Retro Match: The 1991 FA Cup Final, Clough’s last chance and Gazza’s knee

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1991 FA Cup Final Gazza Clough
1991 FA Cup Final Gazza Clough

18th May 1991, Wembley: Nottingham Forest 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2

31 years ago, Tottenham Hotspur won the 1991 FA Cup Final at Wembley. They beat Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest meaning the great manager would never win the most famous cup in the world.

The match is remembered most for Paul Gascoigne’s performance. But, unlike his FA Cup semi-final showing against their great rivals Arsenal, Gazza’s next day out at Wembley ended completely differently.

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In retrospect, Spurs would have been confident that they would lift their 8th FA Cup – the 110th year of the competition. It was 1991 and Tottenham only won things when the year ended in 1 – but this was the final time the club won a major honour.

The 1990/91 FA Cup

Forest were desperate to win the FA Cup for Clough – the only trophy missing from his vast collection.

But their campaign started slowly – they needed a second replay to get past Crystal Palace in the 3rd Round. The first game finished 0-0, the second 2-2. Finally, at the third time of asking Forest won 3-0 at the City Ground.

Their reward was a trip to St James’ Park and Newcastle United. Again, the tie could not be settled at the first time of asking – a 2-2 draw meaning another replay was required. Forest again came out on top, 3-0.

In the 5th Round, Clough’s team travelled south to The Dell to play Southampton. The score was 1-1 and the teams met again in Nottingham where Forest triumphed 3-1.

Fans and players were starting to feel hopeful, given the complicated road so far.

In the quarter-finals, they won a tie at the first time of asking – beating Norwich City at Carrow Road 1-0.

On the 14th April 1991, Forest headed to Villa Park where they would face West Ham in the FA Cup semi-final.

What should have been a great match-up became one-way traffic after referee Keith Hackett made the big call to dismiss Tony Gale for a professional foul after just 20 minutes.

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West Ham fought bravely, and the score was 0-0 at half-time. But things changed in the second half, winger Gary Crosby breaking the deadlock five minutes after the break before Roy Keane, Stuart Pearce and Gary Charles completed the rout.

Forest were off to Wembley once again.

Tottenham had an altogether smoother route to the final.

Their toughest test came in the semi-final against Arsenal and before that they had far easier matches against Blackpool, Oxford, Portsmouth and Notts County.

The 1990/91 season was Gazza’s first since Italia 90. By this stage, it was common knowledge he was likely off to Serie A given the impact he was having on the world stage.

The midfielder seemed to be on a personal mission to leave England on a high – so far, this was Gazza’s FA Cup. And the semi against Arsenal only proved this further.

Tottenham’s number 8 was fully pumped up for the game and it took only five minutes for him to leave his mark on proceedings.

Barry Davies was commentating, remarking:

‘Gary Mabbutt has gone forward with Stewart to the right, Gary Lineker and David Howells to the left,’ before setting up an unforgettable bit of commentary with: ‘Is Gascoigne going to have a crack?’

‘He is you know!’ followed quickly, going into folklore as Gazza sized up David Seaman from fully 35-yards out and hit it with such power and swerve that the Arsenal keeper could not prevent it from hitting the top corner.

Davies continued;

‘OH, I SAY! Brilliant! That. Is. Schoolboy’s own stuff. OH! I bet even he can’t believe it. Is there anything left from this man to surprise us?

‘That was one of the finest free-kicks that this stadium has ever seen. Seaman got his hands, couldn’t hold. Spurs have the lead. Paul Gascoigne, the scorer.’

Spurs were soon 2-0 up through Lineker before Alan Smith pulled one back for Arsenal. Lineker scored again before the end meaning Spurs were going through 3-1.

The 1991 FA Cup Final

It’s fair to say, Tottenham really, really needed to win the FA Cup. The club was in financial disarray – years of bad financial decisions were catching up with them and it was believed they were £20m in debt.

Of course, a win at Wembley was not going to clear that but it would mean a European campaign and, hopefully, a higher price tag on their crown jewel of a midfielder.

The narrative was clear – Gazza on solo mission to win the cup versus Clough, desperate to lift the trophy before retirement.

In effect, neither went home happy.

If Gazza was up for the semi then he was on an adrenaline overload for the Final.

Within minutes, he had planted a full set of studs into the chest of Nottingham Forest midfielder Garry Parker.

These were still the days where you’d typically get away with your first one – and referee Roger Milford maintained tradition by giving the Geordie a long lecture.

Any hope of Gazza calming down were lost as in the 16th minute he foolishly lunged at Forest right-back Charles – not only giving away a free-kick in a dangerous position but clearly injuring himself too.

Gazza got to his feet, unaware that he had ruptured his cruciate ligament – at this time, a career-threatening injury. He made it into the defensive wall.

Stuart Pearce lined up the free-kick, bent it around the wall and Forest led 1-0.

Gazza collapsed in a heap moments after the restart – his final was over, his career was in doubt. And what about the big move to Italy? Lazio was his destination – a big-money move agreed. What now?

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All that would have to wait as Nayim replaced him. Spurs needed to get back into the match.

Lineker soon had the ball in the Wembley net, as he had done many times before. This one was ruled out though, offside given by the linesman. TV replays, decades before VAR, suggested he’d got it wrong.

Was luck on Clough’s side?

Spurs were growing though – a Lineker cross met by Paul Allen who saw his header saved by Forest keeper Mark Crossley.

And then another huge moment – Paul Stewart released the England captain and Lineker raced towards goal. He went to the side of Crossley who took him down. Penalty to Tottenham. Would Crossley be walking under a new FIFA directive that season? Not according to Milford who settled for another quiet word.

As is often the way, the reprieved villain gets the chance to be the hero and Crossley played the part perfectly – diving and saving Lineker’s spot-kick.

Roy Keane went close in the second half to doubling the Forest lead, capitalising on a Howell’s mistake before the Spurs midfielder got back to clear off the line.

And then, the equaliser. Nayim, growing into the game, found Allen. He in turn played in Stewart who forced the ball past Crossley. Game on.

Crossley made another vital stop in the last minute, keeping out Howell’s header from Nayim’s corner and taking the game to extra time.

Early into the extra period, Nayim swung in another corner that Des Walker turned into his own net.

Spurs were winning the FA Cup again in a year ending in 1. Terry Venables had got one over his rival Clough – who would never win the FA Cup.

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What happened next?

Gazza would get his move to Lazio – they paid less than originally planned, so desperate were Spurs to cash in. He missed all of the 91/92 season but slowly got back up to speed.

Terry Venables would famously fall out with Alan Sugar and never turn Tottenham into the powerhouse he wanted them to become. He would become England manager in 1994 and take them to the semi-finals of Euro 96 before leaving that job in also controversial circumstances.

Brian Clough would retire at the end of the first FA Premier League season in 1992/93. His Forest team were relegated, far from a fitting end to his career.

One of Forest’s disappointing performers on the day, Roy Keane, would go on to become a Manchester United legend and win the FA Cup repeatedly – along with a fair few other things.

But that was the force of Paul Gascoigne. Even when he only played 17 minutes, he would dominate an entire FA Cup Final.