LIFTING THE LID: Ahead of this weekend’s League Cup Final, we caught up with former Tottenham full-back Alan Hutton to relive the last time Spurs won a trophy, back in 2008.
“When the club that you play for hasn’t won a trophy in such a long time you understand what it means to the supporters,” former Tottenham defender Alan Hutton tells BETDAQ. “They were obviously letting us know in the build-up to the game that we had to win, that it had been so long…”
Hutton is recounting his memories of the days leading up to Spurs’ last trophy win – in the 2008 League Cup Final against Chelsea.
But while the former Scotland international is referring to the nine-year drought his Tottenham side had been on, the same sentiment certainly applies to the current Spurs squad, who head into Sunday’s 2021 League Cup final looking to end their own barren spell and win a trophy for the first time in 13 years.
“I can’t believe it’s been this long, I genuinely can’t believe it,” Hutton says. “Some of the managers that they’ve had since then, the squads they’ve had – some top, top players – to not even win a trophy is unthinkable for a team like Tottenham.
“I think they’ve got everything in place to go and challenge on all fronts but it just hasn’t quite clicked. When I do interviews and people say, ‘you were in the last squad to win a trophy’, it just doesn’t sit right. It’s something they’re going to have to fix and quickly, and it’s going to be down to whoever comes in, the new manager…”
Tottenham certainly haven’t enjoyed the ideal preparation ahead of Sunday’s final against Manchester City, having sacked manager Jose Mourinho just six days before the game and installing Ryan Mason as interim boss.
Spurs’ underdog status for the game has only been heightened in this time, but Mason’s men can take heart from Tottenham’s last cup final victory.
“We knew Chelsea were massive favourites, they were the top team at the time,” Hutton says of a Blues side who at that point in the 2007/08 season were challenging for the quadruple. “It was always going to be difficult. But we felt we had a good chance. If you look at the squad, we had the likes of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov up front, Aaron Lennon with his pace on the wing – when you’ve got those types of players, you’ve always got an opportunity.”
Despite coming into the final off the back of a stunning 6–2 semi-final aggregate victory over arch-rivals Arsenal, Tottenham soon found themselves behind at Wembley as Didier Drogba opened the scoring for Chelsea shortly before half-time.
“It was difficult going down 1-0, you felt they might walk all over us here,” says Hutton, who had only arrived at Spurs from Rangers less than a month before. “But our mentality was good, we knew that with the type of players we had on the pitch, we’d get an opportunity in the game. It’s just a matter of can they take it – and luckily enough we could.”
With 20 minutes to go, Tottenham were gifted a lifeline as Wayne Bridge handled in the box, with Berbatov coolly rolling home the resulting penalty.
“As soon as Berbatov took the ball for the penalty, even though I’d only trained with him for a few weeks, I knew he was the calmest person in the world to take that penalty. Nothing fazed him,” Hutton says. “After that, you could feel with the crowd and atmosphere building, getting behind us, we could go on and do this.”
By the full-time whistle, there was nothing to separate the two London rivals, with the score locked at 1-1. Extra-time beckoned for a Tottenham side looking for a first trophy since the 1999 League Cup win under George Graham.
Juande Ramos was the man in charge for Spurs by this point, the former Sevilla boss having only joined the club four months earlier. As extra-time commenced, Ramos didn’t have long to wait to see his side put one hand on the trophy.
“It was an unbelievable delivery from JJ (Jermaine Jenas) from the free-kick,” recalls Hutton. “Of all people, Jonathan Woodgate throws himself at it. It was a save and then it collided off him and went in. But just the reaction after that, we’re all sprinting from the half-way line. I think I actually tried to get close to him but I fell over as he ran past me. It was just amazing, what a feeling. Four games in, to be playing in extra-time against Chelsea, Woodgate scores the winner, we’re celebrating with the crowd – the memories are just brilliant.”
Hutton adds: “But it was a very nervy finish, backs to the wall. I was cramping up. Wembley is a massive pitch and with all the excitement and nervous energy the body tends to tighten up. Salomon Kalou came on, he was running at me. It was difficult but you hang on there. It seemed like the minutes were going by so slowly but thankfully we managed to get there in the end.”
And get there, they did. Spurs’ wait for a trophy was finally over.
“A lot of it is a bit of a blur, I have to stop and really think about it,” Hutton says. “If you look back at some of the players, the way they were, the emotions, the likes of Robbie Keane, people like that. It meant so much to us all.”
“We obviously wanted to do it for the fans,” Hutton adds. “Unfortunately, I missed a lot of the celebrations in the changing room as I got hoovered for the old drug test, which was an absolute nightmare and I missed about an hour and 45 minutes of the celebrations! But after that it was absolutely brilliant.”
Ramos had continued his trick of never having lost in a cup final as a manager after five triumphs with Sevilla. Yet eight months later, and just a year on from his arrival at the club, Tottenham had sacked the Spaniard.
By that point, in October of the next season, Spurs had found themselves four points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table and having recorded just three league wins since that momentous day at Wembley.
But where did it all go wrong?
“After the final it felt as if it was the end of our season,” Hutton says. “We didn’t win too many games, we drew a few, it just fizzled out towards the end of the season. It was a bit of a disappointment after such a high of winning a trophy. You really felt like we should have pushed on and done so much better. Before you know it, Juande Ramos was gone.”
More good times for the club were not far off, however, with the likes of Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pochettino taking Spurs to new heights, not least reaching the 2019 Champions League final under the latter, where they went on to suffer an agonising defeat to Liverpool.
But the fact still remains, Tottenham’s last trophy win is that 2008 triumph.
“It’s the million-dollar question (why Spurs have never since quite gone on to success),” Hutton says. “Tottenham were always just behind the top teams. Daniel Levy had a wage structure and plan in place and everything had to fit within that. He’s never really wanted to spend that big money to get to the next level. All the teams around them were going on to spend big money and bringing in big superstars and really kicking on. I felt we just stood still and were happy with the squad that we had, we weren’t going to compete with that. And I think that’s always been the problem.”
But now, as Sunday approaches, in the most unexpected of circumstances, Tottenham have the chance to end that 13-year wait for a trophy and lay the foundations for a new spell of success at the club.
“For Mourinho’s sacking to happen now, with such a big game coming up, it’s really strange,” Hutton adds. “But on the flip side of that, it could be good timing. New ideas, Ryan Mason and Chris Powell taking charge. Who knows how they are going to set up? Are they going to bring Dele Alli back in, Bale, Son, Kane… We could see an outstanding team go out there and just be lifted. Maybe Mourinho leaving is just going to lift a black cloud and you might see a very good performance from Tottenham on Sunday…”