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Return of the Champions League: Tottenham’s top 5 European campaigns

Tottenham recently celebrated its 140th birthday as a club and there has been plenty of games abroad during that time. From success in the sixties, to astonishment in Amsterdam, Spurs have certainly had joy in Europe. As they prepare for their Champions League return against Marseille, let’s look back on some of the Lilywhites’ best European endeavours.

These are 5 of the best campaigns in European competition in Tottenham’s history.

1962-63 - European Cup Winner’s Cup

The early sixties were very positive for Spurs, having won the double in the 1960-61 season and retaining the FA Cup a year later, proving the game is about glory. This trophy run was rounded off with the European Cup Winner’s Cup, founded in 1960 for the winners of each European nation’s domestic cup winners.

Tottenham were the first English club to win a European cup scoring 24 goals in the process, thanks to the likes of the extraordinary Jimmy Greaves and Cliff Jones. These were only two of the players that stood out that season, with honourable mentions going to Dave Mackay, Ron Henry and Spurs icon Danny Blanchflower.

This team was directed by the late great Bill Nicholson who made his debut for the Lilywhites in 1938, retiring in 1955. Just three years later, Nicholson went on to manage his beloved team for 16 years, immortalising himself as a Tottenham Hotspur legend.

The final was held in Rotterdam in front of around 50,000 fans who witnessed the North London side demolish Athletico Madrid 5-1. This was an emphatic victory that symbolised the greatness of the players and manager that Tottenham had during this era.

1971-72 - UEFA Cup

Still under the reign of the legendary Bill Nicholson, Tottenham collected their second European trophy after beating Wolves 3-2 on aggregate. Martin Chivers scored a brace at Molineux, including a spectacular long range effort. Captain Alan Mullery ensured the victory with a goal in the second leg, in front of 54,000 at White Hart Lane.

Spurs recorded a 15-1 aggregate win over Icelandic side Keflavik in the first round which sent a statement of intent to their future opposition. After bypassing French side Nantes, as well as two Romanian sides, they defeated AC Milan in the semi-final with two goals from Steve Perryman.

The one disappointment about this triumph was the lack of a European away day for the fans, with Wolverhampton providing a lacklustre destination for the final.

1983-84 - UEFA Cup

The Lilywhites put on a show in the first round of this UEFA Cup campaign with a 14-0 aggregate win against Drogheda United. This was followed by a two legged affair against Johan Cruyff’s Feyenoord. However, the Dutch maestro was not focused on his own game on this occasion as he was man-marking Glenn Hoddle.

Hoddle is one of the best players to ever wear a Spurs shirt, with immense passing range and outstanding vision allowing him to always see the bigger picture. It just so happened that his performance against Cruyff would be one of the best in his career.

Tottenham then went on to defeat Bayern Munich and Austria Wien before they edged past Hajduk Split, on penalties, to reach the final. They ultimately faced controversial opponents in the final in the form of Anderlecht, after their Chairman bribed the referee £27,000 in their Semi-Final clash against Nottingham Forest.

The bribe was of insignificance come the final whistle as it went to penalties, with the North London side once again winning a shoot-out against European opposition. This was a game my Dad remembers vividly, in particular the jubilation amongst Spurs fans at full-time.

This remains the club’s most recent European honour, which Antonio Conte and Daniel Levy will be hoping to change within the near future.

2010-11 – Gareth Bale’s introduction to the UEFA Champions League

Harry Redknapp successfully led Tottenham to their first Champions League qualification after Peter Crouch’s late header at the Etihad the season before. After second leg redemption against Young Boys in the play-off round, Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and FC Twente were drawn into Spurs’ first ever group of the competition.

Following a draw in Bremen and a comfortable home victory against FC Twente, Redknapp’s men went to Milan in high spirits. Their optimism was cut short as Inter took a 4-0 lead in the first half, providing a harsh reality check against one of the best teams in Europe. Little did we know the circumstances would bring out the best in Welsh wizard Gareth Bale.

A second-half hattrick of identical goals gave the North London side hope of a European remontada. This iconic performance also seemed to tarnish the career of a well-respected Brazilian full-back, Maicon, who couldn’t catch a break in the final 45 minutes.

The European dream remained alive as Inter came to White Hart Lane and were once again tormented by Bale, the now five time Champions League winner.

Tottenham progressed to the knockouts and completed their Milanese football invasion. A 1-0 win at the San Siro saw the Lilywhites edge into the quarter finals where their journey came to an end.

Gareth Bale’s future club, Real Madrid, proved too much for Spurs as they crashed out of the Champions League.

Despite only reaching the last eight of the competition, this European campaign saw a shift in the ambitions of Tottenham Hotspur. Levy finally saw what the team could achieve with the right players, or player in Bale’s case, making it one of the most significant tournaments in the club’s history.

2018-19 – Road to Madrid

In the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, Tottenham went unbeaten in a group containing Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, providing magical nights at their temporary home, Wembley Stadium. However, a round of sixteen exit to an experienced Juventus side made people seriously doubt Tottenham’s ability due to the club’s recent history.

Mauricio Pochettino went into the 2018-19 Champions League wanting to prove people wrong with a memorable campaign. The Argentinian certainly delivered.

After failing to win in the first three group stage matches, Spurs were in trouble from the beginning. However, the Lilywhites turned their form around and a Lucas Moura goal saw them draw at the Camp Nou. The players were unsure if this was enough but once they gazed upon the away support in the upper tier, it was clear they had made it through.

The draw for the round of sixteen revealed Tottenham’s next opponent was Borussia Dortmund, meaning they’d have to defeat them for the second year running. A super Jan Vertonghen performance to remember secured a 3-0 win in the first leg, which was enough to reach the quarter finals without any drama.

With the club having gone this far previously, Pochettino and his players were wary to not slip up once again. It would not be an easy task, however, with Manchester City bearing down on them. Despite the calibre of opposition, a Hugo Lloris penalty save and Heung-Min Son brace at the Etihad secured a place in the semi-finals.

We must also acknowledge VAR gave a helping hand to Spurs, by disallowing a 95th minute winner from Raheem Sterling.

Pochettino’s side then prepared to face Ajax in the semi-final. Despite their preparations, nobody was prepared for the events that followed.

A 1-0 home defeat in the first leg left a lot of work to be done in Amsterdam, due to a Donny van de Beek goal. This was made even worse when Matthijs De Ligt and Hakim Ziyech made it a three goal deficit to make up in the first half of the away leg.

Three little birds by Bob Marley and The Wailers blasted around the ground at half-time, as per usual. It seemed to lull the Ajax fans and players into a false sense of security. ‘Don’t worry about a thing, `cause every little thing is gonna be alright.’

Lucas Moura wrote his name into Tottenham and Champions League folklore that night. The first goal gave us hope. The mesmeric second goal made us dare and the third made us do. The joy on the players’ faces, the scenes in the away end where my Brother was, truly an unforgettable game of football.

The final that followed was a mind-numbingly boring, yet tense, clash against Liverpool who performed their own heroics against Barcelona in the previous round. From a Spurs perspective, the game was ruined by a controversial decision in the first minute that left a recovering Harry Kane and co to play catch up. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Despite the heart-breaking result at the Metropolitano, the road to Madrid made me proud to be a Tottenham supporter.

Now we are with Antonio Conte and our European dreams live on. With one of the best frontlines in the competition, Spurs may be able to ride their luck this year and go far in the Champions League.

In Tottenham’s way stand Marseille, Sporting Lisbon and Eintracht Frankfurt. Fans will be hoping to witness a memorable season with a strong showing in Europe, with the ultimate goal of a long-awaited trophy.

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