On May 7, 2006, English football was rocked by ‘Lasagne-gate’, an incident so bizarre and unique that it may never arise again.
It was unusual that St Totteringham’s Day — the day created by Arsenal fans to celebrate them mathematically finishing above their north London rivals — would go right down to the final day of the 2005-06 Premier League season. But even more so, the two teams were battling it out for something meaningful.
It had rarely been this close and Tottenham, a point ahead of Arsenal, headed into the final day knowing that a place in Europe’s top club competition was in their hands. Only they could deny themselves — or so it seemed.
As the squad sat down for dinner at the Marriott Hotel in the Docklands the night before their fixture against West Ham, some squad members chose to have some lasagne, unbeknown to them that it would play a starring role in derailing an entire season’s work.
Reports in the early hours of the morning emerged that several members of the Tottenham squad were suffering from food poisoning.
And not just any players: Edgar Davids, Paul Robinson, Aaron Lennon, Michael Carrick and Robbie Keane were among those confined to their bathrooms.
Martin Jol was forced to cobble together a team which had seldom played together and it showed on the pitch. Carrick and Dawson started but looked way off the pace.
Tottenham only needed to win to guarantee their Champions League spot, but they were never going to have an easy ride in a London derby against West Ham, even if they had nothing to play for but pride.
Jol’s side could not summon the strength to pull off a win against the odds, succumbing to a 2-1 defeat in east London and after Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2, the celebrations began on the red side of north London. Time to ring the St Totteringham’s Day bells again.
The bitter pill to swallow for Spurs, who had never qualified for the Champions League, was watching their fierce rivals snatch the spot away from them at the finishing line.
“I have never experienced anything like this in football before, said Jol. ”We would like to have postponed the match for one day but that was not really possible.”
Thus, ‘Lasagne-gate’ was born.
Conspiracy theorists did their work, claiming the chef in charge of making the lasagne was an Arsenal fan. Another rumour suggested the club were victims of sabotage directly from Arsenal.
But these wild theories were quickly debunked and dismissed, while the hotel was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In any case, it generated a seismic ripple effect on the events that followed. It would take Spurs another four years before they could finally secure Champions League football, with Jol losing his job 17 months later.
Former Spurs player Johnny Jackson, who was called up to the squad to face West Ham but didn’t feature, suggested the effects had been “exaggerated”.
“The only one who I remember actually played the game who was struggling was Michael Carrick – I think he had to come off in the end,” he recalled in an interview back in 2011.
“But they ended up losing it and missing out on the fourth and I think they made more of a deal of it than it actually was. There were some great stories going about like the chef was an Arsenal fan. I am not so sure about that.”
Andy Reid, who was not affected by the illness and came off the bench to replace Carrick, saw it differently.
“If it was a coincidence then it was a hell of a coincidence,” the former Ireland international said, speaking to the Broken Metatarsal Podcast.
“I know at the time it was taken very, very seriously. You don’t want to make excuses but because of that game we didn’t qualify for the Champions League.
“There was a hell of a lot riding on it financially, for the club, for the players, and also the prestige of playing in the Champions League.”
Some 15 years later down the line and the tables have very much turned. It was Tottenham who most recently reached the Champions League final in 2019 and under Mauricio Pochettino qualified for the competition for three consecutive seasons.
Jose Mourinho may have been sacked three weeks ago but Spurs remain in the hunt for Europa League football next season, with their Champions League hopes all but over.
For Arsenal, the situation has become more miserable with every year. Their peerless leader Arsene Wenger left in 2018 to be replaced by Unai Emery and after the Spaniard departed, former captain Mikel Arteta is in charge.
The Gunners have endured another poor domestic campaign and currently sit ninth in the standings. Their 2-1 aggregate defeat to Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday all but confirmed they will be without European football next season for the first time since 1995, putting Arteta’s position under scrutiny.
If only to highlight their continuous downfall, St Totteringham’s Day last occurred in 2016. And with a seven-point gap between the sides with four games left, 2021 is not likely to be the year it returns either — barring the appearance of another questionable Italian dish on the menu.
Anyone for a carbonara?