Tottenham and Coventry City 1987 FA Cup Final – a Painful Memory


3-0 in our favour is my favourite half time score. It means you can relax safe in the knowledge that you are going to win, except of course for the odd reversal against Man United. Even if there are no more goals, you will still go home having seen at least one decent half. So I am sitting typing this in the second half of the FA Cup game against Coventry in a good mood. Logan has already posted a neat summary of our victories over Coventry in the past, so I am able to drag up the memory of 1987 without it being quite as painful as usual.

1987 FA Cup Final Dilemma

At the time, Tottenham had won the FA Cup more times than any other club. We had never been lost an FA Cup Final.  We were favourites. What could go wrong? Gary Mabbutt scored an own goal. We lost, that’s what went wrong. Nobody could understand how or why. I know why and I have felt guilty ever since.

I am very superstitious about football. My birthday is on May 14. The FA Cup Final, therefore, is always on or around my birthday. I always watch it on the tele, whoever is in it. I was lucky enough to be there for both 1982 Finals. In my single days it used to be an all-day ritual, with a bunch of mates down the pub and then back to someone’s flat for the game in a party atmosphere.

By the time I got married after 4 years of courting, my wife had already become a Tottenham supporter. She has mostly been very understanding about my obsession with Spurs and the FA Cup. With one exception.

My mother-in-law, bless her, shares the same birthday as me. She is a wonderful, formidable woman who used to be in the Land Army and has always been fit and strong for her age. She shows a polite interest in my Spurs fanaticism. It didn’t help much that my father-in-law was a gentleman Arsenal supporter, old chap. They were a close family and always used to get together for a big family lunch to celebrate Mum’s birthday. That included my sister–in-law and brother-in-law (not football fans) and their 2 children (One of them, my nephew Richard, I had already persuaded to be a Tottenham supporter). Often, as a treat, Dad used to take us out to a hotel or restaurant for Mum’s birthday. These could be quite big events, with esteemed relatives from abroad attending. If not, Mum cooked us all lunch at their place.

For the first few years of our marriage, I went along with my wife to these family lunches. It was taking me a while to get used to married life and I missed the party down the pub with my mates. I have been reading Rod Stewart’s autobiography recently and my life with my mates was a bit like being in the Faces. If that means nothing to you, think of the comedy series Men Behaving Badly. I used to like to think I was like the character Tony. My wife says I was actually just like Martin Clunes. She is right of course.

Still, being married is about growing up (eww) and making compromises (urgh) and after all it wasn’t as if it was Tottenham in the final, was it? Except that in 1987 they were again. The family lunch was arranged for the day of the Cup Final. It was presented to me as a fait accompli. I was stunned. I knew my wife would understand when I said I couldn’t come because I would, of course, be watching the Cup Final.

Except she didn’t. Understand that is. Well, if she did, she certainly wasn’t going to let her Mum down. Except she was because this is where my growing up and compromising stopped. Very temporarily, as it turned out. Oh God, the arguments! It was pointed out to me that by the time lunch was over, we could all sit and watch it on their TV together. I was horrified at the prospect, no boozing, no swearing, it would be torture, like watching it in a strait jacket. No, I had to put my foot down, was I a man or a mouse? So, I said I would watch us win the Final on TV (don’t forget at this stage we had never lost one) at home and get to the in-laws in time for tea, straight after the final whistle.  I thought that was fair, a compromise of sorts.

It all started so well. Clive Allen got his expected goal – and then the disaster happened. When I arrived at the in-laws after the match for tea, I was distraught, in a state of shock. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Everybody was so polite and sympathetic about the defeat. When someone said, “Sorry about the football result” I heard “Serves you right, you selfish so and so”. I was thinking “You all did this with your negative thoughts, didn’t you?” I sat on the sofa in my smart shirt and trousers (no football shirt) with a cup of tea and a biscuit and just stared into the middle distance for most of the evening, replaying the horror over and over in my mind.

So you see, our defeat to Coventry in the 1987 Cup FinaI was no mystery after all. It was my fault for being selfish. Divine retribution on behalf of the mother-in-law for messing up her birthday lunch. Sorry guys. I learned my lesson. I know my place. I never again tried to spend my birthday weekend doing what I wanted for fear of bringing down the curse on Tottenham once more. I’ve been pretending to be mature and civilised ever since.

After 25 years, perhaps today’s result means I have finally paid my dues. The win against Nottingham Forest in 1991 went some way to redressing the balance but I’ll really believe (whisper it) if we win again this year. [Ed. Here's hoping!]

Tags: 1987 FA Cup Final Coventry City Gary Mabutt Soccer Tottenham Hotspur