It's interesting how often the present can mirror the past. During the interval at last weekend's encounter between Tottenham and Manchester City, the surviving members of the Spurs 1960/61 double-winning side were presented to the White Hart Lane crowd on the 50th anniversary of the start of the club's most decorated season. That famous squad were – bar Jimmy Greaves who arrived from AC Milan the following summer – the very same group who last represented the club in the European Cup in 1961/62. Ultimately, they were knocked out of the competition after a contentious two-legged semi-final against Benfica, one where Greaves had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the away leg. However, it's not their exit from the competition that season that's interesting, but their entry.
Drawn to play Polish champions Gornik Zabrze in the preliminary round, Bill Nicholson's side travelled to Eastern Europe for the tie's first leg as overwhelming favourites, but the champions of England found themselves 4-0 behind after 48 minutes. They seemed to be taking their last European breaths until, somehow, late goals from Cliff Jones and Terry Dyson dragged the score back to 4-2 by the final whistle. Nicholson complained loudly to the press afterwards about the over-aggressive attitude of the Polish side, to which the Gornik manager replied that Tottenham were "no angels". It set-up White Hart Lane's first European night perfectly. In riposte to those words, a group of Tottenham fans dressed in white bedsheets and crudely manufactured halos paraded around the pitch before the game. As they did so, the crowd began to sing "Glory Glory Hallelujah", a moment that gave birth to the club's anthem. The ground frizzed with excitement thereafter and Tottenham, with captain Danny Blanchflower inspirational on the night, won the second leg 8-1.
It was the first of what became known in the club's history as the "Glory Glory" nights and for a good 40 minutes at the Stade de Suisse on Tuesday night, it looked as though Tottenham might need a victory of such proportions to ensure that only their second foray into European football's premier competition lasted longer than just one tie. But just like Jones and Dyson did in 1961, Sebastian Bassong and Roman Paylyuchenko's goals against Young Boys of Berne ensured that they don't require a miracle to turn things around on Wednesday. But they'll certainly have to play better than they did in the first leg.
The artificial pitch has been held up as an excuse by Harry Redknapp and some of his players for a shambolic first-half effort last Tuesday night, and while there was a whiff of excuse-making about the entire process, the words of Young Boys full-back Scott Sutter, a London-born Tottenham supporter, did seem to confirm that the surface had at least some degree of influence on the game's opening exchanges. "It's definitely an advantage for us; it's an advantage that we train here every day, not just with the pitch but we're also so familiar with the surroundings," he said. "The difference between a perfectly cut pitch – like it probably is at White Hart Lane – and here, they're both as fast as each other. The pitch was watered before the game so we know we had a good chance of catching them out early on."
Still, Tottenham should be reluctant to assume that a grass pitch will make everything fine on Wednesday. The return of Ledley King to central defence should make a difference, as might the presence of a veteran European performer like William Gallas. It's also highly unlikely that Young Boys will press as high up the pitch as they did in the first leg, a tactic that stopped Tottenham's passing game at its source. With a home crowd deprived of top European action for so long behind them, it would be a major shock if Redknapp's side didn't overturn the single-goal deficit and secure victory to progress to group stages of the Champions League but then again, nerves could be a factor with the stakes so high.
From a pure financial point of view, victory for Tottenham would increase their annual turnover by an estimated £30 million, a leap that would propel the north London club past the likes of Roma and Inter Milan – and not that far behind Liverpool – into the top ten of the biggest revenue earners in world football. But more importantly, a Tottenham victory on Wednesday would change the dynamics of English football.
Since Newcastle played in the group stages of the competition back in 2002/03, seven different clubs from both Italy and Spain, and six from Germany, have played in the Champions League during a period where England has been represented by just four teams. Such domination isn't healthy but Tottenham's presence in Friday's draw for the group stages would signal the beginning of a more competitive era in English football.
Another "Glory Glory" night would certainly do the trick.