'Lost in complete ecstasy' - An oral history of Ajax 2-3 Tottenham

  • Tottenham beat Ajax 3-2 to reach Champions League final on 8 May 2019
  • Win ranks among greatest in Spurs history
  • Exclusive interviews with Son Heung-min and Ben Davies among others detailing story of memorable night
The cast of Tottenham's own mission impossible
The cast of Tottenham's own mission impossible / ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images, Briony Painter/90min

From generation to generation, Tottenham Hotspur supporters have passed on stories of 'glory glory' nights.

Those tales were much more glorious in years past. The 1951 and 1961 Division One titles. The 1972 and 1984 UEFA Cups. The various FA Cups that Spurs used to win at a canter barely breaking into a sweat.

Tottenham in the 21st century have been known for their over-performance in the Premier League rather than their tangible success. Always good enough to compete, not good enough to get more trophies into the cabinet.

Qualifying for the Champions League became the obsession of modern Spurs. In recent months, former manager Mauricio Pochettino has revealed the club's prioritisation of that in order to make their billion-pound stadium transition smoother.

His first interview also wildly differed from that of his predecessors and successors.

"We will try to give everything to make you proud of this football club."

No talk of trophies. No talk of top-four.

This sentiment fittingly summed up Pochettino as a man and what his five-and-a-half year reign at Tottenham represented, culminating in reaching the 2019 Champions League final after completing a 96th-minute comeback against Ajax.

Everyone connected with Tottenham - and Ajax, for that matter - remembers where they were that night, how they felt, the pain and the agony, the joy and the ecstasy.

90min exclusively spoke to those there in Amsterdam, those in the stadium, the pubs, cowering behind their sofas, and the last two players at Tottenham who were on that pitch when Lucas Moura sent Spurs through.


⚪️⚽️ - Son Heung-min, Tottenham forward
⚪️⚽️ - Ben Davies, Tottenham defender
🎙️ - Rob Daly, SpursTV commentator
⚪️🎙️ - Flav, podcaster for The Fighting Cock
🔴🧣 - Ingmar Verhoeff, Ajax fan of over 25 years who also follows Tottenham
⚪️🧣 - Lee Tomlinson, Tottenham fan of over 20 years

Chapter 1 - The season

Tottenham planned to move into their new stadium in September 2018, but this move was delayed until April 2019. Meanwhile, Spurs became the first team in Premier League history not to sign or sell a player in the summer transfer window, despite Pochettino calling for a rebuild of his squad. A late end to the 2018 World Cup and early start to the 2018/19 Premier League season brought about an injury crisis.

Wembley fatigue set in / ADRIAN DENNIS/GettyImages

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I remember just being fed up with it from the start."

🎙️ Daly: "The club hadn't made any signings but the team was performing well until about Christmas, and then my memory of that season was after the turn of the year, we started to see the team lose its way a little bit."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "The domestic form, as everyone will remember, wasn't great. The cracks in Pochettino's Tottenham were evident in that season."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The ball-ache of having to go and buy your ticket and sort out the credit with the club. It was a season I barely went to Wembley."

Chapter 2 - A Champions League run of legend

Reaching the Champions League semi-finals was a miraculous achievement for Tottenham, let alone getting to the final. They accrued only one point from their first three group stage games and needed down-and-out PSV Eindhoven to get a draw at Inter to secure progress to the last 16. From there, Spurs eliminated Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on aggregate and caused an upset against favourites Manchester City, prevailing on away goals after Raheem Sterling's winner was chalked off by VAR.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg
One of VAR's better moments / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "To get through, to get out of that group stage which was difficult enough, it included Barcelona, Inter and PSV. We had to go to Camp Nou to get out of that group and not lose - we managed to do that, which is an insane ask."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The European season was just mad that season in general...the European season was the only thing that was interesting that year."

🎙️ Daly: "I think you could start to see in the second half of that season the performances that would bleed into the start of the next one under Pochettino that would lead to him departing. Things were already starting to slow down or something, it's hard to really articulate properly. It only makes the Champions League run all the more extraordinary, because that run was not the peak Pochettino Tottenham. And yet that's the team that somehow made a Champions League final."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "We beat a decent Dortmund side, but from that point onwards we had no real right to be in the final. It was a miracle. People don't talk about that Manchester City game enough and that's because of what happened in Amsterdam. But what happened in that Manchester City tie was insane! That in itself we could've made a film about, it was madness."

Chapter 3 - An Ajax brotherhood

And so Tottenham advanced to the semi-finals to face Ajax, who caused a couple of upsets themselves with the eliminations of Real Madrid and Juventus. Spurs and Ajax were previously viewed as semi-linked clubs, partly due to the shared history of players and managers, their roots in London and Amsterdam's Jewish communities, and a shared hooligan-hatred of Rotterdam outfit Feyenoord.

Lyon's French forward Bafetimbi Gomis (2
Three future Tottenham stars in Ajax colours / PHILIPPE DESMAZES/GettyImages

🔴🧣Verhoeff: "I know that for some Ajax fans it [this relationship] is indeed present. I thought this was mainly of the older supporters."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "This video [NINETY + FIVE] that The Fighting Cock made five years ago just after Ajax...the plan was to make this video about the 'friendship', in inverted commas, between Ajax and Tottenham, the kinship between the two clubs, because there was previously a history of there being an affinity between them. We ended up beating them 3-2 and all of our contacts with the Ajax fanbase just blanked us! They didn't want to talk to us. And for obvious reasons - if it'd happened to Spurs, I wouldn't have wanted to talk to them, it's the last thing you'd want to do."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "My first Ajax match was in 1997 against De Graafschap, 1-0, a late Richard Witschge goal. I actually started supporting Spurs when Jan Vertonghen left for them. Before that, I followed a bit, including for Rafael van der Vaart, but then it really became serious. Jan was one of my favourite Ajax players, his defensive play was fantastic, the passion he gave made him a real Ajax player."

Chapter 4 - The first leg

A patched-together Tottenham without the injured Harry Kane and suspended Son at least had home-advantage for the first leg of the semi-final. However, Spurs were incredibly flat and barely threatened, with Donny van de Beek scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win for the visitors.

Tottenham Hotspur v Ajax
Spurs lost at home / Tom Jenkins/GettyImages

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "I was happy and stressed, a dream come true for Ajax and Spurs to play each other. All my friends were making jokes. 'Ah, it doesn't matter as you support both so it's win-win'! But I have always said Ajax is my number one."

🎙️ Daly: "Ajax had been unbelievable that season. Their win at the Bernabeu was remarkable. That Ajax team...there are some teams where you look back in hindsight and go, 'I can't believe that group of players was together at that club at that time'. I think of it like Porto in 2004, of Monaco in that breakout 2016/17 season for Kylian Mbappe, where they had Fabinho, Falcao, Bernardo Silva, just an incredible team. I felt like Ajax were like that as well."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The atmosphere was incredible even before the game. It was one of those games like Arsenal in 2022, you could tell everyone was up for it. The High Road, there's normally not much going on, but everyone was up for it. And then we lost."

⚪️⚽️ Davies: "It was a tough game when we played them at home. They were very good and we knew we had an uphill battle when we were behind in the game."

🎙️ Daly: "This was Ajax's moment. They had built this amazing team. After the first leg, you'd wondered if Spurs were actually the characters in their story, Spurs were going to be a chapter in their European Cup success. I've worked in the Champions League a long time - a 1-0 home-leg defeat is death. That's how it certainly felt after the first leg."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I remember saying to my dad on the platform, 'they were good but they're beatable'. I went away from that seeing why people were so in awe of them...but they were beatable."

Chapter 5 - The hottest ticket in town

Tickets to the return leg came and went within minutes of release on the part of both clubs. It's estimated up to 10,000 Tottenham fans made the trip to Amsterdam, many of whom did not have tickets.

Ajax fans brought the noise / NIELS WENSTEDT/GettyImages

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "I'd arrived in Amsterdam a day before the game to meet up with my five brothers and my dad and a couple of mates, we were all out there together. We were drinking, singing songs, other bits and pieces, it was great."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I got offered £1500 for my ticket. Definitely at half-time I was thinking, 'you should have taken the money'!"

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "I had to be there, there was no other place in the world I was going to be, and I didn't have a ticket and I knew I wasn't going to get a ticket. We saw tickets changing hands for ginormous amounts of money, talking thousands and thousands of pounds. Seeing deals happen in the pubs that we're sitting in, where two tickets are handed over and thousands are given back to the person selling the ticket. I would estimate up to ten grand. It was an insane amount of money. We were just sitting there going, 'this is mental, we're never getting a ticket'."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "It wasn't really until I got outside the stadium that the enormity of it all...that this was the best chance we were going to get to go to a Champions League final. You walk out of the station and the crowds are just massive. There's just a sea of people like it's a concert next to the stadium. And it was just like...f***ing hell."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "The pub we were in was packed full of Tottenham. When I say there was no one else in there - no locals, the Ajax fans who tried to get in before the game started weren't allowed in. Spurs fans had become bouncers, we took over the pub, it was our pub."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The atmosphere out was there was amazing, and then you walk round to the ground, you got in and it was full - it was full 45 minutes before kick-off."

Chapter 6 - The first half in Amsterdam

Ajax sought to kill the tie for good back at the Johan Cruyff Arena. An early goal from Matthijs de Ligt put them two to the good on aggregate, before a special strike from Hakim Ziyech appeared to have sealed their place in the final.

Ajax went 3-0 up on aggregate / JOHN THYS/GettyImages

⚪️⚽️ Son: "The semi-final, I didn't know how long it was ago! It was a crazy night. I still think about it."

🎙️ Daly: "I remember Pochettino saying before the game saying 'we have to come out quick, it can't be like the first leg', and they didn't. Ajax came out all over Spurs."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "It was an incredible feeling...could it be that Ajax would reach a Champions League final again?"

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "I'm relatively pessimistic anyway. I'm comfortable in the fact that Spurs might never win anything and that's my starting position. So if we don't, I can never be disappointed, and I think through decades of following Spurs, the moments of us winning have been fleeting. So I've always had that position, and for me it wasn't about going and hoping Spurs win, it was about being out there as a Spurs fan."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "It was loud. So loud."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "You're genuinely thinking it's done. It's done."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "Before that, you were thinking, 'just put in a good performance so you can come away with your head held high'. They score after five minutes and you just think, 'f*** sake, here we go again'. It was almost funny, that first goal. You were just laughing thinking, 'typical Spurs'."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "To be very honest, it didn't seem like it could go wrong for Ajax anymore. We were already looking for an overnight stay in Madrid for the final. I had a day off to use that year and it worked out fine. It was going to be a road trip to Madrid."

Chapter 7 - Half-time

Tottenham went into half-time knowing they had to score three without reply in the second 45 minutes if they were to realise their dreams of reaching a first-ever Champions League final. The injured Harry Kane came down from the stands and gave his honest opinions, with Kieran Trippier later revealing the England striker went 'mental'.

Mauricio Pochettino
Pochettino needed one hell of a team talk / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I was thinking, 'come out and show us something'. That was all I thought at half-time. There was no chance we were going to get through here."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "We walked out of this pub we were in, my brother was sitting across from me and we were having a cigarette and we didn't say anything. And then after about ten minutes I just looked over to him and he said 'let's just go in and get it done, it's over but let's get it done'. That was the attitude."

🎙️ Daly: "At the time, I had a message from my wife saying, 'how's the game going?'. She was out, she couldn't see the score. I phoned her and said, 'I'm going to be free on June 1st'. When you work in football, you find time to try and maybe go on holiday, and maybe I wasn't going to be needed on June 1st."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "There was this famous story of Harry Kane saying 'is this how you want to be remembered? Is this what you want? Is this how it ends? Are we going to go out like this or are we going to go out on our swords?'. And there was an uptick in performance."

⚪️⚽️ Davies: "I can't remember what was said, but all I can say is we came out for that second half like a different team."

⚪️⚽️ Son: "I think I'm the type of guy who never wants to give up and tries to work as hard as possible until the last result of the game. I think when you don't believe, these things don't happen."

Chapter 8 - 15 manic minutes

By the time the second leg reached the 60th minute, Tottenham were level on the night thanks to a stunning brace from Lucas, including a silencing second in which he weaved his way through three defenders before shooting without even looking towards goal. All of a sudden, the vibe had shifted on a tectonic scale inside the Johan Cruyff Arena.

UEFA Champions League"Ajax v Tottenham Hotspur FC"
Lucas dragged Spurs level / VI-Images/GettyImages

⚪🧣 Tomlinson: "You were happy, but I don't think anyone was thinking of properly coming back at that point. I certainly wasn't. I was happy. We came out in the second half immediately like a completely different team."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "The beginning of the second half...Ajax started so weakly. That remains incomprehensible."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The Ajax team, their arses just dropped."

🎙️ Daly: "Suddenly it's on, and Ajax wobble. They had a huge wobble from that point on."

⚪️⚽️ Son: "We were believing."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "There must've been 50 Ajax players around Lucas in that box, that's what it felt like. The sound of the ball hitting the net, it was like there was a vacuum in the stadium and it went silent. You could hear that ball go *chhh* in the net. And obviously the explosion and the commentary, but more so the explosion of the players and the fans because suddenly it's on. Suddenly."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "It was silent. I don't think I've ever been in a stadium quite like that before."

🎙️ Daly: "That second goal you feel the chance is gone but he produces something crazy, crazy to score."

Chapter 9 - Clinging on

The game was now a back-and-forth contest more reminiscent of Erik ten Hag's out-of-control Manchester United than his Ajax maestros. Ziyech hit the post for Ajax, while Vertonghen rattled the crossbar late on for Tottenham.

Hakim Ziyech
Ziyech and Vertonghen both missed huge chances / Matthew Ashton - AMA/GettyImages

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I started to believe, then when it got to 80 minutes, I started to not believe again. We weren't getting the ball, we weren't putting the ball in the net, we were missing chances. You're thinking it's not going to happen."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "I was s***ing myself. That was when the nerves hit. That was the bit. You've got something to hold onto."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "I was afraid Jan would score the decisive goal, then he would immediately no longer have been my favourite!"

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "They were getting louder, they're getting closer, and we're getting more anxious because we've only got 10 minutes. They're starting to sing again. It got quite quiet for a while and maybe only their ultras were singing, but then the whole stadium was standing and so loud."

🎙️ Daly: "You normally get that one chance, and it's a horrible old cliche, but you have to score them. You have to score that, really."

⚪️⚽️ Davies: "It felt like our chance had gone."

🎙️ Daly: "But I think what was encouraging was that Ajax's game management had completely fallen to pieces."

Chapter 10 - Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur

The chance for Tottenham to win the tie appeared to go when one last corner sailed over. Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana picked up a yellow card for time-wasting on the resulting goal kick, with four minutes and 38 seconds of the five added minutes up by the time he finally took it.

And what happened next was history.

Lucas Moura
A complete contrast of emotion / Matthew Ashton - AMA/GettyImages

🎙️ Daly: "The long ball from Moussa Sissoko."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "Fortunately, Llorente wins the header. One of the best subs Pochettino ever made for us."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "I saw De Ligt misstep..."

🎙️ Daly: "They're slipping..."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "It was this combination between Dele Alli and Lucas Moura."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I seem to remember the ball rolling really slowly."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "It was one of them ones where you go, 'go on'..."

🎙️ Daly: "...they're sliding..."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "It was like time stood still."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "And then..."

Come On You Spurs Champions League GIF by UEFA - Find & Share on GIPHY

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "And then the most intense euphoria that cannot be created by anything else on this planet - and I've done a lot of things to achieve euphoria artificially in my life. That feeling is something that cannot be replicated. That third goal was one of the most...I've never felt so good in all my life, so much so that I wasn't sure if it was real."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "The ball goes in and you're celebrating, going mad, and then you still can't believe it. You're in this delirious celebration where you know you've scored, but you're thinking you haven't scored. You can't believe what's just gone on."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "It was the most tense room I've ever been in, but also the most together I've ever felt with a group of people. And to see the explosion in this room when Lucas Moura scored that third goal, it was something I can't describe. It went crazy everywhere, but I swear to God this room is where it went most mental. It was like the last days of Gomorrah. People were throwing themselves off tables, swinging on lampshades, people falling over, beer going everywhere, tables being thrown, not physically thrown but pushed over with the momentum of this sea of people that were lost in complete ecstasy. It was incredible."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I was on the floor."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "In this pub it's absolute mayhem, and I'm standing calmly in the middle of it all with my arms out wide and looking around at people going 'is this actually happening? Have we done it? We've f***ing done it! We're going to the final of the Champions League!'"

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "It was done."

⚪️⚽️ Son: "It was the craziest game I've ever seen."

🎙️ Daly: "In fact, Ajax were the character in Tottenham's story. They were going to their first ever final."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "It was disbelief...and most of it anger. Sometimes I still watch the highlights of that Champions League campaign on YouTube back. And then I have the emotion. Tears again."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "It was like nothing else I've ever experienced, it was the greatest comeback I've ever experienced, it was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Champions League and there've been many, but this was insanely good. And it's happening to Tottenham, and we're on our way to Madrid. That is something else, that's something I doubt I'll ever live through again."

🔴🧣 Verhoeff: "But Spurs were in the final. I love Spurs. I was 200% in favour of Spurs."

🎙️ Daly: "The 'slipping, sliding' thing turned into an accidentally fitting metaphor for what had happened to Ajax. They're physically slipping and they ultimately lost it. And I lost it. And then I don't really remember a lot of things...you blackout."

⚪️⚽️ Son: "It was a crazy, crazy night. I don’t know what to describe it any more. It was crazy from Lucas and all the teammates to go to the final of the Champions League."

⚪️⚽️ Davies: "Together with all the boys...it was a good day."

🎙️ Daly: "I can't remember what I said to my wife! I think I phoned her up in a bit of a daze after and was like, 'actually no, I think I'm going to have a shift on June 1st'."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "It's the best day of my life, full stop. No day's been better than that, no feeling. We could win the league and the Champions League, and I'm still not sure the peak happiness level would be any more than that. That moment was pure elation, nothing else matters."

⚪️🎙️ Flav: "That was the end of the greatest ever era I've had following Spurs, and that game against Ajax was the pinnacle of it."

⚪️🧣 Tomlinson: "I didn't sleep for 30 hours. You come home, you can't let it sink in, you get straight to, 'how the f*** are we going to get to Madrid?'."

All interviews are exclusive to 90min. Most have been condensed but not taken out of context.