Throwback Thursday: Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur (September 17th, 1988)

Soccer Features
Throwback Thursday: Liverpool vs Tottenham Hotspur (September 17th, 1988)

If one theme has surfaced again and again in this Throwback Thursday series it’s that the past is prologue. When a big match between bitter rivals is scheduled for the weekend, commentators and studio pundits will tell you that it’s A Big Deal. But if you’re relatively new to the English game— and for the sake of argument we’ll say that “new” means you came around in the Premier League era— it can be hard to connect those assertions with a real, lived history. Old timers, the folks who have been season ticket holders since it was still the First Division, will of course talk your ear off if you let them. But not all of us have the privilege.

Liverpool hosts Tottenham this Saturday. Most of us are only familiar with the recent history of the two sides— clubs desperate to break in as established Top 4 contenders but seemingly always held down by rivals with more money and more prestige. But the history between these two teams hasn’t always existed in that same finely-tuned power dynamic. There was a time when Spurs were on very different footing for their visits to Anfield— and a good result would’ve been a very big deal indeed.

This week we look back at their league clash from early in the 1988-89 season.

Liverpool were coming off what was for them a disappointing campaign. They had won the First Division title comfortably, a full nine points ahead of Manchester United. But they also narrowly squandered their chance to do the double, losing 1-0 to Wimbledon in the FA Cup in one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history. For this Liverpool side, a decaying power but still indisputably a dominant force in English and European football, that was simply unacceptable.

Spurs, meanwhile, finished the previous league season in 13th place, only five points clear of the relegation zone. With the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle in the squad, there was a clear expectation that they needed to do better this time around.

And for Tottenham, everything went better than expected. While Liverpool had the bulk of possession early, they did manage a promising counterattack led by former Reds forward Paul Walsh, with his shot at open goal thwarted late by Steve Nicol. (To be clear, nobody could get away with the kind of tackle in the box that Nicol pulled off.) A close call from a shot by Ian Rush notwithstanding, Spurs managed to acquit themselves well, all things considered. Chris Waddle even nearly put them ahead later in the half. Liverpool looked surprisingly shaky, considering that they were at Anfield and this was, well, Tottenham. Despite one or two more looks at goal Liverpool couldn’t quite break through and both sides went into the tunnel scoreless.

The second half remained competitive but was perhaps more frantic. Quicker turns of tides. More tackles. More speculative shots. More long crosses. Liverpool would nudge ahead but whatever advantage they had would evaporate. Spurs would have an amazing chance but it wouldn’t quite come together. Vinny Samways launched an incredible long-distance effort at goal that forced Bruce Grobbelaar to act fast and keep it out. It was all thrilling to watch, at least! But well into the second half it looked as though this would be a very exciting goalless draw.

Yet the past is prologue in football, and the game was ultimately defined in less than two minutes late in the second half. In the 78th minute, Peter Beardsley received the ball right on the 18 yard line and hit his shot while sliding backwards from a tackle. The ball flew into the upper left corner just out of Bobby Mimms’ reach to give Liverpool the lead they had been chasing all day. Yet their relief was short-lived— barely a minute later, Terry Fenwick headed in off a free kick by Gazza to draw level and drop the home crowd into a stunned silence.

Apart from a red card shown to Chris Fairclough after a physical confrontation with John Aldridge, that was basically all she wrote. Spurs came to Anfield and escaped with a point. With 10 men at the end, no less. Not bad, all things considered.

Spurs went on to finish the season in sixth place— most definitely an improvement over the previous campaign. Liverpool won the FA Cup that season but lost the league title in exceptionally dramatic fashion. Of course, Liverpool fans remember that season for entirely different reasons.

Spurs travel again to Merseyside this Saturday looking to cement their hold on a Top 4 place, while the home side will look to claw their way back after a disastrous start to 2017. Kickoff is at 12:30pm Eastern on NBC.

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