship-UEFA double.”
While his Spurs counterpart, Bill Nicholson had this to say: “It hotted up in the second half and became exciting. It was a great tie and Liverpool are a great side.”
Shankly would be proved right as Liverpool did indeed defeat Borussia Monchengladbach in the final to secure their first European trophy and the first of three UEFA Cups. Tottenham would also win the UEFA Cup again in 1984, courtesy of a penalty shoot-out victory over Anderlecht.