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The Irishman at the heart of the greatest ever FA Cup final

As the curtain comes down on this English football season, Tony Galvin remembers the part he played in the most famous goal in Tottenham’s history.

Tony Galvin (third l) celebrates with Ricky Villa (third r) as Spurs lift the Cup.
Tony Galvin (third l) celebrates with Ricky Villa (third r) as Spurs lift the Cup.
Image: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

THE FIRST THING he remembers is the silence. Perhaps the moment lasted for 20 seconds, maybe longer. He was a young man then, off to London to seek his fortune. Or so he thought.

This was 1981 and as Tony Galvin left the Wembley dressing room alongside Tottenham’s pair of Argentinean World Cup winners, it was in the knowledge he was on £100-a-week and renting a one-bedroom flat in north London.

Glenn Hoddle, a world class operator, was ahead of him in the line, twitching and stretching, eyes staring ahead. They didn’t move until the Manchester City players stood opposite. And then the call came. ‘Okay lads, it’s time.’ This was no longer just a tunnel. This was FA Cup final day, the second most watched football game of 1981.

“Walking up the steps, you don’t hear a noise really, just the clang-clang-clang of studs on the concrete. There was this stillness,” Galvin recalls.

“But then, as you walked, you began to hear murmurs, the noise increasing the further you moved up this sloped walkway before finally, when you left the tunnel, you were hit by a wall of sound. You looked up. And that’s when you shit yourself. ‘Oh My God’, you said to yourself, ‘here we are now’. Hair-raising, that’s the word I’m looking for because all the hairs on my neck, my arms, I could feel them.

“The thing to remember is there were 100,000 people in that ground.”

One.

Hundred.

Thousand.

“Very few grounds have that sort of capacity these days. It was nerve-wracking. When I looked at all those people, panic kicked in.”

**

You can understand why. These days when Tottenham or Ireland fans think of Tony Galvin, they remember the marauding runs down the wing, the decorated CV, FA Cup medals from ’81 and ’82, the UEFA Cup win in ’84, the heroic displays in Euro 88.

tony-galvin-and-ronald-koeman Galvin competes for the ball with Ronald Koeman in Euro 88. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They may not remember, or even know, he was 22 before he got his chance in professional football. Until then, he was a student at Hull University, learning Russian, turning out for Goole Town in the Northern League, earning the princely sum of £20-a-week. But one evening in January 1978, during Galvin’s final year at university, Bill Nicholson came to watch him against Buxton. “Snowed heavily that night,” Galvin says. “The pitch was high up in the Peak District. It was cold, miserable, zero degrees — an awful night.”

Yet it was the one that changed his life. Until then, his career options were limited to two areas: teaching and the civil service. And by civil service, there was a strong possibility he may have ended up working as a spy. “There was only a very small group of us in the Russian class,” he says. “You see the thing is that this was the height of the Cold War, and the British government were employing people who could speak the language. It was like a growth industry in the 60s and 70s, long before the Wall came down.”

Instead of M15, Galvin ended up in north London, initially paid £50-a-week, the kind of salary that created an initial inferiority complex. “Everyone had started long before me,” he says. “Time was moving on. I was 22 when I joined Spurs, and well into my mid-20s before I got into the first team on a regular basis.”

His personal breakthrough in ’81 was matched by Tottenham’s. Twenty years had passed since their double win, eight since they last won a trophy. They’d been relegated four years earlier, finished 14th the season before and when they beat Wolves in the ’81 semi-final replay, they’d made it into their first FA Cup final since ’67.

As a kid, Galvin watched that game and even now, as a 64-year-old man, those vivid childhood memories haven’t faded. “All the family packed around the telly. Cup final day was an institution. You’d Howard Kendall being the Cup final’s youngest ever player in ’64; Spurs winning in ’67, Neil Young’s winner in ‘69.”

A year later, he was away from the armchair and getting a seat in the stadium, his brother – an apprentice at Elland Road – sourcing tickets for Leeds’ final against Chelsea. All the Galvins made the same trip in ’72 for Leeds against Arsenal. “Walking up Wembley Way, the supporters mingling, the colour, the scarves, the banter. There’s no other way of putting this but in the 1970s and 1980s, the FA Cup final was the biggest game in the English football calendar.”

**

On this day in May 1981 the spectator was the one being watched. But there wasn’t much to see. “I didn’t play well in the drawn game,” he candidly says. The truth is none of Tottenham’s players did in part 1 of that two-game Cup final saga. “We froze.” But City didn’t, Tommy Hutchinson scoring a superb diving header to put them in front before his and City’s day was ruined by the most bizarre of own goals.

And so to the replay. It should have been anti-climatic; instead it is remembered as the greatest Cup final of all.

Villa. And still Ricky Villa. What a fantastic run. He’s scored. Amazing goal.

“Yeah but who passed him the ball?” Galvin asks, smiling. ….. the straight man, setting himself up for his own punchline. “About 50 yards and about five defenders before he goes on to score, mind you.”

 

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Source: Alex Harris/YouTube

He’s being a little unfair on himself – as the evidence in the clip above shows. If it hadn’t been for Galvin’s run, Villa’s wouldn’t have happened. So, it’s a proud moment, as was ’82, a second successive Cup win in a year when Tottenham also reached the League Cup final, were narrowly beaten by Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup semi-finals and were genuine challengers for the league.

soccer-european-cup-winners-cup-semi-final-first-leg-tottenham-hotspur-v-barcelona Galvin in full flight against Barcelona in 1982. Source: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

Then the Falklands War started and Argentina’s Ossie Ardiles, widely considered one of the best midfielders in the world at that time, moved to France, joining PSG on loan. “We could have won the league that year,” Ardiles would later say. Fixture congestion didn’t help Tottenham’s cause. “Add in the loss of a world class player at the business end of the season and it’s going to hurt,” Galvin says. “But let’s put it in perspective. A lot of people died in that war. Ossie lost a relative in it. 1982 wasn’t an easy time for him.”

**

It wasn’t all that easy being Irish, either, in Thatcher’s Britain. And if you happened to be one of those Irishmen who turned down the chance to play for England – ‘well England B’ – then heaven help you.

By the time he rocked up in Stuttgart for Euro 88, Tony Galvin was well used to the abuse about his ‘treacherous’ behaviour. “They called me all sorts that day,” he says of Ireland’s most famous ever win in the Neckarstadion. “England’s fans were aggressive, really hostile. But Ireland’s were a credit to themselves. They just wanted to have a good time.”

They certainly fulfilled their potential in that regard. And so did the team.

“What Jack (Charlton) gave us was belief; he’d enormous confidence in himself and also in his game-plan.”

Two stories. The first is from 1986, a weekend in Lilleshall, the English FA’s coaching centre. All the Ireland players had travelled there by car before being brought into a lecture theatre, seated around this enormous television, watching footage from that year’s World Cup. “It was hilarious in a sense,” Galvin says now. “Like, we weren’t looking at Belgium, Bulgaria or Scotland, teams we’d later face in the Euro qualifiers.

“I can’t even remember which match he showed us. But Jack used it to make a basic point. He’d point at a playmaker and then press pause. ‘Look,’ he’d say. ‘Everything goes through him, the No10. Every European team has someone like that and when he gets the ball, problems come. Teams flood midfield. That’s what we have got to stop. We can’t give the ball away in our own half.”

From the lecture theatre, they moved to the training field for set-pieces – everyone, that is, except Charlton. “I looked around and Jack was on an adjoining pitch with his golf club, hitting a few balls. He wasn’t even looking at our training. He brought us together to make that single point.”

jack-charlton-and-tony-galvin Galvin and Charlton after the defeat to Holland in '88. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

And they listened. “The man was fiercely loyal. Like, when it came to Italia 90, he knew I was injured but he liked having people around him that he could trust. He said to me, ‘if you are anyway fit, fit enough even to train, I’ll bring you’. Then he delivered the killer line. ‘Don’t worry like, there’s no chance you’ll play. But you can come with us’.”

Injuries stopped him doing so.

Life moved on. He was Ardiles’ assistant at Newcastle but when that job went, he scanned the marketplace, noted the scarcity of jobs in football and quickly realised the £600-a-week salary during his final year at Spurs wasn’t going to see him through to retirement. Approaching 40, he began a second career as a lecturer in third level education.

“This might sound a bit harsh but I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for ex-players from my era who complain about not being able to work in football all their life. The fact is there aren’t enough jobs for every former player. You have to get on with things.”

**

The boys of ’81 are certainly getting on. Their hair has thinned, their walk has slowed. Still, they’re occasionally recognised. “People approach me from time to time, lots of men with their grandsons, or sons, who say, ‘this man helped us win the Cup twice’. Otherwise, I don’t talk those games, to be honest.”

Talking about today’s FA Cup final is hard, understandably so in the context of who is playing in it, Chelsea and Arsenal, Tottenham’s biggest rivals. “An absolute nightmare for a Spurs supporter,” Galvin agrees. “Who’ll win it? You can make a case for Arsenal on the basis they have a world class striker in Aubameyang but generally you go with the better team when you’re making these predictions. And that, by some distance, is Chelsea.”

He’ll watch it unperturbed by the fact that at 64 there are not going to be any more hurrahs, and those that he recalls from nearly four decades earlier are stored in the memory vaults.

Even if the world knows him largely for what he achieved with a football between 1981 and ’88, you can’t pin a label on him – remembering that the majority of his working life was spent as an educator rather than a player.

Still, he was a dreamer who saw those Cup final dreams fulfilled and better still, when time caught up on him, and reality kicked in, he was able to deal with the inconvenience of settling back into the real world. Today, come 5.30, this 64-year-old man will be like the seven-year-old kid again, sitting in an armchair, looking at men in their prime walking up Wembley’s tunnel.

And that’s when it’ll hit him, ’81, ’82, Cup final days.

The time of his life.

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About the author:

Garry Doyle

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