31 May 2016 Last updated

The Columnists

Spurs’ shot at the title echoes 1985 bid

Spurs legend Gary Stevens hopes 2016 side can learn from the 1985 team that came so close to title success

Jason Dasey
Added 13:15 | 18 February 2016
  • Former Spurs star Gary Stevens.


Tottenham Hotspur are daring to dream about winning their first English title in more than half a century, and former Spurs’ star Gary Stevens sees parallels between the 2016 side and his 1985 team who went so close to domestic glory.

Thirty one years ago, Stevens was a young and pacy utility player who would go on to represent England at the 1986 World Cup. Now an Asia-based coach, he sits in a Kuala Lumpur cafe hoping that Mauricio Pochettino’s side can avoid the disappointment of 1985.

“We were in an almost identical situation,” Stevens told ESPN FC. “Coming into the last third of the season, sitting in second, playing great football, defending well and scoring goals, with a talented squad of confident players.”

Having won the previous season’s UEFA Cup, Tottenham closed the gap at the top to two points behind Everton after a 1-0 victory at Stoke City on Mar. 2. But 10 days later, as Spurs lost 2-1 at home to Manchester United, Stevens suffered a season-ending knee injury and watched from the sidelines as his teammates faded to finish third behind Everton and Liverpool.

“Although the team went to Anfield and won, many Spurs followers of that time blame the team’s decline in the last two months of the season on my absence,” he said.

Stevens was working as a television pundit for Astro SuperSport in Malaysia when Spurs pulled off a late 2-1 victory at Manchester City last Sunday, which some see a watershed result. He credits Pochettino in bringing the best out of the squad.

“Pochettino has fostered a togetherness and built a work ethic that is second to none in the Premier League,” he said. “The team is well drilled to the extent that every player knows his role yet they have a level of freedom that allows them to express themselves.

“Our 1985 team also had that mix of experience and characters that blended well. We knew our respective roles and what we were each capable of.”

Stevens was 22 when Spurs lifted the 1984 UEFA Cup after a penalty shoot-out victory over Anderlecht in the final and when the club made their subsequent domestic title run.

Although he’d moved from Brighton the season before as a central defender, he’d been switched to midfield by manager Peter Shreeves, in a role not dissimilar to 22-year-old Eric Dier in the current team.

Stevens played 147 league games over seven seasons at White Hart Lane. He’d started his career as an associate schoolboy at his hometown side, Ipswich Town, and it was the club’s former manager, Bobby Robson, who picked him for England.

But Stevens was forced to retire before his 30th birthday after never properly recovered from a serious knee injury suffered in a league game against Vinnie Jones’ Wimbledon in Nov. 1988.

Turning 54 next month and having had major surgery on both hips, Stevens’ ageing body is a reminder that three decades and a generation have passed since the club’s 1980s resurgence. He also played in the 1987 FA Cup final, which Spurs surprisingly lost to Coventry City, in one of the biggest upsets of the decade.

Stevens walks with a limp, but is otherwise trim and fit and hopes to return to coaching after recent stints in charge of Army United FC and Port FC in the Thai Premier League. His other post-football jobs include Sky Sports’ pundit, sports’ host on Britain’s TV-am in the 1990s and the inventor of an insurance policy to protect players’ livelihoods after suffering the same kind of career-ending injury that he did.

“I had the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing Procedure on my right hip last November, having had my left hip done 13 years earlier. The revolutionary operation is designed for younger and more athletic people,” he said. “I’m hoping that within six to eight months I will be back on the training pitch because I’d like to continue my coaching career here in Asia.”

As for whether Spurs can emulate Bill Nicholson’s triumphant 1961 league-winning side and go a step further than his 1985 team, Stevens seemed hopeful yet not overly confident.

“I can’t say with certainty that Spurs will win the league, but they can do it. They have all the components required, as do all of the current top four clubs. The winning team will need to stay clear of injuries and suspensions to key players. Lady Luck will undoubtedly play her part.”

Jason Dasey

Jason Dasey

is Senior Editor of global football website ESPN FC and a former CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @ESPNFC