Ahead of the north London derby we pulled an interview with Arsenal legend Pat Rice about winning the league at White Hart Lane from our archives. This piece first appeared in Arsenal Magazine in May 2004.
As soon as the team sheet when up at the training ground, Pat Rice knew this was not going to be an ordinary game. The circumstances were special enough ahead of the First Division clash in May 1971 - Arsenal had to win at Tottenham or at least avoid a scoring draw to be champions. If they failed, Leeds United would win the title.
“I read the team and underneath it had the time to be at Southgate station for the bus to take us to the match,” recalled Rice. “It said to be there at 3.15pm! I thought there had been a misprint. I mean, four hours ahead of a game that was a few miles down the road.”
"There was a huge pitch invasion and I am sure to this day that we had more fans there than Tottenham did. It was like a home game"
There was no misprint - and Rice was to discover that Monday evening that the manager - the late Bertie Mee, a man known for his meticulous planning - was indeed wise to err on the side of caution.
“If my memory serves me correctly,” said Rice, then the assistant to manager Arsene Wenger, “we eventually got there at about five to seven. The journey was a nightmare and the coach was having to go up pavements and everything to get us to White Hart Lane in time for the kick-off.”
All worthwhile, as it turned out. Ray Kennedy scored with around 20 minutes to go and Arsenal emerged as 1-0 winners. And champions.
“It was a bit hectic towards the end because the last thing Tottenham wanted was for us to win the league on their ground. I know it would be the same for us if they came to Highbury in the same circumstances.
“They gave it everything, Alan Gilzean was always a threat and you never got less than 100 per cent from people like Steve Perryman and Alan Mullery. Bob Wilson had to make a couple of great saves - one from Martin Peters stands out in my mind - but we held out.”
Thirty years on, and Rice was back on familiar territory. Again Arsenal needed a result at White Hart Lane to clinch the league, this time an kind of draw, scoring or otherwise, would secure the Premiership title. And once again, Arsenal achieved their target with a 2-2 draw.
And Rice was the only man in the Arsenal dressing room to have been involved in both games. His memories of the occasions give a fascinating insight into the way football has evolved.
“Back in 1971, well, it was mayhem at the final whistle,” he recalled. “There was a huge pitch invasion and I am sure to this day that we had more fans there than Tottenham did. It was like a home game.
“Back in the dressing room it was just a huge party atmosphere. I was 23 at the time and it was my first season as a first-team regular. To be honest I don’t think that the enormity of what we had achieved had sunk in.
“There was no split among players or anything like that. The spirit of the side was remarkable, much as it is now with the current squad. But I think it meant just a bit more to the players like Frank McLintock, George Armstrong and George Graham, the older ones who had been through it all for years trying to get the title back to Arsenal.
“The younger ones, like myself, Charlie George and Ray Kennedy, players who had come through the ranks together, we were naturally drawn together after the game.
Then came the celebrations. “The coach took us back to Southgate and then a whole load of us went to our favourite pub to celebrate. It was sweet for people like me who grew up as Arsenal fans. We had that great Tottenham side of the early 1960s - and they were a great side with the likes of Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, John White, Terry Medwin and Cliff Jones - constantly being talked about when we were growing up.
“Now it was our turn. Yes, we celebrated for a good while - ironically enough, at a pub called the White Hart.”
But 2004 was different. “The dressing room was still lively enough, trust me!” said Rice. “Most of the players aren’t British now but we still had the likes of Ray Parlour, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, and believe me it still means as much to the others.
“I mean when Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry arrived at the club, they came into a dressing room with people like Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and Martin Keown. They have grown up in the Arsenal tradition and you should have seen Edu and Gilberto celebrating afterwards.
“As a coach, I was in a different position this time around, When you play you are concerned about preparing for the game, going out there on match day and then that’s it. Nowadays, in my current roe, there are so many aspects to football.
“You think about all the things that have happened during the season. You think about the match at Old Trafford and bringing back a point against the odds.
“You think about the game at Liverpool when they were piling on the pressure and then Robert Pires scored that stunning goal. You think about the character the team have shown over the season - the character and resolve that has always been a trait with Arsenal teams over the years.
“The harder it gets, the more determined you become. That was evident this season in the way the team came back from the disappointments of those two cup defeats against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final and then going out of the Champions League to Chelsea a few days later.
“They came back so well from those setbacks. So when you win the league after going through that, it is a feeling of immense satisfaction from the coaching and back room staff. It means that all those weeks and months of hard work have paid off.”
The way the championship was feted has also changed. “Football has moved on and the culture has also changed,” says Rice. “Players are better educated and more aware now.”
So no long session at the White Hart, Southgate this time around then? “No, not at all,” said Rice. “The coach took us back to the training centre at London Colney and all the staff had a couple of glasses of champagne, no more than that.
“Most of the players were off to the PFA dinner that night so that is where they had gathered. Me? I just went home and had a glass of wine with my wife Betty.”
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