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Advice From Tottenham’s Alan Mullery On His Approach to Big Games in 1971

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Tottenham face six ‘Cup Finals’ to the end of the season. In 1971, Alan Mullery provided advice on how he used to approach big games. Mullery who was captain at Spurs from 1968 to 1972 played in three winning Cup Finals for the club as well representing England in vital World Cup and European Championship matches.

Alan Mullery, Tottenham captain from 1968 to 1972. [Photo: Alan Hill]At the end of January, when I realised how difficult our run in was going to be, I included in a blog a heartfelt plea meant to inspire the Tottenham players about the commitment it was going to need to ensure the season did not blow up in our face again. As I suspected, Arsenal have gone on their usual late season run, Chelsea have moved into 3rd place and we find ourselves out of the Europa League and having dropped to 5th from 3rd  a couple of weeks ago. Yet all is not lost. We are only 2 points off the pace, the players have had a fortnight’s rest and we still have the opportunity to prove our worth  by beating Manchester City and Chelsea.

So, I think it’s a good time before the City match to revisit the sentiments in that earlier blog and what better way to do it than with a bit of advice from Alan Mullery, written back in 1971 about how he used to approach big games. Every game we have left now is a big one, so pay attention lads. This man was a great captain, first choice of Alf Ramsey and scored against Germany in the World Cup in Mexico in 1970.

For Tottenham

This is taken from George Best’s Soccer Annual No. 4. Mullery describes Spurs’ approach under Bill Nicholson to the 1967 Cup Final against Chelsea – and Sir Alf Ramsey’s approach to England games. Interestingly his view of the FA Cup mirrors what I have said in previous blogs. Winning it meant more to him than a high league position and encapsulates why I believe victory should guarantee entry into the Champions League. Mullery said,

"“It is difficult to say if I felt prouder winning an FA Cup winner’s medal or playing for England. There is nothing quite like winning an FA Cup Final. Winning the First Division depends on forty-two games, no particular match wins it for you. The F.A. Cup is nothing like this. The exciting sudden death atmosphere of the FA Cup is unique and of course, the Final is seen by so many people”"

Back to the present, every game we have left is like a Cup Final, a cliché but nonetheless true.

Over to Alan Mullery again.

Alan Mullery leading by example [Photo: Alan Hill]“Back to pre-match preparations. We did something unusual for the 1967 Cup Final by staying at the Mayfair Hotel the night before the game. The tradition is to get away from it all in a smaller hotel on the outskirts of London. At the Mayfair there were people flying about all over the place – most un-football like! The result of the game proved the decision was wise however.

“On the Friday night the players were given sleeping pills … but we were still up fairly early. I took a stroll around Green Park, saw Buckingham Palace – just like an American sightseer looking at London for the first time! I’d known these places all my life but at that time it helped to take my mind off matters..”

(Back to me present day, that’s funny, that’s what I did on my Honeymoon in 1983. I wonder if it helped my performance too. I don’t think I’ll bring it up with the wife after all these years …).

“Surprisingly, I found the time before the game the least nervous. It’s history now that Tottenham won the game 2-1. We deserved our victory. After the match it was champagne and celebrations all round. You are walking on air; it’s impossible to explain exactly how I felt. Perhaps out of this world is near enough”.

With England

Alan went on to describe Sir Alf Ramsey’s approach to internationals, usually evening games.

“He has done so much to build a club-type atmosphere amongst his men. In our practice games Alf gives nothing away regarding team selection. He even joins in himself sometimes and he is hardly likely to play! On the day of the game we have light training in the morning. Nothing too exhilarating…just enough to loosen the muscles. After this is lunch and then a team talk. Here we have a final run through of the opposition and Alf tells us exactly what he wants us to do. These talks last for an hour or so. Back at the hotel, Alf likes us to go to bed for a couple of hours. I am not the best of sleepers. I can’t go to sleep just like that! What happens is the non-sleepers will play cards in the afternoon. The tension mounts up as we have a light tea. I’m not as nervous as I used to be, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m completely relaxed.  If my Spurs boss Bill Nicholson was in charge of England, I am sure he would run things very similar to the way Alf does. Perhaps it’s because they were together at Spurs as players.”

A night at The Mayfair

So there you have it. Some ideas for AVB and our current players to prepare for the 6 Cup Finals coming up. Make them special. How about a stay in the Mayfair Hotel for the London games? A stroll in Green Park? Run though the opposition in a team talk and tell the players exactly what you want them to do. Not so sure about the sleeping pills the night before though!

Once more unto the breach…

Over To You!

Will Tottenham raise their game and make a top-4 finish?