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Friday, June 14, 2024

Spurs won’t slack off against Manchester City. It’s not in a footballer’s nature

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We’d heard it the whole week, just non-stop reminders. You went to the garage to fill up your car, to the shop for a newspaper, to the supermarket and someone would say: “We don’t want Man United to win the league. We’re Blackburn fans this weekend.” And there were no smiles when they said it, either.It was the climax to the 1994-95 season, I was playing for Liverpool and we had Blackburn at Anfield on the final day. They were in a title battle with Manchester United, two points ahead of them with a worse goal difference and United were going to West Ham, who were managed by my dad.It’s easy to see the parallels to this season, with Tottenham about to host Manchester City on Tuesday night and their fans worried that if they get a result it could set up Arsenal to win the league on Sunday.It’s a strange position to be in, the fans of your club not wanting you to win, and I remember seeing a scattering of Blackburn shirts in the home areas at Anfield. Did it affect me as a player or any of my Liverpool teammates? Absolutely not because it just can’t. The reason why footballers are footballers is that, since the age of five or six, they have wanted to win. That’s how they’ve been brought up and to act any differently would be to go against everything they are. How could you miss a challenge or a shot on purpose? It’s not possible.Ultimately, most of our fans couldn’t bear to lose either. There was a moment before the game against Blackburn when I thought: “Ah, this is going to be chilled today.” But after Alan Shearer scored for them in the 20th minute, we soon realised it wouldn’t be the way. We started to give the ball away, only by accident, and the crowd were on us. There had been a bit of a party atmosphere but that stopped.Maybe part of it was the news filtering through that West Ham had gone 1-0 up against United in about the 30th minute. So the Liverpool fans were like: “Come on, we’ve paid our money here, give us a show.” But really it’s because they are football connoisseurs, they love the game and they are winners. They didn’t want us to throw it away.When push comes to shove, most fans don’t want to see their team roll over. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/AMA/Getty ImagesUnited would equalise early in the second half and so did we, John Barnes scoring just after the hour. We should have had a penalty with about 15 minutes to go when David Batty fouled Robbie Fowler and it says everything that Steve McManaman was so incensed about the decision that he was booked for dissent.You cannot turn it on and off. There is a reason why Steve won two Champions Leagues with Real Madrid. It’s because he is a relentless competitor. I was up against Tim Sherwood in the Blackburn midfield and he was vying with me for an England place. I don’t want to let Tim run rings around me. Or David Batty. It’s your professional pride.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionI got a free-kick in the last couple of minutes and I certainly wasn’t trying to bend it over the bar. I was trying to score and I did to give us a 2-1 win. When it went in, I pretended I was a bit upset but I was absolutely delighted inside. That’s how you are. I had John Barnes revving me up. John wants to win. That’s how he is built.Blackburn had gone a bit, in fairness. They’d lost two of their previous four games and were limping across the line so that’s a difference to this City side, who are flying. Saying that, we had won the League Cup that season and had a lot of good players.Liverpool celebrate their winner against Blackburn in 1995, with their opponents going on to win the title regardless. Photograph: PA Images/AlamyWest Ham held United to a 1-1 draw, so it ended up being the perfect day for us and for my dad to be involved in it all, too – Alex Ferguson never forgot it. That’s why he enjoyed it in 2005 when United sent down Southampton on the final day. My dad was the manager and I was playing.Ferguson and my dad are good friends but I had a couple of United players tell me he was quite happy to send Southampton down after what happened in 1995. You don’t forget. People hold grudges in football. That will always be the case.For Tottenham, if they don’t get something against City, the fans are not going to be as disappointed as normal. But as a player, how on earth can you not try? It’s just not how it works and people who say it is don’t understand what it’s like to put the kit on. Especially in the Premier League. In other leagues, I wouldn’t be so sure, but in our league I don’t think it happens like that.The relationship between the Tottenham fans and players is a bit strained at the moment – it’s not like the team is playing great – and there are a few unhappy players, who are probably thinking: “OK, I want to be in the shop window.” Ange Postecoglou is under a bit of pressure. It’s not the sort of club where you get a lot of support from above, either, so he needs a result. Tottenham don’t want to finish the season with a whimper, having started it well. It’s going to be a fascinating watch.

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