Sport Soccer

Sunday 18 February 2018

'Kid in the crowd' Redknapp bids to end Spurs' 49-year wait

Harry Redknapp. Photo: Getty Images
Harry Redknapp. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Fleming

The opportunity presented to Spurs tonight has been 49 years in the making, as manager Harry Redknapp knows only too well -- because he was a kid in the crowd the last time his club dined at Europe's top table.

Redknapp was a 14-year-old schoolboy on the books at Spurs when he joined the thousands to watch Tottenham's first ever European Cup tie at White Hart Lane, in which Bill Nicholson's double-winners recorded a remarkable 8-1 demolition of Polish champions Gornik Zabreze.

His memory of the night is a little sketchy. "I remember Bobby Smith battering the Polish goalkeeper and then winning by about seven," Redknapp said yesterday.

The sentiment of that kind of football lives on in Redknapp's current team, particularly when he says he will send his team out tonight against Young Boys of Bern with the instruction to "swarm all over them from the start".

"I wouldn't say we have to be patient, we've got to get after them," Redknapp said. "We have to move the ball, play with pace, press them, put them under pressure."

Back in 1961, Spurs had to overcome a 4-2 deficit from the first leg; Redknapp's men are 3-2 down.

The objective tonight will be to overwhelm the unheralded Swiss side, both with the noise inside White Hart Lane and high-tempo football.

Redknapp recalled the special atmosphere inside the Lane when the giants of Europe came to visit in the 1961/62 season, when he saw Spurs reach the semi-finals only to lose to defending champions Benfica.

"They were great nights, great atmospheres. We want the same European nights," Redknapp said.

Tottenham did the hard work last season, with victories at the end of the season over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City that earned them fourth place in the Premier League. Their work seemed to have been for nought as they fell 3-0 down to the little-known Swiss side a week ago, only to fight back to 3-2.

That shock was attributed by Redknapp to the Swiss side's plastic pitch, but he accepts there will be no excuse if they fail having been given a second bite of the cherry.

"We've given ourselves a great chance. We are a fantastic team when we play well at home. If we play as we can play, it will be very, very difficult not to win," he said.

The prize is a place in the group stages of the Champions League, worth around £23m.

But Spurs only have to look to the example of Everton five seasons ago to see what can happen if you spurn the golden opportunity. They lost their play-off to Villarreal and they never quite recovered, finishing the season 11th in the Premier League.

The players are keen to seize the chance, and kill off suggestions they lost their nerve in Switzerland a week ago. Striker Jermain Defoe, who is to undergo groin surgery next week, said nerves won't be a consideration.

"Who's going to bottle it? Look at the players we have got," Defoe said. "There are no nerves. It's like when you are young and your mum buys you your first pair of boots before your first game. You're buzzing to be out there. That's what I feel like.

"On Tuesday nights you don't want to be at home watching EastEnders -- you want to be at White Hart Lane playing fantastic teams."

Success tonight would be a huge achievement for Redknapp: only four Englishmen have managed in the Champions League proper -- Bobby Robson, Steve McClaren, Ray Harford and Howard Wilkinson.

It would cap a remarkable 49-year journey should the boy in the crowd in 1961 prove to be the man who leads Spurs back into the European Cup again. (© Independent News Service)

Spurs v Young Boys,

Live, RTE 2 / ITV, 8.0

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