The night we thrashed Spurs 0-3

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

8 January 2019

When Town drew Gary Lineker's Spurs in the 1991 League Cup, we were going to show the country what we could do. For a while, it almost went to plan

Football is not a "results business". It is a thing of flesh and blood, of hope and excitement. And sometimes of grievances you can nurse to yourself over a quarter century and more.

A 3-0 home defeat is nothing remarkable to look at in the results tables: not so bad as to be a horror story but not even close to a giant-killing. But sometimes the facts don't tell the tale. From our 1991-92 League Cup run, it is the away goals win over Aston Villa that has gone into our collective consciousness. But it's the game against Spurs on 29 October 1991 that I remember.

I was living in London, and had no hope of making it to Blundell Park, but it was the commentary game on Radio 5 and, living in London, I had the likelihood of extensive TV highlights on Thames Television later that night. My excitement only grew when the team was announced: Sherwood, McDermott, Jobling, Futcher, Lever, Cunnington, Cockerill, Childs, Gilbert, Rees, Woods.

It was the team that had become our first-choice XI when we came up from the third flight the previous May, but it was the first time Alan Buckley had been able - or had chosen - to put it out this season. I mean no disrespect to the players who had been filling in. No-one had an eye for a pass like Jim Dobbin, and in another era, Tommy Watson might have been the first name on the teamsheet. But we had all fallen in love with the team that brought us promotion. Even 28 years later I am proud to remember that in my eyes they were world-beaters, if only they were given the chance to show it. And that night, against the Tottenham Hotspur of Gary Mabbutt, Gordon Durie and Gary Lineker, we were going to show it.

For half an hour, it went almost to plan. Grimsby dominated possession. If anything, our passing was a bit too careful, a bit too measured. Tottenham could keep their shape, but they seldom came up against players like Tony Rees. The quicksilver Welshman, the prince of flicks, drew a booking then was booked himself when he lost his rag.

Then on 32 minutes, calamity. Durie broke for Spurs. Futcher, hurrying to close him down, pulled up holding his thigh. John McDermott had to move across to block Durie, leaving David Howells unmarked to score.

Futcher could not continue so John Cockerill moved back into defence and Watson took his place in midfield. At half time, Mark Smith replaced Kevin Jobling and when the second half began, we started to move the ball about more quickly. For the next 35 minutes, Spurs goalkeeper Eric Thorstvedt earned himself a man of the match award.

The moment I most remember is when a ball fell to Rees on the rebound from a Thorstvedt save, yards from goal. An equaliser looked certain and there was a flourish about his backswing as Rees prepared to shoot. A clumsy stab might have done the job, but instead a defender got across to block on the goal-line. The match reports also have Thorstvedt saving headers from Neil Woods and Mark Lever, tipping over from Gary Childs and saving superbly from Dave Gilbert.

There were little more than 10 minutes left when Lineker got on the end of a looping header and put it past Steve Sherwood. At 2-0, Spurs might have thought that they had made the game safe, but then was a moment that showed Gilbert and Grimsby at their best. Or not quite at their best."There's a marvellous fluidity about this Grimsby team." It was as close as we got to an acknowledgement of how good we had been

Tottenham had the ball in the Grimsby half, but Gilbert intercepted their pass. He laid it off to Smith, then turned to accept the return, striding with ever greater purpose towards the centre circle. A quick look up, then a long pass forward for Rees, under pressure and his back to goal, to control with his chest, shield and lay wide to Childs. Childs clipped the ball back for Rees, who had spun away from his marker and, with one touch, crossed towards the penalty spot.

Since he started the move, Gilbert had not stopped running. He scuttled to meet the ball on the volley, a Spurs defender straining to stay with him. Town might have scored the goal to end all goals, a magnificent manifestation of pass and move. But Diddy could not quite match the flight of the ball, and although he struck it firmly, it flew off his shin and narrowly wide.

On the radio, the rising excitement in the commentator's voice subsided. There was a moment's silence as Trevor Francis, the expert summariser, gathered his thoughts. When he spoke, there was almost a tremor in his voice. "There’s a marvellous fluidity about this Grimsby team." After Durie had scored to wrap up the 3-0 win, that was as close as we got to an acknowledgement of just how good we had been.

In London, the TV highlights were presented by Nick Owen. His summary of the game: a "superbly efficient" performance by Tottenham. Perhaps, Nick, perhaps. In a world where efficient is a synonym rather than a near-antonym of "bloody lucky".

And Trevor Francis, who minutes before had been reduced to an emotional silence by the beautiful synchronisation of Gilbert, Rees and Childs? Invited to say what had been the difference between the two teams, he ought to have given an answer based on what he had actually seen unfold: that the only difference was that Spurs had one world-class striker and another forward and a goalkeeper at the top of their form. Other than that, Grimsby were the better side.

But no. It never takes long for pundits to forget, and to fall back instead on what they expect to see, and what they expect you to expect to see. He burbled out some nonsense about Spurs having passed the ball better, an opinion unsustainable to anyone with an actual memory, even if it's not one that can harbour a grudge over half a lifetime.

Never mind. I remember. And we know what we know. And we know that Grimsby Town are by far the greatest team the world has ever seen. No matter what the final scoreline might show.


Share your memories of other games where Town's performance has not had the result it deserved.