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By Steve Carpenter 23/04 Updated: 04/05 12:12
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.
Sports reporter Steve Carpenter was invited to a special Coventry Conversations talk at Coventry University with then-Spurs manager David Pleat who admitted it still pains him to look back on the defeat.
People will look back on that summer afternoon and remember one of the greatest FA Cup giant killings of all time, but not many will remember that half of the Spurs team were wearing shirts with their Holsten sponsorship on, and the other half were not.
Pleat himself admits while he failed to notice the mistake on the day the Spurs hierarchy were furious.
"The board of directors found the cup final defeat very hard to take," said Pleat.
"Unlike the players, who were very upset with losing, they took that defeat terribly.
"They were poor losers, I have to say that. They made the Holsten thing a big issue.
"The kit man took the shirts to Wembley and when he puts them up its the number that's shown and with it being a boiling hot day, the last thing the players do is put their shirt on.
"Nobody noticed, except of course the directors of Tottenham, Holsten and our commercial director.
"It was incredible, I never even knew about it until after the game. It's blur, you're watching the game not the shirts.
"I had to go to a board meeting on the Sunday to try and explain what had happened, but I knew nothing about it.
"It was a genuine mistake but as a result of that the kit man got the sack after that. I can remember the chairman at the time coming down into the dressing room.
"We were beaten by an own goal in extra time, so it was a terrible way to lose.
"We were all absolutely distraught and it was very difficult to come to terms with a defeat on such a big stage.
"It was pouring with rain on the Sunday morning and they had a reception on for us at the Town Hall whether we were winners or
losers. It wasn't a nice journey.
"We left the car park at the club and drove to the Town Hall and let me tell you there wasn't so many people in the street that morning."
Spurs were hot favourites to lift the FA Cup trophy for the eighth time in their history, something Pleat feels was unfair on Coventry who had also enjoyed a rare season inside the top ten.
And he recalls how his experienced side tried to put the pressure on the Sky Blues even before a ball had been kicked.
"I'll always remember Chris Hoddle and a couple of other internationals in the team said let Coventry go out first.
"We got a knock on the dressing room door and got the message to come into the tunnel.
"But our international players were saying let them wait. Let them wait as long as possible and feel the nerves, we don't go out until we're ready.
"We weren't over excited or over believing that we could walk all over Coventry City, but we knew we had a very good team that year.
"We we had two difficult games with them earlier in the season and we knew Cyrille Regis was particularly good in the air and Richard Gough, for some reason, had a bit of trouble against him that afternoon.
"It wasn't as though it was a big giant killing, I've got to stress that.
"Coventry were a good team in the First Division, but of course the media suggested it was our year because we'd been playing such wonderful football.
"It was a shock to lose to Coventry. We hoped to win but I think the public expected us to win.
"I wasn't angry that we lost, I think I was more saddened. I was only angry once during the game.
"Coventry had a big centre back called Brian Kilcline who played alongside Trevor Peake, who started down the road at Nuneaton where I started.
"There was a terrible challenge by Kilcline on the halfway line towards the end of that game and he should have been sent off, I've always said that.
"Neil Midgley was the referee, he's sadly passed away now, a very good referee, but he allowed it to go.
"In the challenge Kilcline got injured, my man did too, I think it was Allen, but Kilcline was hobbling and was substituted.
"Another centre back came on, Graeme Roger, and he was influential in the winning goal.
"People tell me he made the pass out wide for Lloyd McGrath which led to Gary Mabbutt's own goal, but that's football."
Coventry City Former Player’s Association (CCFPA) has finally tracked down Sky Blues FA Cup winning skipper Brian 'Killer' Kilcline after several years of trying.
'Killer’ was inspirational in every sense of the word in the 1987 final and his forceful and resolute central defending played a big part in the Sky Blues success.
After leaving the Sky Blues for Newcastle United in 1992, Kilcline continued his career with Swindon Town, Walsall, Mansfield Town and Halifax, before dropping into non-league football in 1998 as player-coach with Altrincham.
He has been tracked down since retirement in Portugal where he has since developed property interests on the continent and the CCFPA are confident that he will return to Coventry in the next few weeks as part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations.
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