Former Spurs goalkeeper Milija Aleksic died yesterday aged 61. Most players who appeared only 32 times in three seasons would be a mere footnote in the club’s illustrious history. However, Aleksic played in the side that won the F.A. Cup in 1981, one of the most memorable matches in modern times and a victory that shaped the passion and dedication of two generations of Tottenham fans.
In the late 70s, Spurs were having problems with their keepers. When the incomparable Pat Jennings was allowed to leave in 1977, we looked forward with optimism to a new era as two promising Spurs youngsters, Barry Daines and Mark Kendall, took on his mantle. However, it gradually became clear that Jennings’ departure was severely premature. The man who never wanted to leave played over 200 games for Arsenal while Daines and Kendall failed to fulfil their potential, except perhaps in their ability to put on weight. These days it is the accepted wisdom that goalkeepers mature well into their thirties as the admirable Friedel has demonstrated and in a small way Spurs played a part in this culture change, learning from the Jennings debacle by rejuvenating Ray Clemence’s career after he left Liverpool similarly early.
Despite the pressing need to solve the uncertainly at the back, with all due respect Aleksic’s arrival was greeted with bemusement rather than delight. Coming from Luton for £100,000, he had a low profile and his role wasn’t clear. It felt like we’d signed a back-up keeper when we needed a genuine challenger for the first team. He made his debut against Altrincham in the 3rd round of the Cup, winning a replay 3-0 after we had nearly lost to the non-leaguers in the first game. However, Kendall regained his place and for the next couple of seasons Aleksic was seldom first choice. His rare opportunities for a run in the side were further hampered by two incidents when he had come back into the team only to be carried off, once against Norwich when Roberts went in goal and another against Manchester United when Joe Jordan broke his jaw, Hoddle taking the green jersey.
Then luck turned his way. In March 1981 Daines was injured and Aleksic took his chance. His one decent spell at Spurs helped us win the Cup. Daines was fit again but became the forgotten man of the 81 squad as Aleksic kept his place.
He was better on his line making saves than coming off it but of course with Roberts and Miller in front of him, many of the crosses were dealt with. He will be remembered as part of the team that won the Cup in one of the most famous post-war finals, but also that side’s legacy is still influencing the club to this day. After years in the doldrums, we had won something. In the process, the boys of 81 banished painful memories of failure, including relegation, where midtable mediocrity became something to be grateful for.
That side played the Tottenham way with flair and panache from Ardiles, Villa, Crooks and Archibald laid upon a foundation of dedication and grit in the shape of Perryman and Roberts. Those who grew up with that team will be Spurs for life, as will their children because the tales will be told and the memories handed down through the generations. This is Spurs, this is the way to play the game, and Milija Aleksic will forever be a part of that. My thoughts are with his family.
The Spurs Miscellany by Adam Powley and Martin Cloake
Miscellanies are fun to dip in and out of, especially if like me you have an increasingly short attention span. In the hands of Cloake and Powley, as safe as Pat Jennings on crosses, it becomes something more. Their names are synonymous with quality and passion for all matters Spurs and their insight into what it means to be a Spurs fan comes through in their selection. A mixture of the serious and quirky, this becomes much more than a series of lists and anecdotes that any hack could cut and paste. It’s more a history of the club with the dull bits left out.
You can either read it cover to cover, beginning with the forward from Ossie Ardiles, or turn to any page where something will catch the eye. Being a Spurs fan, it’s appropriate that I opened it at the list of our heaviest defeats. So much to choose from, yet the authors know their Spurs. There’s a story about John Pratt that I won’t spoil by telling you, but it is not only funny in itself but perfectly sums up the career of this put-upon stalwart.
Be warned – it’s extremely addictive. You just have to turn the page, just one more… I should have finished that report on the train, I know, but I didn’t know that the famous Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman not only used to play for Spurs, he took to the field in yellow boots. There’s nothing new under the sun.
Many of the stories, such as the Gunners’ move to north London, are familiar but they don’t dim in the re-telling. There are stats galore and biographies of our greats but personally I really wanted to know that Spurs have blue and white traffic cones.
This updated version is unreservedly recommended and Christmas is coming…
Those lovely people at publishers Vision Sports have given me a copy to give away. Blogs like this one owe a huge debt to fanzines. What was the name of the first Tottenham Hotspur fanzine? Answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Closing date Wednesday 24th October.