White Hart Lane 2004: In the Invincibles' words

White Hart Lane 2004: In the Invincibles' words

When dawn broke on April 25, 2004, we had yet to lose after 33 games of what would be a historic Premier League campaign. The title would surely be heading to Highbury; it was just a matter of where Arsène Wenger's side completed the formalities.

As had been the case in 1971, White Hart Lane would have been the choice of most supporters, and, after second-placed Chelsea were beaten by Newcastle United earlier in the day, our task became clearer. We needed just a point from the north London derby to be crowned champions.

Patrick Vieira: “We were thinking that if we had the chance to play for the title at White Hart Lane, then we saw it as a destiny. There can be no better sweetness! So it was a chance that we had to take. 

“We couldn’t think of any alternative, because that opportunity was too good to let it pass. We knew if we won it there, it would be something that the fans would never, ever forget - both sets of fans!”

Thierry Henry: “The week of the game arrived. Living in Hampstead, the Tottenham fans liked to talk. When I was walking in the street, they would say: ‘watch out, we’re coming for you!” like I was supposed to be scared. It was just weird. I’ve never understood why it’s always the small dog that barks the most.

“You would never see me talk that way before a game. Afterwards, yes, I could talk for England! I would always be listening to who was talking before the game, so I could respond.”

Ray Parlour: “We’d heard all the stories about 1971, and so to join them was incredible. We were so confident going into that game. OK, it’s a derby and anything can happen, but we knew we were much better than them.”

Edu: “We knew we could win the league there, but funnily enough, we were only concentrating on performing well, and playing the way we wanted to play. Sometimes when you go into a derby, there is a lot of emotion, people tell you how important it is to fight. But we were really, really focused on performing well, and it worked.”

Desperate to seize the opportunity, we raced out of the blocks and took a third-minute lead when Dennis Bergkamp’s low cross found a sliding Vieira to open the scoring. 

Then our captain turned provider when he cut the ball back for Robert Pires to provide a clinical finish. A little over half an hour had elapsed and we were cruising to the title.

Vieira: “The build-up to my goal, in fact both goals, was excellent. Thierry took the ball from one penalty box to the other, and then gave it to Dennis. I saw there was a space there for me to go into, the ball came from Dennis and I just put it in the net. A great counter-attack.”

Pires: “I don’t know why I scored a lot of goals against Spurs, it’s strange, but for me, Tottenham were always the perfect victim! I think I played 12 times against them, and scored eight goals. It was important for me, and especially for the fans, I know all about that rivalry now.”

To their credit, Spurs responded. Jamie Redknapp lashed in a long-range shot to reduce the deficit and, after Pires had struck the bar, Robbie Keane netted a late penalty after he was involved in a confrontation at a corner with Jens Lehmann.

Frustration crept in after letting a two-goal lead slip, which initially left some of our players forgetting that the job had been done. We were champions.

Lehmann: “I was sitting in the dressing room, very disappointed, and the boss as well, then Sol came in. The three of us were upset we didn’t win the game, so I didn’t realise we were champions.”

Campbell: “I was massively annoyed we drew the game, I think everybody knows that. I said to Jens: “You know he’s going to do that, just swat him away like a fly, don’t rise to it. Look at the bigger picture.” I wasn’t happy about that. In fact I completely lost it. I really, really wanted to win!”

Lehmann: “Johnno [Paul Johnson, equipment manager] came into the dressing room and said to me and Sol: "Why are you sitting around? We’re champions!” So then I went outside and we enjoyed it on the pitch, but I have to say I didn’t enjoy it too much at that time. I was still angry.”

Lauren: “They were celebrating a draw! It was so funny, because we still won the league. If I’m honest, at that moment in the game, I didn’t know a draw was enough for us. Maybe some of the players did, but I wasn’t aware.”

Henry: “We wanted to respect everyone and not create trouble. I was annoyed we didn’t win – in fact I was fuming, but then Taricco brought me back to earth. 

“He was jumping up celebrating - maybe they are not used to that there - and he got cramp. I thought: ‘OK if we see out this draw, then I will be the one celebrating.’”

Despite pre-match warnings not to rile the home fans up by toasting our success on the field, Spurs’ overreaction to their equaliser prompted our players to ignore the advice.

Once the final whistle was blown, the temptation was too great, and they basked in the glory with the Gooners in the away end.

Item 1 of 7

Parlour: “The stewards told us we couldn’t celebrate, we were like: ‘are you sure?! We celebrate when we just win a game here, we’re definitely celebrating winning the title!’”

Edu: “We went straight into the dressing room, and we celebrated there for a few minutes then we decided to go back out to the pitch. I ran out and said ‘where is everybody!?’ Apart from our fans in the corner, the stadium was completely empty. They must have run out of that place because it emptied in seconds!”

Vieira: “We really enjoyed it! Our fans were still there and we went to celebrate for them, because I believe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement to do that. We wanted to mark that moment properly.”

Campbell: “I could have really gone big in my celebrations. I know some of the lads, like Ashley Cole, they went nuts out there celebrating. I came out after their fans had gone. I could have been brash about it, rubbed it in, but I wanted to respect the environment, football, and both clubs. I could have really gone to town.”

Kolo Toure: “I did a backflip on the pitch – I did everything! Arsène didn’t like me doing those backflips. He said they were dangerous, so it was only for very special occasions!”

The following four games saw us remain unbeaten, and the Invincibles were born. 20 years on, that game at White Hart Lane remains one of the biggest highlights from the 38 matches that made them immortal.

Campbell: “It’s amazing that it happened like that. Football works in a strange way, doesn’t it? It’s like it’s been written by a novelist, it’s so romantic the way it happened. To go and win it there, it’s just nuts. It’s like it was meant to be.”

Toure: “It was incredible, one of my best memories in my career. Coming from the Ivory Coast to Arsenal – people back home couldn’t believe it. But I played, and I shocked everybody, and then I won the title too."

Pires: “That was one of the best moments in my career, without doubt. At that moment, at the final whistle, we were champions! You play to play for these moments, to take the trophy, and the icing on the cake was to win it at White Hart Lane. That season, everything was perfect.”

Edu: “What a beautiful day! The way we won it, the way we played on their pitch – everything was special.”

Henry: “That day will stay in our history forever. It’s a great day, it’s a great story.”