Back in 84-85, when I was a teenager enjoying my first season on the lower East Stand terraces, I never used to understand why the ‘we will follow the Tottenham’ chant rolling down off The Shelf always included the words ‘… and Leicester…’.
It’s not something I’ve ever asked anyone, but I’ve since decided it has to be related to what went down on 14th May 1977 at White Hart Lane. Or, more to the point, who went down.
As it turned out, a Spurs team including Jennings, Perryman, Hoddle and Taylor beat Leicester 2-0 with goals from Jimmy Holmes and John Pratt in front of a crowd of 26,094 that afternoon. But it made no difference. Despite picking up two league cups and the EUFA Cup in the early seventies – trophies obviously being the one single measure of a club on the up – and despite finishing 9th the previous season, Agent Neill had sold off a lot of our experienced players from the last days of the Nicholson era before heading back to Highbury, leaving Keith Burkinshaw to try and revitalise our fortunes.
These days, I don’t believe there’s any way Burkinshaw would have survived that first season to go on to become one of our greats. We lost to Third Division Wrexham in the League Cup at The Lane, 8-2 away to Dave Mackay’s Derby in October, then 5-3 away to West Ham in November, and were third from bottom at the turn of the year. We lost to Second Division Cardiff in the third round of the FA Cup, were beaten in every single match we played in February, hardly won an away match all season – conceding fifty away goals in the process – and were virtually doomed to relegation following a five-nil thrashing at Maine Road in the game before Leicester came calling.
Our only hope as we kicked off against the Foxes was for West Ham to fail to pick up any points in their last two games of the season – away to champions elect Liverpool and at home to Man United – and for us to overhaul them on goal difference. The Hammers got a nil-nil at Anfield, though, and we were relegated for the first time since 1935, out of the top flight for the first time since push & run saw us promoted in 49-50, and in real danger of falling away from the limelight for good.
It’s enough to make even the most devout anti-Levyite look down at his Fakinel ENIC OUT t-shirt and momentarily doubt the curvature of the earth.
As traumatic as our last relegation must have been, it’s a more recent Leicester visit which I find the most scarring to look back on: Wednesday 13th January 2016 and we were fourth in the league, four points behind Leicester in second, and six points behind champions elect Arsenal in first. We’d won three and drawn one of our last four league games and Leicester were having the wobble many of us expected would signal their slide back into mid-table obscurity, having lost to Liverpool and drawn with City and Bournemouth without scoring a single goal in their preceding three league fixtures.
Although I clearly remember watching the game, I don’t remember too many details outside of two moments which still haunt me in terms of what might have been: Kane’s shot ricocheting off an advancing Kasper Schmeichel and smacking the bar on sixty-one minutes, and the usual unpunished penalty-area argy-bargy that preceded a lot of Leicester’s goals that season as Huth rose to head a corner home in the 81st minute.
Change that result to one-nil Spurs, and who knows what might have been?
This time around, and the stakes for Leicester aren’t quite so high. They’re currently eleventh and, on paper, not in the best run of form having only taken one point from the last twelve available. That one point did come against Liverpool at Anfield, though, in a one-all draw they could well have won. The fact they beat Chelsea away and Man City at home either side of Christmas Day provides further proof they’re likely to be dangerous opponents on Sunday, as does their narrow home defeat to Manchester United in their last premier league match.
As for this fixture last season, it was the 5-4 thriller which saw us three-one down on 47 minutes in what we all hoped would be our last ever league game at Wembley. Two goals from Lamela either side of a Fuchs own-goal saw us reclaim our early lead before Vardy pegged us back in the 73rd minute ahead of Kane rounding off the scoring three minutes later. Somehow, despite no home ground and all Poch’s best efforts to train the lads into the ground, we’d finished the season strongly enough to consign Liverpool to fourth and Chelsea to fifth. No silverware, though, so ultimately it all counted for nothing. Best to forget and move on.
So, moving on, following our one-nil win over a very well organised Newcastle side – and following City’s narrow win over an Everton team we spanked 2-6 – we’re back to third in a two-horse race, but now only five points off first, with a game in hand over City. We’re nine points better off than we were this time last season, where we had just strolled all over United 2-0 at Wembley and were about to enjoy that mad 2-2 draw up at Anfield, the last league points we would drop until we had to face runaway leaders City seven matches later.
In fact, if you take our results from last season from this point on and add it to what we already have, it gives us our best ever premier league haul of 87 points, as does looking at our results last season against teams we still have to face this season. That return would have put us second on goal-difference in 14/15, champions over Leicester by six points in 15/16, second by five in 16/17 (we actually came second by six) and second by thirteen last time around. It almost certainly won’t be enough to see us crowned champions this season, but it would be an amazing achievement given the lack of investment, lack of a home ground, and the money and salary gap between ourselves and certain clubs we’ll find ourselves looking down on again if we do manage to harvest that many points.
Something tells me we’re going to have to play better than we did against Watford and Newcastle if we’re going to take all three points from Leicester, though. Still without Dele and Kane, it’s not going to be easy. But, then, I fully expected Leicester to have the better of us at The King Power in early December. We were without Kane that day too – though he did come on in the 74th minute – but still had enough about us to dominate possession, touches, passes, and run out relatively comfortable two-nil winners.
With Liverpool having to prove their mettle against Bournemouth this afternoon following two draws and Man City having to host Chelsea, another two-niller against Leicester would be very welcome on Sunday.
It won’t see us relegated, at least.