We were in the first half of extra-time in the 1987 FA Cup Final against Coventry City, and it was a game we were favourites to win. Coventry were a mid-table First Division team, but Spurs had been in the race for the title and boasted a great team which included Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Ossie Ardiles and Clive Allen who scored 49 goals that season.
The game was poised at 2-2, either team could have nicked it, and on the counter attack, Coventry got into our box. A cross came in and I put my left leg out to block it. Ninety nine times out of a hundred the ball would have gone out of play, bounced away for a throw or rolled into our keeper Ray Clemence’s arms. This time, the ball hit my knee and spun up. I turned around to watch it looping over Ray and into the top corner.
I was devastated. The FA Cup Final was such a big deal to me and my family. It was always a big day in our house, and the dream of every kid who was a football fans was to play for a top team and score the winning goal at Wembley. The FA Cup was a big deal then. I had already scored our second goal from a set piece in the first half, but this one was decisive and we later lost the match 3-2.
In the split seconds afterwards, I dropped to my haunches in despair, but straightaway I knew I had to pull myself together. There was still plenty of time left and we had the players to turn the match around. I think most players are very stoical in their reactions to these things, regardless of the occasion. I’d been in games where own goals had gone in, or something had happened – a freak incident, or an unlucky penalty decision – to change the outcome of a match, but footballers accept it. It’s about remaining professional and not letting it affect your own performance.
When the final whistle went, I went up into the stands because I knew where my family were sitting. I remember just putting my arms around their shoulders and hugging them. I’d realised, “That’s football. It’s what happens.” It was a very disappointing day, but that’s what the FA Cup is all about. There’s joy and despair from the very first game the way through to the final. My teammates were great about it too. They knew it had been a freak incident.
“In the split seconds afterwards, I dropped to my haunches in despair, but straightaway I knew I had to pull myself together”
After the game the disappointment went on. We had a massive marquee at White Hart Lane with 1000 guests going for an FA Cup party, and all the players had to attend. Then, the following day we had to take an open top bus tour, which was hoped would be with the FA Cup… but it wasn’t. Worse, we saw all the pictures coming back of the Coventry team celebrating with the cup. It was a very strange 24 hours following the defeat.
Did it take me a while to get over it emotionally? It was the low point of my career, but as a pro I knew what the game was all about. I knew I ‘d done everything I could in that match. I probably would have felt a lot worse if I’d had the ball at my feet and I chipped the ball over his head in an attempt to get it back to Ray safely.
As fate would have it, the first game of the following season was against Coventry away. It’s the only time I can remember in my career when I went out for my warm up and the whole of the stadium were singing, “There’s only one Gary Mabbutt.” The Coventry fans later started a fanzine called GMK – Gary Mabbutt’s Knee. I think I’m set for drinks for life in the Coventry area.