'IF YOU DARE,
Alan Mullery remembers his unexpected key role in the first all-English European final
BY JON RAYNER
An all-English European final? Tottenham Hotspur have been there, done it and got the T-shirt. Just ask Alan Mullery, a key figure in their 1972 UEFA Cup final triumph over Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was Mullery who scored the decisive goal in the 1-1 second-leg draw at White Hart Lane that completed victory for Bill Nicholson’s side – although, as he recalls, he would not have expected to play any part at all just a few months earlier.
A member of victorious Spurs teams in the 1967 FA Cup final and League Cup decider four years later, the England midfielder had been struck down by a debilitating pelvic injury towards the end of 1971. Nicholson, unconvinced by his fitness, sent him on loan to Fulham. A few months later, events took an intriguing turn. “The phone rang on a Sunday morning, it was Bill Nick,” Mullery explains. “He said, ‘I’ve had someone watching you every game. You’re the best player Fulham’s got; you look fit. So, Monday morning, get your boots and get back here. John Pratt’s broken his nose, Phil Beal’s injured and we’re playing Milan in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup.’”
Despite Mullery’s lengthy absence from the team, Nicholson gave him back the captain’s armband and he led Spurs to a 3-2 aggregate win, scoring a stunning strike in the 1-1 draw at San Siro to book his side a place in the final.
Molineux was the venue for the first leg on 3 May 1972 and Spurs prevailed 2-1 against Wolves thanks to a Martin Chivers double. In the return at White Hart Lane, it was Mullery who scored a diving header from Martin Peters’ free-kick to put Spurs ahead. Wolves levelled through David Wagstaffe, but the home side held on, Mullery’s goal proving decisive – if painful on the night.
“I got a bit of a clattering from the Wolves goalkeeper,” he explains. “Cecil Poynton [Spurs’ physio] came on, rinsed a sponge on my head and it woke me up. First of all, I asked him if I’d scored! We won the cup and thousands of fans carried me around the stadium on a lap of honour as I held the trophy, which weighed a ton. I didn’t know it, but that was my last game for the club. What a way to go.”
Now he is hoping for another Spurs hero to emerge in the club’s first UEFA Champions League final – and another all-English affair. “Six months ago, if you’d asked me if Spurs could win it, I’d have said, ‘Do me a favour, not a chance!’ But that’s football for you. When Lucas Moura scored the winner against Ajax, I screamed. My wife thought I was having a heart attack!
“But the semi-final has gone now, this is the big one and we have to go and win it. We’ve done so well to get there, but people only remember the winners. Bill Nick always told us that if you dare, then you’ll win. It was all about winning with him. We weren’t there to lose and I’m sure Mauricio Pochettino will be saying exactly that to his players right now.”
EUROPEAN CUP WINNERS' CUP
1901, 1921, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1991
1971, 1973, 1999, 2008