Tottenham given harsh lesson in realities of finals – and show familiar struggles to men

Tottenham Hotspur players look dejected after losing the women's FA Cup final

They had gathered in the Royal Box en masse, each of them brimming with expectation and excitement. Not since 2008 have Tottenham Hotspur toasted a trophy triumph – no one wanted to miss it.

Not chairman Daniel Levy. Not his fellow board members. Not Ledley King and Gary Mabbutt, or Argentine duo Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa.

Each of the latter quartet has, in Spurs colours, experienced ascending Wembley’s famous staircase, weary legs propelled by joyous adrenalin.

But for Tottenham’s women that walk was as sullen as it was arduous. A medal? Yes. A trophy lift? No. Instead, they had to regather on the grass, hands switching between hips and respectful clap, and gaze up to watch Manchester United’s celebrations after their 4-0 win.

“It’s OK to be angry, sad, whatever they want to be,” said Tottenham head coach Robert Vilahamn. “That’s a part of football. You should feel that today, and then use it next time.”

Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Daniel Levy (L) and Owner of Manchester United Avram Glazer
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, shaking hands with Man Utd owner Avram Glazer, was hoping to see his club lift a rare trophy - Getty Images/Marc Atkins
Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa in the seats at Wembley
Tottenham legends Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa were to be disappointed at Wembley this time

Perhaps the occasions got to Spurs? Vilahamn’s squad had visited the venue the week before last. The sense of theatre, the carnival, oozing from cup finals can be a lot – even for experienced professionals. And so, sensibly, they wanted to ensure that come game day there was familiarity accompanying entry.

Sadly, after 90 minutes of effort, exertion but no elation, familiarity may well have bred contempt.

Vilahamn was appointed last summer during a process overseen by managing director Andy Rogers. Pre-match, Rogers drew parallels between the styles of the women’s side, and Ange Postecoglou’s men’s team. The intensity; the high press; the risk. But also, evidently, the propensity to leave themselves wide-open for a hammering.

‘We want to make sure the club is one club’

“We will learn from this,” insisted Vilahamn. “I think all the players will learn about how their bodies work in this sort of game and that’s what we want. We want to have these big games. We want to be able to perform.

“It’s not only the players or coaches – it’s the media team, the whole club basically. How we run things and prepare. It’s been a really good journey this year. If we want to do this and be a top team in women’s and men’s football, we want to perform on this stage. This experience will help us to the next stage.”

Of the support in the Royal Box, particularly from the board, Vilahamn said: “It shows that we’re doing this for real, that we want to be all-in for women’s football. We want to make sure the club is one club. Everybody is here to support the team. It shows something.

“They helped us prepare for this and they gave us whatever we wanted last week. They’re showing that actually by actions, how we want to do this.”

A four-goal difference felt about fair. United’s experience told and Tottenham’s payers pulled up just short. These occasions are so often about heroes and villains, and sadly Spurs goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer was the latter.

Spurs goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer tries to stop Lucia Garcia scoring
Rebecca Spencer tries in vain to recover after her mistake but cannot stop Lucia Garcia from putting Manchester United 3-0 up - Reuters/Matthew Childs
Rebecca Spencer looks dejected
The Spurs goalkeeper could not hide her pain afterwards - Getty Images/Marc Atkins

United had just scored their second via Rachel Williams, when Spencer fluffed her short pass. Within moments, Lucia Garcia was wheeling away to celebrate. Spurs were already flailing against the ropes – with that goal they toppled over them, landing with a face-plant.

These occasions are also about the fine margins. True, Spurs would still have had a steep, slippery mountain, but had Beth England’s header bounced off the bar and over the line, they would have had hope. It did not. They had none.

That is the glass half-empty take, anyway. Undoubtedly, Vilahamn’s message to his squad as they huddled dejectedly at full-time will have been that their tumbler is still very much continuing to fill.

Yes, defeat will smart. But the Spurs project cannot, and does not, succeed or fail on a single sun-soaked afternoon. “We are closing the gap,” Vilahamn said. “But we haven’t closed the gap yet.”

Their progress has been rapid. Last season’s Women’s Super League relegation battle has been swapped for a comfortable mid-table finish. Until the end of the 2019 season, when top-flight promotion was secured, the club was propped up by volunteers, playing home games at non-league Cheshunt in front of just scores of supporters.

Now they have a swelling fan base, a progressive manager and exciting, home-grown talents like Jess Naz with their best years ahead.

“It was not the end today,” said Vilahamn. “It was actually just the beginning.”

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