Mabbutt Spurs great recalls derby day fury

Mabbutt made 619 appearances for Spurs across a 16-year White Hart Lane career, spending 11 years as captain.

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Gary Mabbutt made 619 appearances for Spurs across a 16-year White Hart Lane career, spending 11 years as captain and tasting glory in the 1984 UEFA Cup and 1991 FA Cup play

Gary Mabbutt made 619 appearances for Spurs across a 16-year White Hart Lane career, spending 11 years as captain and tasting glory in the 1984 UEFA Cup and 1991 FA Cup

(AFP)
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It is almost 20 years since Gary Mabbutt played in a North London derby, but the former Tottenham Hotspur captain's feelings about the rivalry burn as intensely as ever.

"When the fixtures came out, you always looked to see when the games were," Mabbutt told AFP this week, ahead of Tottenham's trip to Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday.

"I loved playing against Arsenal. It was exciting, it was exhilarating and it was a game you just had to win.

"No matter what happened throughout the rest of the season -- if the team were doing terribly, but you beat Arsenal, the fans would forgive you.

"Lots of families are split, lots of workplaces. A lot of my friends are Arsenal supporters, so there was always a lot of banter surrounding the games.

"I've got friends who are Tottenham fans who refuse to have anything red in their house. They refuse to have a red car or let their wives wear a red dress."

Mabbutt was born in August 1961, three months after Tottenham's fabled First Division and FA Cup Double, and joined the club from his home-town team Bristol Rovers in August 1982.

He would go on to make 619 appearances for Spurs across a 16-year White Hart Lane career, spending 11 years as captain and tasting glory in the 1984 UEFA Cup and 1991 FA Cup.

Peering through the coach window en route to Highbury for his first derby, a 2-0 defeat in December 1982, Mabbutt was taken aback by the "hostile" reception from goading home fans.

His second derby proved more pleasurable, Spurs romping to a 5-0 win, but a 21-year-old Mabbutt spent the hours beforehand fretting about the sudden disappearance of the Afghan hound he owned with his girlfriend.

"Literally about five minutes before kick-off, my girlfriend calls: she'd found the dog," Mabbutt recalls. "I went out and we beat them 5-0, so it was a fantastic day."

Signed as a central midfielder, Mabbutt became a centre-back of sufficient accomplishment that he won 16 England caps, scoring once.

'Boring, boring Arsenal'

He played in 31 North London derbies, a Spurs record shared with Steve Perryman, of which the most fondly remembered was the 1991 FA Cup semi-final win over Double-chasing Arsenal at Wembley.

Arsenal generally had the best of the rivalry during Mabbutt's time, finishing higher than Spurs in the league 10 times in those 16 seasons and winning eight trophies to their neighbours' two.

But whereas Arsenal were renowned for grinding out wins, players like Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne meant Spurs' calling card was their flair.

The tide turned following Arsene Wenger's arrival as Arsenal manager in 1996 and Mabbutt, 55, concedes that the Frenchman's ability to produce football that was both dashing and successful was hard to swallow.

"It was always '1-0 to the Arsenal!' or 'Boring, boring Arsenal!'" he says. "They were getting results, but then Arsene Wenger came in and they played some great football.

"The fact they got that success playing the Spurs way did hurt a bit, but that's football."

Arsenal have finished above Spurs every season since 1995 and their fans have taken to terming the day they can no longer be overtaken by their rivals as 'St Totteringham's Day'.

Last season it arrived on the final day, as Spurs' galling 5-1 defeat at relegated Newcastle United allowed Arsenal to pip them to second place behind champions Leicester City.

But with Spurs growing in stature under Mauricio Pochettino, whose young team boasts exciting talents like Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Mabbutt believes Arsenal's age of derby dominance is coming to an end.

"Over the last few years, the gap has been closing," said Mabbutt for whom this weekend's game will be tinged with sadness as it comes just four days after his father Ray died from a heart attack.

"With the young players in our squad, there's some fantastic potential there. A lot of my Arsenal friends are quite worried that things have turned around and Tottenham are getting their noses in front."

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