Special Feature
Steve Hodge - Lack of fitness cost Spurs in extra time

By Steve Carpenter 23/04 Updated: 24/04 13:45

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Buy photos » Steve Hodge challenges Micky Gynn at a re-run of the 1987 FA Cup final last year. Photo by Jon Mullis

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Coventry City's famous FA Cup triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, the Observer has teamed up with Coventry City's Former Players' Association (CCFPA) to re-capture the memories of players, managers, and fans from the club's greatest day on May 16, 1987.

This week our sports reporter caught up with Spurs midfielder Steve Hodge.

Hodge began his career at boyhood club Nottingham Forest where he spent three seasons working under Brian Clough before a

surprise big money move to Aston Villa.

Although he had a troubled time in the West Midlands, Hodge did earn an England call-up and was included in Bobby Robson's 23-man squad for the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico.

His reputation grew and a move to Tottenham Hotspur followed after the tournament. But after the high of scoring two goals in the semi final against Watford Hodge recalled feeling shattered and emotionless after the final whistle of the first of his five Wembley cup final appearances.

"We knew we were in for a difficult match because we had lost to Coventry 4-3 in the league earlier in the season.

"We felt Gary Mabbutt could keep Cyrille Regis quiet although we were all aware of his ability. Their keeper (Steve Ogrizovic) was excellent so we knew this was going to be a tough game.

"It was a very hot day and I think that benefited Coventry because we had a small squad back then and that may have cost us the cup. Coventry had a fit squad of players and I think that showed in extra time. Fitness was an issue because it had been a long,

hard season for us.

"Our attacking mentality left us vulnerable at the back and Coventry took advantage of that.

"We beat Watford comfortably in the semi final at Villa Park and we knew we were hot favourites for the final, but we also knew they were capable of scoring goals. Keith Houchen's header allowed them back into the match and changed the game.

"If he hadn't have scored that goal we would have gone on to win the match 3-1, but that's how it is.

"There was lots of attacking play after that goal with both teams going forward hoping to score. In extra-time we were thinking we'll hold out for a replay but then the third goal went in and the game was over.

"I was completely shattered at the end of the match. I just sat there on the pitch and felt no emotion.

"I remember watching Brian Kilcline lift the club and I shook his hand and congratulated because we are both local lads from the same area. I was genuinely happy for him."

Hodge did get his revenge when his Nottingham Forest side beat the Sky Blues in a League Cup semi final three years later, a competition Forest went on to win.

"I suppose you could say I got my own back on Coventry when I beat them with Forest in the League Cup semi-final in 1990.

"Coventry were always a hard team to beat. They had a reputation of being a well organised side with a large fan base in the West Midlands and I would have preferred West Ham in the semi-final.

"But we managed to scrape through and beat them 2-1 at home and then we held on for a 0-0 draw at Highfield Road."

Hodge made 24 appearances for England, but none would stick out more than the 1986 World Cup quarter final against Argentina after his famous "back pass" in the days when goalkeepers could catch them led to one of the most controversial goals ever in world football.

"It was definitely a pass back to Peter Shilton," he told us.

"I caught the ball sweetly and hooked it back thinking it wasn't a problem. The next thing I know it was in the back of the net.

"Maradonna gambled and I'm sure at some point in their a career almost every footballer has cheated in some way.

"At the end of the game I shook Maradonna's hand and then immediately got collared into doing an interview for a couple of minutes.

"After that I was walking down the tunnel and he re-emerged so I tugged out my shirt and we swapped. There was a mutual respect there, but had I known he had hand-ball it I my attitude would have changed!"

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