• Rewind to 1967

Lyon take the brawl to Spurs

Jon Carter
February 21, 2013
They may have won the 1967 FA Cup but Tottenham were no physical match for that year's Coupe de France winners Lyon © PA Photos

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The history of clashes between Lyon and Tottenham is not a long one as, before the pair met in this season's Europa League, they had only ever played each other twice before. The year was 1967 and the competition the European Cup Winners' Cup, and it proved to be a tempestuous affair that suggested the history of antagonism between France and England was well founded.

Tottenham's arrival on the European scene had one man behind it above all others: Bill Nicholson. In the early 1960s, Nicholson claimed the first modern domestic 'double' and led his side into a European competition that had initially been viewed with caution by the British football authorities.

The fledgling European Cup may have been in its infancy, but Nicholson was one of the first to recognise its importance as a benchmark of excellence for the continent's best teams. Despite being knocked out by Bela Guttmann's Benfica, Tottenham had been given their first taste of Europe and they would continue to place importance on continental competition after the 1962 FA Cup arrived as they became the first British side to win a European trophy the following season.

The Cup Winners' Cup was only in its second year and was still not viewed as highly as its more famous counterpart, but Spurs ensured that it would remain a part of their history as they hammered reigning champions Atletico Madrid by a scoreline which remains the joint largest margin of victory in a one-match European final - 5-1 in Rotterdam.

Bill Nicholson holds the 1967 FA Cup aloft © Getty Images

As all great managers find eventually, however, the success marked a turning point and Nicholson was forced to rebuild his side in the mid-1960s; his double-winners had begun to disintegrate due to age and injuries - with the talismanic Dave Mackay suffering a broken leg in the Cup Winners' Cup defeat to Manchester United that season. Imports like Alan Gilzean, Mike England, Alan Mullery, Terry Venables, Joe Kinnear and Cyril Knowles were required to boost them back into contention and, while there was no more silverware to be seen in the next few years, the shoots of recovery were growing.

Incredibly, Mackay continued to lead the side despite a horrific injury record and, in 1967, Spurs were back in the Cup Winners' Cup after beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final. Their first test on their European return was against Hajduk Split and they won 2-0 on the Dalmation coast with Knowles telling the Daily Express afterwards: "We can't help feeling that we shall win easily at Tottenham. We were surprised how comfortably we beat them." But it was not such a simple task: Spurs had to overcome a fightback which saw Hajduk score three goals in the last eight minutes (after a disruptive power-cut) to seal progress 6-3 on aggregate, with a 4-3 win at the Lane, but progress they did.

The second round of the competition brought them up against uncharted opposition: French side Lyon. One of the first French clubs to be formed as a mixture of amateur and professional players in the late 1800s, the Lyon we know today was breathed into life in the 1950s and, under manager Lucien Jasseron, won their first-ever Coupe de France title in the 1963-64 season by defeating Bordeaux 2-0.

A team that contained Jean Djorkaeff, father of former France international Youri, gave notice that they might become a force to be reckoned with in Ligue 1 the following season, but finished in 16th in 1966 and Jasseron was sacked to be replaced by Louis Hon. With him went a number of their key stars (including Djorkaeff, Stephane Bruey and Michel Margottin) but, despite their league position only increasing by a single place, Hon brought the Coupe de France title back to the Stade de Gerland again and secured qualification for the 1967 Cup Winners' Cup.

Lyon's first round game had come against lowly Luxembourg side FC Aris Bonnevoie and was an easy 5-1 win. It gave little indication of how they would approach their match with Tottenham, but that was all too clear early on. Lyon's players took the physical battle to Nicholson's players. Immediately pushing and pulling their opponents, Spurs tried to battle back but only succeeded in getting on the wrong side of the Czech referee and saw their entire defence, plus the forwards Terry Venables and Cliff Jones, booked in the first 15 minutes. Just over half an hour in, all hell broke loose.

Jim Duggan's The Glory of Spurs book recounts the main event: "In an explosive incident against Lyon, [Alan] Mullery was kicked in the face and knocked unconscious by Lyon player Andre Guy. As the Spurs players converged to help the stricken player, a full-scale free-for-all occurred that also included Lyon supporters who'd taken part in a pitch invasion. At the end of the melee, a cowardly bit of refereeing saw both aggressor and blood-spattered victim sent off."

Mullery admitted punching Guy after the incident, but the fighting continued in the tunnel as the players left the field. In The Glory Glory Nights by Martin Cloake and Adam Powley, Mullery recalls: "He [Guy] went off first, dashed around the corner and hid. He then pounced and laid into me. Bill Nicholson had to pull us apart... I've never experienced anything like it, and Bill Nicholson was furious..."

French president Charles De Gaulle throws the ball out at the French Cup final in 1967 © Getty Images

After order had been restored, Fleury di Nallo scored on 75 minutes to give the French the advantage. Incredibly, the Daily Mail's Brian James claimed in his match report that the tackles in the game were "delivered with no more than ordinary firmness", but Nicholson was furious and bellowed "we will tear this team apart" when faced with the press. For the second leg, with Mullery suspended, Dennis Bond was brought in and the injured Mike England was replaced by a young reserve, Roger Hoy.

After the events of the first leg, Lyon were booed onto the field with "what should have been a terrible savagery" but waved and bowed politely to their aggressors. A report on HotspurHQ details the match action. "Tottenham were two ahead by half-time, a one-goal advantage on aggregate. Jimmy Greaves provided the goals - the first a drive after 20 minutes and a penalty just before half-time. Early in the second half, Lyon scored which meant, due to the away goals rule, Spurs had to win by two clear goals. Within a minute, Cliff Jones had produced the required score with a diving header. Lyon responded five minutes later to bring the score to 3-3 on aggregate, advantage Lyon.

"Alan Gilzean was next to put Spurs ahead from a Jimmy Robertson cross but ten minutes from time, Lyon spoiled the evening from a Tottenham point of view. With that late goal, it all ended in tears - tears of sadness for Spurs, tears of joy for Lyon. Spurs won 4-3 on the night but it was a pointless win, a meaningless victory as Tottenham were knocked out of the competition on the away goals rule, first introduced by UEFA in 1965."

Desmond Hackett of the Daily Express wrote: "It would be stupid to blame the scoring system. Tottenham, who first brought the trophy to England in 1963, fell apart... Spurs ahead again with only 19 minutes to go, made a joke of the threat issued by Nicholson of: 'We will thrash them'. This tepid Spurs side could not even give Lyons [sic] a child's spanking. The Frenchmen never made the slightest pretence of retreat. They stormed through the pitiful shreds of a Tottenham defence that had been ruthlessly torn apart."

What happened next?

Lyon were knocked out by Hamburg in the quarter-finals, while Tottenham's next success in Europe came in the inaugural UEFA Cup of 1972 as Nicholson masterminded a 3-2 aggregate win over Wolves two years before his retirement. The two sides did not meet again until the summer of 2005 in South Korea for the final of the pre-season friendly tournament the Peace Cup which Spurs won 3-0 with Robbie Keane scoring twice.

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