When The FA Cup Really Mattered: Spurs V Man City - 1981

The place erupts as Villa sprints away from goal. Serpico is vindicated and delighted.
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The place erupts as Villa sprints away from goal. Serpico is vindicated and delighted.

The latest extract from Matthew Eastley's fantastic FA Cup book 'FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 - The 1980s' is a look back at the 1981 final between Spurs and Manchester City, when Ricky Villa, a footballing Serpico, comes good.

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SERPICO COMES GOOD

Twelve Angry Men is one of the great film dramas of the 20 Century. The 1957 American classic is perhaps the pinnacle of director Sidney Lumet’s talent. Yet it overshadows some of his later works of genius like Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico. The latter stars Al Pacino as Frank Serpico, a peculiar individual, a kind of hippy policeman, shambling around in a woollen hat. The character is also a dead ringer for a certain footballer called Ricky Villa who, in the first 1981 FA Cup Final, played as if he was Frank Serpico. Then, in the replay, he conjured up one of the most memorable goals ever scored at Wembley and a million re-runs were spawned.

Imagine going out to buy a bottle of sparkling wine and coming back with a case of Dom Perignon. Just two weeks after Argentina had lifted the World Cup in the summer of 1978, Keith Burkinshaw, the dour, unassuming Yorkshireman and boss of Tottenham Hotspur, announced to general astonishment that he had captured two of their squad, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa.

Spurs fan Charles Webster says: “It was mind-blowing and, at the time, felt like the sort of thing only a club like Tottenham could pull off. The club’s motto is Audere est Facere which means To Dare is to Do and, back in ’78, Tottenham dared.”

Looking back, 1981 was a distinctly odd year. Two diametrically opposed worlds were co-existing in a nation desperately trying to establish an identity.

On one side, millions were looking ahead with mounting excitement to the July wedding of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the hugely popular Lady Diana Spencer.

On the other, England was suffering serious riots across many major cities, largely as a result of racial tension and inner city deprivation.

Before this backdrop, the 100th FA Cup Final, contested between John Bond’s Manchester City and Spurs, could have been an irrelevance. Some might say the first game was, but the replay has gone down in history as a bona fide classic.

After a 1-1 draw on the Saturday, which saw City’s Tommy Hutchison scoring at both ends, the teams reconvened on the Thursday evening. Ricky Villa had been a peripheral figure in the first game and had trudged sadly back to the tunnel after being replaced on 68 minutes.

Charles Webster recalls: “It was supposed to have been his stage but he just didn’t do it.”

On the Thursday, the players emerged into the dappled sunshine. City fan Raymond Ashton recalls: “I recall the sight of John Bond with his famous Princess Di hairstyle leading the players out.”

In a lively opening, Steve MacKenzie has a volley cleared away by Chris Hughton and then the dangerous Reeves goes close for City. The fans from Manchester are roaring their team on but first blood will go to Spurs. On seven minutes, Ricky Villa smashes the ball home. The place erupts as Villa sprints away from goal. Serpico is vindicated and delighted.

City went straight back at Spurs and their pressure soon produced a goal which, given different circumstances, would be considered an all-time Wembley great.

Demonstrating technique straight out of the coaching manual, Steve MacKenzie steadies himself and, watching the ball the whole time, swivels and fires in a perfectly-struck volley into the top left hand corner. Aleksic doesn’t sniff it. It’s an absolute beauty:

City fan Roger Haigh says ruefully: “MacKenzie’s goal would have been a candidate for best ever Cup Final goal,” and Jeremy Poynton adds: “It was an exquisite volley, one of the great FA Cup goals which would, of course, be eclipsed later.”

At half time it’s all square and everything to play for but, seven minutes into the second half, the tie swings in City’s favour after Kevin Reeves scores from the spot.

The City fans are buoyant, bouncing up and down. They have every right to believe the Cup is coming back to Maine Road for the first time in 12 years before Garth Crooks stabs home to silence them.

Thirteen minutes are left on the clock when MacKenzie, moving forward at pace, is brilliantly dispossessed by Graham Roberts. No one realises it but Roberts’s interception is a precursor to one of the most famous moments in FA Cup history. Roberts finds Galvin who is 70 yards from goal. The Huddersfield-born winger makes 40 yards but is forced wide. He checks and assesses his options. History is in the making. One man’s time has come.

Suddenly available in the inside left channel, 35 yards out, is Villa. “Villiar” pronounces Motson as Galvin finds him. Nothing much looks on but the City defence is slightly slow to react and, before anyone knows it, Villa is on the edge of the box, though his path is blocked by sky blue shirts. Caton stops him going right, so Villa goes left and past Ranson as though he isn’t there. Behind the mic, Motty is getting excited: “And still Ricky Vill-iar” he cries. Villa goes left, feints and then, with Archibald yelling for a pass, comes right again, beating Caton for a second time. Motson is almost screaming now: “What a fantastic run,” he exclaims. Caton makes a third attempt to thwart him and lunges in as Corrigan comes out but Villa gets his shot in and it goes in under the big man’s despairing dive. It’s a truly magical goal and a stunning FA Cup moment.

Charles Webster was watching from the stands: “Without a doubt, that goal changed the perception of Villa in Spurs fans’ eyes. That was a defining moment in terms of his career. It goes beyond Spurs as most people still think of it as one of the greatest goals in any FA Cup Final. Spurs have always had a strong tradition and for them to get that goal in those circumstances was special.”

City fans at Wembley that night acknowledge Villa’s goal was a great one but have grown tired of it being replayed ad nauseum. Raymond Ashton says: “It was an amazing goal and all the City defenders were left stranded. If ever City needed an experienced defender it was then. Had someone like Dave Watson been there, I believe the goal would not have been conceded.”

After the match, there is a wild media scramble to get some reaction from Villa and he doesn’t disappoint: “After Saturday I had made up my mind to leave Spurs and England and head home to Argentina,” he says. “I’ve had no luck in England but now I think I might change my mind and stay. This is without doubt the greatest moment of my life and the second goal I scored is my greatest ever.”

After Serpico, Al Pacino went on to star in the peerless Godfather II. Ricky Villa, however, would never repeat that marvellous moment which is now part of Wembley folklore.

City fan Jeremy Poynton says: “From a distance , the game is a blur, a series of impressions observed from more than 30 years later. I’ve been lucky enough to see City at Wembley four times and ’81 is the only one we lost. Yet, I recall leaving the ground after ’81 knowing that, despite the disappointment of losing, we had witnessed something special.”

Spurs fans will never forget that warm May night for many reasons. Martin Cloake says: “The replay has gone down in history. It was a classic final topped off by one of the most famous goals ever. It felt like there were 90,000 Spurs fans in Wembley that night and we celebrated wildly.”

Charles Webster, said: “Ricky Villa had a decent career for Spurs but he never again replicated what happened that night in May 1981. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him and it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for us Spurs fans.”

“I don’t think I’ve read anything better on The Cup than these books. They really hit the spot.” - David Barber, FA historian

Out now! FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 – by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing, £14.99).

Click here to read a free sample chapter http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/ricky-villa-dave-beasant

Or here to buy on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ricky-Villa-Dave-Beasant/dp/1785310232