Everyone loves an exciting underdog story. That is one of the many reasons why football is so special. It is fantastic when the unexpected happens, and Spurs have mounted numerous classic comebacks over the years. Here are five of their greatest achievements against the odds.
The First 20th Century Double
Amid the turmoil of weak defense and losing multiple managers to stress and worry, Tottenham’s prospects in the late 1950s were not looking good for fans of the club. But in 1960 the team was starting to bed in and it was a mark of the progress Spurs had made that not winning the First Division was seen as a disappointment (they ended up 3rd, but just 2 points behind winners Burnley).
The start of the 1960-61 season could not have been much better for Spurs, who won their first 11 matches on the bounce, before drawing with Manchester City and then winning four more games. When Christmas rolled around the club were 11 points ahead of their nearest challengers (Sheffield Wednesday). Things were going well in the FA Cup as well, thrashing Crewe Alexandra 5-1 (although it could’ve been worse, Spurs had won their preceding encounter by an almost embarrassing 13-2).
Unfortunately their league lead had been eroded slowly but surely and a once-mighty advantage had been whittled down to just 3 points over Sheffield Wednesday. In April the two contenders faced one another, and while the Owls scored first Spurs came back to record the win that got them the title.
In the FA Cup final they were up against Leicester City. For a long time, neither team troubled the scoreboard but a late brace from Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson secured Spurs not only the FA Cup but the first double of the 20th century.
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1901 FA Cup
One of the greatest shocks not just in Spurs’ history but the history of football as a whole happened so long ago that Queen Victoria had only passed away a year ago. At the time, Tottenham was only a member of the Southern League. They became the first non-league side to win the FA Cup since the football league was created in 1888, a distinction they retain to this day. While Spurs have won the FA Cup seven more times since the first remains the most improbable triumph.
Founded in 1882 by some friends who wanted a hobby to keep themselves occupied, Spurs remained an amateur side when the league was created in 1888, consisting of teams from the North and Midlands. On the way to the final Spurs drew with and then beat Preston North End in a replay, defeated incumbent champions Burnley, and drew against Sheffield United in the final. Come the final’s replay, the amateurs ended up winning 3-1 at the whistle. It was the first time the FA Cup had been won by a London team, as well as a non-league side.
Comeback versus Arsenal
Spurs have had a rivalry with Arsenal since before World War One, and the North London derby is a major fixture in every season. The pendulum has swung this way and that over the years, but one match that looked like a certain Spurs defeat turned to sporting glory in November 2010.
By the time the whistle blew to signal halftime, Arsenal enjoyed a seemingly comfortable 2-0 lead over their local rivals. But football, as is known, is a game of two halves, and the second half was another story entirely. With the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael Van Der Vaart firing on all cylinders with a goal apiece, the score was leveled. And then salt aplenty was poured into Arsenal’s wounded pride, when a late header by Younes Kaboul turned it into a full 3 points for Spurs.
Coming Back Twice versus West Ham
Sporting comebacks are great precisely because they see one side defy the odds but sometimes a contest involves not one but two comebacks. In the 2006/7 EPL season, West Ham hosted Spurs, but the visitors soon found themselves on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreline courtesy of Noble and Tevez. Thankfully, a foolish foul enabled Defoe’s penalty to reduce the arrears, and an unlikely volley from Tainio in the second half made it even-stevens.
The comeback was on. And then it wasn’t, because Zamora headed in another West Ham goal and they retook the lead (ironically, Zamora was an ex-Spurs player). But the Lilywhites responded in style, and Berbatov’s fantastic free kick made it 3-3. Spurs weren’t finished, but West Ham were when a counterattack saw Stalteri knock in the deciding goal, with an epic 4-3 victory for Spurs.
Beating Ajax in the Champions League
In 2019, Spurs recorded one of their greatest ever comebacks and set up an all-English Champions League final in the process. After a first leg 1-0 defeat to Ajax, it was looking grim for the London side. Things didn’t get better early in the second leg when Ajax scored again to have a 2-0 lead.
However, Lucas scored for Spurs to provide a little hope, and his second turned the scoreline into a tie. But the Brazilian wasn’t finished and completed a hat trick that transformed a seemingly inevitable loss into a fantastic win. And not just a great sporting win, but one that propelled Spurs into the Champions League final. Spare a thought for the agony of Ajax fans that night. It was the first time Spurs made it to the Champions League final.
It’s fair to say Spurs have had their share of ups and downs since their Victorian-era founding, and hopefully you enjoyed reading this quintet of highlights from the club’s history.