Thursday, 4 December 2014


Tottenham Hotspur had a lot of issues in the 1990s, but fundamental to most of those was pigeon fancier Gerry Francis.

Tottenham began the 1994-1995 season managed by Ossie Ardiles, with a 12 point deduction in the league and had been kicked out of the F.A. Cup.  They had also been fined £600,000 for financial irregularities which had taken place in the 1980s.  However, chairman Alan Sugar in the autumn of 1994 challenged those sanctions in court, and the points deduction and F.A. Cup ban were revoked.  Quite possibly one of the only two decent things Sugar did when he was in charge of the club.

The other was the signing of world footballing superstar Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer of 1994.  When news of this transfer appeared on Teletext (page 140) or Ceefax (page 302) depending on your inclination, it shocked me.  It shocked everyone.  The Jurgen Klinsmann was coming to White Hart Lane, how on earth had Alan Sugar pulled this deal off?  For six months at Tottenham, Alan Sugar could do no wrong in the eyes of the Spurs fans...that was not to last.
Jurgen's arrival at Spurs, was quickly followed by the signing of Romanian attacking midfielder Ilie Dumitrescu, who had starred for his country in the World Cup of that summer.  Ilie was eventually joined that season, by his countryman Gica Popescu who was equally adept at playing centre back, or centre midfield.
Spurs were the media darlings at the start of the season, Alan Sugar was the cock of the walk, and Ossie Ardiles unveiled his front 5 attacking players, they were dubbed the Famous Five.

Spurs lined up on the opening day of the season at Sheffield Wednesday as follows:

Kerslake           Nethercott        Campbell         Edinburgh
Anderton                       Dumitrescu
Sheringham       Klinsmann

It was high risk football, it was certainly entertaining as proved in that opening day at Hillsborough.  It was a seven goal roller-coaster, it was showbiz football! 

However this brand of football was unsustainable over a long period of time, and despite Teddy Sheringham and Jurgen Klinsmann forming an electric partnership, Ossie Ardiles was sacked.  He won only winning four of his first eleven league games, and suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat away to Notts County in the League Cup, with a full strength side.

Gerry Francis had gained himself a respectable reputation at QPR, not necessarily playing attractive football, but it was functional winning football on a budget.  For Gerry pragmatism was the key.
Francis's appointment at the time was underwhelming, but the majority of Spurs fans knew that with a bit of tinkering on the training pitch and some tactical nous on match day, the team would steadily climb the league.  The attacking talent at the club was too great, it truly was an embarrassment of riches.
The first of the Famous Five to fall was Ilie Dumitrescu.  Gerry did not have time for an enigmatic Romanian attacking midfielder, he was replaced in the starting line up by David Howells, who was workmanlike, and put a shift in.  His introduction certainly made Spurs harder to beat, this was Gerry's pragmatism in full flow.  This wasn't "To Dare is to do", this was "To Draw is to do!"
Ilie Dumitrescu, once he was left out of the side, began to enjoy the bright lights of London.  As a rich, single man in London, he let his hair down and partied hard.  From World Cup hero to playboy in London within six months, Dumitrescu's journey was complete.
In early December 1994, Spurs were reinstated back into the F.A. Cup, and their points deduction was revoked, it was a boon to the players and the supporters, and they celebrated with one of their best performances of the season beating Kevin Keegan's Newcastle 4-2.


 Into the New Year and Spurs were beginning to motor, they were turning in impressive performances beating arch rivals Arsenal, and the eventual Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers.  Gerry's defensive organisation and the flair and prowess of the attacking four was reaping dividends.  The F.A. Cup run was also beginning to take shape, they hammered Southampton in a replay at the Dell, when footballing buffoon Ronnie Rosenthal slammed in a hat trick in a 6-2 victory.  Ronnie couldn't believe he had done it, for most Spurs fans who had seen Rosenthal play, couldn't believe it either.
This victory led to an epic quarter final at Anfield, Spurs fans were beginning to think that their name was on the cup, considering the side weren't even in the competition at the start of the season.  Against Liverpool, Sheringham and Klinsmann were outstanding, they scored a goal apiece in a famous 2-1 victory.  I remember listening to the game on the radio, and when Jurgen scored in the last minute, I sunk to my knees in the living room, letting out a primal scream!


 This was it "Jurgen's going to Wembley, his knees have gone all trembly" only Everton stood in the way of a glamour final against Manchester United.  Spurs travelled to Elland Road on 9th April 1995, and were quite frankly horrendous, they lost 4-1 to Everton.  They lost every 50/50 challenge, Everton basically wanted it more.  Spurs were so bad, they even let Daniel Amokachi score twice.  During the game Gerry's tactics of battle hard, and get the ball forward as quick as you can weren't working, but he didn't have the nous to change tactics during the match, he only knew one way to play.

After the cup semi-final defeat the wheels came off Tottenham's season.  They won one of the last eight league games, and missed out on qualifying for the UEFA Cup via the league.  A player of Jurgen Klinsmann's stature needed to play European football, something Spurs under Gerry Francis could not deliver.
Jurgen Klinsmann was the second of the Famous Five to fall.  Klinsmann announced his intention to leave Spurs and join Bayern Munich in May 1995.  Alan Sugar was irate and embarrassed himself in a subsequent interview, saying he wouldn't wash his car with Klinsmann's Spurs shirt, and Spurs would not be buying anymore "Carlos Kickaball's".  This myopic outlook would hinder Spurs over the coming months and years.  All Spurs fans knew that during his spell at the club, Jurgen Klinsmann gave his all, and proved that by scoring 30 goals in all competitions, winning the Player of the Year.  It was a privilege to see him play at his peak.  He would return to the club in 1998 to help save the club from relegation, whilst under the management of the clutz Christian Gross.  It's hard to call Klinsmann a Tottenham legend, as he only played 55 games for the club in total, but his attitude and genuine love for the club, mean he is highly revered by the fans.

Also at the end of the 1994/1995 season, Nick Barmby asked to leave. He had risen through the youth ranks to the first team,  and performed so well he had made it into the England squad.  Wanting to return to his roots, Barmby upped sticks and went to the big spending Middlesborough in the summer of 1995.  Would he have stayed if Spurs had made the UEFA Cup the previous season, it's hard to say.  One thing is for sure though, the Famous Five was now down to two; Darren Anderton and Teddy Sheringham.

Leaving the club also that summer was Gica Popescu, a cultured ball playing centre back.  Gerry Francis felt that Popescu could not adapt to the hurly burly, rough and tumble of the Premier League.  Funny, I remember Popescu giving a man of the match performance at home to Arsenal, in a highly charged local derby, in which Gica scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory.  Anyway Popescu was shipped off to a club who would appreciate his talents.  Popescu joined Barcelona, in which he was made captain, and led the side to UEFA Cup glory. Nice one Gerry!

Foreign footballers buoyed by the success of Jurgen Klinsmann the previous season, were itching to join the Premier League.  However Spurs, hampered by the Chairman's short-sightedness and Gerry Francis's insistence on buying middle of the road players, missed out on the signing of Dennis Bergkamp.  Bergkamp was a huge Glen Hoddle and Spurs fan, it was an opportunity missed.  Instead Bergkamp went to Arsenal, and became one of their greatest players of all time.  Rather than buying Bergkamp, Spurs paid £4.5m a club record at the time, for Crystal Palace forward Chris Armstrong, who the previous season had scored 9 goals and been banned for smoking cannabis.  Alan Sugar famously said "Who needs Bergkamp, when we've got Chris Armstrong". Quite.
Spurs also passed up on the opportunity of signing Ruud Gullit on a free transfer, as Gerry Francis did not see the need of signing a sweeper.  Gerry Francis did not do thinking outside of the box, it was 4-4-2 or nothing at all.
Whilst players like Bergkamp, Gullit, Juninho, Ginola and Asprilla joined the Premier League during the season of 1995-1996,  Gerry Francis brought in; Ruel Fox, Andy Sinton, Chris Armstrong and Clive Wilson.  Un-inspirational, dour and workmanlike, the epitome of the manager.

Spurs were incredibly difficult to break down in the 1995-1996 season, only conceding 38 goals ( a goal a game), but they only scored 50 goals.  At times, it was mind-numbingly tedious stuff.  They finished in eighth place, neither bothering the top sides, nor coming close to relegation.  The season was forgettable, albeit for an injury ravaged Spurs side beating Manchester United 4-1 on New Year's Day 1996.


 Injuries were becoming a common theme under Gerry Francis, whilst Gerry regularly bemoaned the fact, maybe he should have looked closer to home.  Were his training sessions too intense? Was it the fact that he had so few skilful and attacking players at his disposal, that he rushed them back from injury? I certainly think this is the case in respect of Darren Anderton and Chris Armstrong.

The foreign invasion into the Premier League was really taking place in the 1996-1997 season. Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal, bringing with him Patrick Vieira.  Ruud Gullit was managing Chelsea, signing world class players from Serie A, in Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola.  Liverpool and Manchester United brought in two of the Czech Republic stars of Euro 96, in Patrik Berger and Karel Poborsky.  Even Middlesborough were going for it, when they signed Fabrizio Ravenelli from Juventus.  Imagine that Middlesborough signing someone from Juventus. They were was different times!  Spurs were getting left behind, and Alan Sugar and Gerry Francis needed to act, they had to join the foreign player bandwagon.  They needed players to excite the fans, players who could play the Tottenham way.  
Spurs through the course of that season, bought Allan Nielsen, a Danish box-to-box midfielder, whose only redeeming quality was that he wore sweatbands on each wrist.  Joining Nielsen, was acne-ridden Steffen Iversen, who could pick up an injury if someone looked at him funny.  Iversen was a potential World Class prospect from Norway.  He never lived up to that potential.  To complete these signings, Spurs bought the Swiss centre back Ramon Vega.  Poor old Vega, if you asked 10,000 Spurs fans to name their worst ever Spurs side through history, Vega would appear in 90% of the line ups.  These three signings were not even close to the quality of players Middlesboro were bringing to the country, 1996-1997 was gearing up to be another long struggle.

Injuries again played a major part in Spurs's season, as they limped home in 10th place, their lowest finish under Gerry Francis.  Spurs used thirty four players that season, as they lost nearly half of their league games (they lost 18 out of 38), and crashed out of both cups in the early rounds.  It was insipid football. It was tedious at best.  They also got humped 7-1 by Newcastle, a week before Kevin Keegan walked away from the Newcastle job.  Even Gerry Francis was taking Kevin Keegan's enjoyment away from football!
Whilst Spurs were floundering, Teddy Sheringham was playing excellently for club and country, and no-one could blame him for wanting to leave and win trophies.  Sheringham ended up at Manchester United, where he won every trophy going, famously scoring in the F.A. Cup and European Cup finals, when Manchester United won the treble.  
The Famous Five of 1994-1995, had one remaining member, Darren Anderton.

The pressure was fully on Gerry Francis at the start of the 1997-1998 season, he needed to bring in a player he could trust and rely on to replace the excellent Sheringham.  Les Ferdinand was signed from Newcastle for £6m.  Ferdinand was iconic at Newcastle.  At Spurs he was injured.  Again was this a result of Francis's training regime, there were too many injuries now for this to co-incidental.

Gerry Francis was finally sacked as Tottenham manager in November 1997, after Liverpool had drubbed Spurs 4-0 at Anfield, in fact it could have been double that.  The club had won three of their opening fourteen games that season, and had also crashed out of the League Cup, losing at home to Derby County.
Darren Anderton missed all of the 1995/1996 season through injury, he also missed the beginning of the 1997/1998 season under Francis.  Therefore it can be said, that during Gerry Francis's spell as Tottenham manager, through one reason or another, he killed the Famous Five.  

Gerry Francis took over an entertaining Spurs side, who played with a swagger.  During his period in charge, he slowly turned them into a dour side, reflecting the man himself. The last two seasons when Francis was in charge Spurs featured in no memorable matches, in fact it was painful to watch at times.  

This period of dourness did not change until Alan Sugar was removed from the club.  ENIC took charge in February 2001, and brought in Tottenham's number one son Glenn Hoddle as manager, unfortunately this did not have a happy ending.  Spursy.

Chris Clark © 2014    @Chrisclark1975

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