TWIH: 1999 League Cup Final

In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson recalls an unhappy day at Wembley.
Fifteen years ago this week, on 21 March 1999, Leicester City visited Wembley for the sixth time in eight years. The occasion was the Worthington League Cup Final against Tottenham Hotspur. It was the second of three League Cup finals for Leicester City in the space of four years. This match against Tottenham Hotspur was the only one of these finals that Leicester City lost. It was a frustrating defeat. Spurs’ winning goal came in the second minute of added time.

Tottenham were managed by George Graham. He had left Leeds United six months earlier to return to London to manage Spurs. This move had led to Leeds wanting Martin O’Neill as their new manager. O’Neill had been upset when he was refused permission to talk to Leeds. Whilst all this drama was unfolding, George Graham, with his new Spurs side, came to Filbert Street for a night match. Thousands of home fans held up ‘Don’t Go Martin’ placards in an amazing display of support for Martin O’Neill. This was a big factor in persuading O’Neill to stay with Leicester City.

Two weeks later, Leeds turned up at Filbert Street for League Cup tie. Two late Leicester City goals turned a near certain defeat into an unexpected victory.

The City had already defeated Chesterfield (after a replay) and Charlton Athletic in this competition. The victory over Leeds led to further victories on the road to Wembley. These were against Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland. The Black Cats were defeated in a two legged semi-final. A revitalised Tony Cottee scored all three of Leicester’s goals across the two legs in the semi-final.

Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City were in their third season in the Premier League. In the weeks leading up to the final, they suffered a dip in league form which saw then drop from 10th to 14th in the table. They were defeated 6-2 at Filbert Street by that season’s league champions Manchester United and lost 5-0 at Arsenal in a sequence which saw four defeats and a draw in five games.

Tottenham were definite favourites to win at Wembley. O’Neill conceded this when he said that just getting to the final as a major achievement. The Spurs danger man was David Ginola, a talented and exciting Frenchman who had genuine star quality and who was playing the best football of his career.

The press speculated that if Leicester lost the final, this could see the break up of O’Neill’s talented squad. It was felt that the Club would find it difficult to resist summer bids for the likes of Lennon, Heskey and Izzet.

It was reported in the build-up to the game that Leicester’s full back Frank Sinclair, who had signed for £2 million at the beginning of the season, hoped to be a lucky charm for Leicester as he had been a Wembley winner for Chelsea for the two previous seasons.The day before the final, he said that spirits were running high.

Unfortunately, a few hours later he was in disgrace. He turned up an hour late for a team meeting scheduled at the team’s headquarters at Burnham Beeches Hotel. He was sent home on the Sunday morning of the final and watched the game on the TV in a sports bar in Kingston. Gerry Taggart took his place in the team.

The match itself was a bitter, bad-tempered, ugly brawl of a game. It was made worse by the fact that there were some Spurs fans in the Leicester City end. Their presence turned the atmosphere into something quite ugly. The final was described in the press as a ‘mean spirited abomination of a game’.

In the entire first half there was just one effort on target, a Steffen Iversen header that bounced harmlessly into Kasey Keller’s arms. Leicester’s tactics seemed to be to strangle the life out of the game. Savage’s role was to simply spoil, to help Rob Ullathorne stop Ginola and to disrupt any rhythm that Spurs could find.

His contribution was provocative, to say the least.

Leicester could have taken a shock lead in the 56th minute when Spurs’ future Leicester City goalkeeper Ian Walker had to save at Cottee’s feet after failing to hold onto an Ullathorne shot.

Seven minutes later the game boiled over. Savage clattered into Justin Edinburgh. The Spurs full back was understandably aggrieved but there was no excuse for his reaction which was to slap Savage round the back of his head. Savage’s reaction to this inflamed matters further.

Edinburgh was sent off and Savage was booked. Spurs meanwhile decided to seek retribution for Edinburgh’s dismissal.

Another future Leicester player, Steffen Freund, tried to get Savage sent off after a collision. Savage reacted and the pair had to be pulled apart.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, the final half-hour belonged to Spurs. Ten minutes from time, half the crowd thought Iversen had scored the winner for Tottenham when his shot from 20 yards hit the side netting.

Then, in the first minute of added time, O’Neill substituted Savage to save him from getting sent off. Booed every step of the way off the pitch, Savage hardly had time to take his place on the bench when Spurs scored their late, late winner.

Les Ferdinand (yet another Spurs player who later played for Leicester City) swung the ball out to Iversen who set off down the right flank. He held off a powerful challenge from Steve Walsh before cutting in and firing in a shot which Keller could only push away. Nielsen stooped in and headed the winner with a dramatic dive.

There was no way back for Leicester from such a late goal. The man of the match award, earmarked for Rob Ullathorne, was quickly switched to Steffen Iversen. Savage was roundly booed by the Spurs supporters as he trooped down sadly from the Royal Box with his runners-up medal.

Tony Cottee was distraught. He said: “I have lost four finals but this was the worst. To concede a goal in the last minute was heartbreaking. This has hurt me more than anything in my career.”

A year later, however, Cottee was to be a League Cup winner when Leicester City won the trophy again by beating Tranmere Rovers in the last League Cup Final to be held at the old Wembley Stadium.

Photography

Main photo. Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur walk onto the Wembley Pitch for the 1999 League Cup Final.

02. Leicester’s Rob Ullathorne challenges Spurs danger man David Ginola.

03. The incident between Robbie Savage and Justin Edinburgh which led to the Spurs player’s dismissal in the 63rd minute.

04. Allan Nielsen scores Spurs winning goal seconds from the end of the game.

05. Martin O’Neill consoles a disconsolate Tony Cottee after the final whistle.


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