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Spurs and the FA Cup


Semi-Finals - 1901 – 2001


It is now six years since Spurs reached the FA Cup semi-finals, Chelsea once again being an insurmountable object as they were in 2002.  In their 125 year history Spurs have reached this stage of the competition on seventeen occasions although it is sixteen years since they progressed to the Final.  Of those seventeen semi-finals, Spurs have won on nine occasions and for most of those successes the result was well deserved with Spurs winning comfortably.  However, of the eight unsuccessful attempts to reach the Final, there has often been a sense of injustice as Spurs have been at the wrong end of some dubious decisions.


As a Southern League side Spurs had progressed to the 1901 FA Cup semi-final having disposed of the Cup holders, Bury, and the only other surviving non-League side, Reading, in previous rounds.  First Division, West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park were Spurs next opponents while Sheffield United and Aston Villa contested the other semi-final.  Although the game was like a home game for Albion, Spurs took thousands of spectators to the Birmingham venue.


The Spurs’ hero was Sandy Brown who scored all four goals as Spurs won comprehensively. Brown had scored in every round of the Cup and now had a total of twelve goals in the competition. Spurs were very much the under-dogs and all of the Spurs’ players deserved credit for this performance.  Although the game was scoreless at half-time Spurs had more of the play and from the time that Brown headed the first goal just after the restart from a centre by John Kirwan, there was no doubting the result. He scored twice more in the next twenty minutes – his second from a corner, the third was a shot from thirty yards and the fourth, five minutes from the end, after a passing movement took Spurs the length of the pitch.  


Following a replay Spurs discovered they would be meeting Sheffield United in the Final to be played at Crystal Palace.


Twenty years later, just back in the 1st Division, Spurs faced Preston North End at Hillsborough in their second semi-final.  The two clubs had previously met in the Cup on two occasions, including the 1st Round tie in 1901 when Spurs went on to win the Cup for the first time.  Now, the two clubs were opponents in the top flight and although Preston were in the bottom half of the League to Spurs sixth position, the northern club had been successful in both League games earlier in the season.  Spurs had had moments of good fortune in their early progress in the Cup but on this occasion it seemed to desert them.  It took two goals from Bert Bliss in the second half to ensure Spurs’ victory – scoring the first with a typical drive and then converting a pass from captain, Arthur Grimsdell.  A mix-up in the Spurs’ defence allowed Preston to pull a goal back but Spurs were never under any threat.  The game could and should have been wrapped long before Spurs scored their first goal.  In the first half they had two goals disallowed – the first after Jimmy Banks scored but the referee gave Spurs a free-kick for a foul on Jimmy Seed and then a second following a scramble in the Preston area was disallowed for some unknown reason.  Early in the second half Spurs should have had two penalties – firstly for a foul on Banks and then when a Preston defender handled but neither impressed the referee.

Spurs’ opponents in the Final at Stamford Bridge would be Second Division Wolverhampton Wanderers who had defeated another Second Division side, Cardiff City in a replay.


The following year and Spurs suffered their first semi-final defeat, Preston gaining revenge for the previous year’s defeat in controversial circumstances.  Spurs were favourites to win and played in that manner throughout the first half and went a goal up through Jimmy Seed.  Preston looked a beaten team at half-time but in the second half were re-vitalised and equalised.  Spurs came back into the game and looked to have scored when a shot from Bert Bliss beat the goalkeeper and was on its way into the net.  At this point the referee stopped the game to attend to an injured Preston player.  He decreed that he had blown the whistle before the ball entered the net and disallowed the goal.  To add insult to injury, the player wasn’t even injured.  This decision demoralised the Spurs players and Preston went on to score the winning goal.  In the Final Preston lost to a disputed penalty, awarded for a foul committed outside the area, but that is of little consolation to Spurs.


It was another twenty six years before Spurs were to grace a semi-final again and it was as a 2nd Division side that they met 1st Division Blackpool at Villa Park.  They had defeated 1st Division Bolton and then 2nd Division clubs, West Brom, Leicester and Southampton to reach this stage.  For over an hour Spurs were the equal of Blackpool who were the strong favourites with Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen in their side.   However, it was Spurs who went ahead when Len Duquemin got the final touch in a goalmouth scramble for his eighth Cup goal of the season.  Time ticked away and Spurs were within four minutes of their first Wembley final when a pass from Matthews found Mortensen.  He set off on a thirty yard run, past four defenders and shot from a very acute angle near the goal line. The shot caught Ted Ditchburn unawares and Spurs were totally deflated.  Into extra time and Mortensen scored twice more to ensure Spurs’ Cup dreams ended at Villa Park.  That result so demoralised Spurs that they won only two of their final twelve League games and missed out on a possible promotion by finishing in eighth place.


Five seasons later, Spurs had an opportunity to gain revenge on Blackpool when they again met in the semi-final at Villa Park.  This time both clubs were in the 1st Division and this was seen as a last opportunity for the ‘Push and Run’ side to achieve Cup success.  It had been a long road to the semi-final for Spurs who had played eight games to reach this stage.  They had needed replays to beat Tranmere and Preston, then one game saw off Halifax but the 6th Round tie with Birmingham City went to three games.  This time Blackpool with Matthews and Mortensen still a force to be reckoned with, took an early lead but early in the second half Spurs levelled through Len Duquemin.  Spurs were now in control and the game was heading for extra time when with seconds remaining Alf Ramsey attempted a back pass to Ted Ditchburn.  As he did so he slipped and the ball fell short allowing the Blackpool forward to step in and put the ball past Ditchburn.  Only time remained to kick off again and Spurs would have to wait a little longer for a final at Wembley.


Blackpool went on to win the Final against Bolton in the famous ‘Matthews’ final.


Villa Park was becoming a bogey ground for Spurs where FA Cup semi-final games were concerned.  In 1955-56 they again had the misfortune to lose there at the penultimate stage – this time to Manchester City.  It was a refereeing mistake that helped to prevent Spurs achieving that first Wembley final.  Spurs were a goal down but in the final minutes were battling for an equaliser.  The captain, Danny Blanchflower had moved centre half, Maurice Norman, forward into the attack as he had done successfully in the previous round against West Ham.  In the dieing moments winger George Robb was through on goal and about to score when the Manchester City goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, caught hold of his legs.  A goal or a penalty, Spurs should have scored but somehow unbelievably the officials saw nothing and Spurs had once again fallen short.  ‘What if’ Spurs had scored – they could have taken the game into extra time and gone on to win but the repercussions of the defeat went further than expected.  Manager, Jimmy Anderson was unimpressed with Blanchflower’s decision to make changes to the team during the game and in the ensuing row Blanchflower resigned as captain and did not take on the role for another two seasons.


After such a period of disappointment, Spurs were about to embark on a sequence of seven successive semi-final victories stretching over thirty years.  At the fourth attempt, it was the ‘Double’ team of 1960 that was to lay the ghost of Villa Park.  Drawn to play defending League champions Burnley a tight game was expected as Burnley had recovered from a four goal deficit to earn a draw in the League game at White Hart Lane earlier in the season.  The semi-final tie saw Spurs take the lead after half an hour and went further ahead when Bobby Smith scored his second in the second half. This deflated Burnley and Cliff Jones added the third before the end.  Spurs were on their now way to Wembley for the very first time where they would find Leicester City trying to prevent them completing an historic ‘Double.’


A year later Spurs overcame Manchester United at Hillsborough at the semi-final stage of the competition as they endeavoured to retain the trophy.  Goals from Jimmy Greaves, Terry Medwin and Cliff Jones ensured that Spurs won comfortably and returned to Wembley to meet the team they defeated in the previous year’s semi-final.  Greaves and Jones gave Spurs a two goal half-time lead.  United scored with seven minutes remaining but Medwin ensured Spurs’ victory, scoring three minutes later.


The 1967 semi-final saw Spurs return to Hillsborough to play Nottingham Forest.  Both teams were in the top three of the League and Spurs were on an unbeaten run that stretched back to mid-January.  In a very close game Forest started the better and Cyril Knowles cleared off the line early on but then after half an hour Jimmy Greaves scored with a great volley from twenty five yards that went in off the post.  Just before half-time Forest almost equalised when a Knowles defensive header hit the post but Spurs held on.  In the second half Forest continued to search for the equaliser but when Frank Saul caught a Forest defender in possession he took the ball to the edge of the penalty area to score with a great shot to put Spurs two up after sixty seven minutes.  Forest weren’t down and out and scored with ten minutes left but although they searched for the equaliser, Spurs had further opportunities to increase their lead.  In the following day’s papers the match was described as ‘pulsating’ and a game in which Spurs ‘earned the right to meet Chelsea in the first all London Final at Wembley on the strength of a highly skilled performance in a classic semi-final that had moments of magic and tragedy.


Although Spurs enjoyed Cup success at home and in Europe over the next decade and a half, the FA Cup eluded them.  It was in 1981 that they next reached an FA Cup semi-final, under the guidance of Keith Burkinshaw.  Spurs’ progress to this stage had been steady and they were drawn to play Wolverhampton Wanderers at Hillsborough.  Everyone’s memory of this game is the penalty that was awarded to Wolves in the dieing moments for a tackle by Glenn Hoddle.  This gave Wolves the chance to equalise and take the game into extra time.  The game remained level at 2-2 and a replay was required.  The fury of the Spurs’ players and spectators at the penalty decision is understandable as it was wrong on two accounts – the tackle was outside the penalty area and Hoddle won the ball cleanly without touching the ‘diving’ Terry Hibbitt.  Spurs had taken the lead through Steve Archibald after four minutes but Wolves equalised a minute later. Just before half-time, Hoddle put Spurs ahead from a free kick, that could justifiably have been a penalty. Spurs defended resolutely until the referee played his part but then we would have missed the excitement of the replay at Highbury.  


For some unaccountable reason the FA decided that the replay would take place at Highbury which was of tremendous advantage to Spurs.  It was the perfect place for Spurs to win an exciting replay.  Determined not to be deprived of their place at Wembley as they had been the previous Saturday, Spurs were fired up for the game from the outset and took an early lead when Garth Crooks headed the opening goal.  Wolves came back strongly but couldn’t get an equaliser.  Then just before half-time Crooks scored the second when taking a pass from Hoddle, he finished with ease.  Spurs were celebrating and Ricky Villa sealed the victory with a great goal scored from thirty yards.  A great victory and a stylish performance as ‘Spurs were on their way to Wembley’ again.


The following season as Spurs fought to retain the trophy, the semi-final game took them to Villa Park where they met 2nd Division, Leicester City.  It was a difficult game for everyone and Ossie Ardiles played his last game of the season for Spurs as  he returned to Argentina to prepare for the World Cup.  However, there was the additional problem of the Falklands War and Ardiles was constantly booed by the Leicester fans.  Spurs eventually wore Leicester down in the second half when after 56 minutes Ardiles centred for Crooks to score.  Leicester lost a player to injury and their ten men battled gamely but in the 76th minute conceded a soft own goal. The defender with many options to clear lifted his back pass over the goalkeeper’s head.  This was a very comfortable semi-final victory for Spurs who returned to Wembley for a second successive year to meet Queens Park Rangers.


Spurs next semi-final was in 1987 and was to be one of the easiest they’ve ever played at this stage of the competition.  Watford with former Spurs player, Mark Falco, in their team went into the game at Villa Park with goalkeeping problems and had to call up an emergency keeper as their regular keepers were injured.  A 4-1 victory didn’t flatter Spurs who were three ahead with just over half an hour played.  After a competitive opening, Steve Hodge scored when the goalkeeper parried a shot from Clive Allen after eleven minutes.  Two minutes later another Allen shot was deflected past the hapless goalkeeper.  Paul Allen added the third before the interval and Steve Hodge scored his second midway through the second half.  Watford’s goal two minutes later was only a consolation as Spurs proceeded to their eighth FA Cup Final against Coventry City, their unexpected opponents.

In all the years of the FA Cup, Spurs and Arsenal had only previously met in the competition on two occasions.  Now, in 1991, they were to meet in the semi-final.  Such was the demand the game was arranged for Wembley, the first occasion that a semi-final had taken place there.  Spurs were under continuing financial pressure but their biggest problem prior to this game was the fitness of their talisman, Paul Gascoigne.  He had undergone a hernia operation immediately after the 6th Round win over Notts County, in the hope that he would be fit for the semi-final.  Four days before the game he successfully played for an hour in a League game at Norwich and was fit to play at Wembley.  Spurs’ other difficulty was that Arsenal had only lost once in the League and were looking to win the ‘double’.  The atmosphere at Wembley was electric and Gascoigne was at his most exuberant best.  Spurs were not expected to win this game but Venables had them firing on all cylinders from the start.  After five minutes Gascoigne scored from a 35 yard free kick that was hit with such power and accuracy that it left Seaman clutching at thin air.  As Venables said afterwards, “Paul was probably the only player who could do anything like that.”  Five minutes later Gary Lineker increased Spurs’ lead.  Arsenal didn’t know what had hit them but they managed to score before half-time. Gazza played for only sixty minutes but left to an ovation – ‘Spurs Hero of Wembley.’  Shortly after Gascoigne’s departure, his replacement, Nayim set up Lineker to score the third to take Spurs to the Final.  


All the players played their part in this memorable victory as Arsenal were humbled by an inspired Gazza who ensured Spurs had a fantastic victory.St. Hotspur Day’- a day never to be forgotten by Spurs’ fans around the world.

"He's not going to have a go from there.... he is you know.... that is Schoolboy's Own stuff!"  Barry Davies, commenting on the semi-final as Gascoigne lined up the free-kick and scored from 35 yards.

That was Spurs’ seventh successive FA Cup semi-final victory but since that very memorable and enjoyable day, Spurs have only had that sinking feeling where those games have been concerned.  Although they have endured difficult times in the subsequent years Spurs have still managed to reach the semi-final on four occasions.  Two years later another visit to Wembley was required when Spurs and Arsenal were again drawn together.  Terry Venables’ team were left feeling hard done by in 1993 when a refereeing decision influenced the result.  Spurs were denied a penalty when Darren Anderton was brought down in the penalty area in the first half.  If Spurs had been awarded a penalty and Arsenal reduced to ten men with over an hour to play the complexion of the game would have changed.  However, it wasn’t and then with ten minutes remaining the Arsenal goal was scored from a dubious free-kick although tighter marking by the Spurs’ defence could have eliminated the danger.  The ‘might have beens’ could go on for ever but if Spurs had gone on to Wembley and won the Cup, the subsequent dramatic and traumatic end of season events with the fall-out between Alan Sugar and Terry Venables may never have occurred and Spurs mightn’t have gone into a decade of decline.

Defeat in the semi-final usually has some repercussions – in 1947 Spurs missed out on promotion, in 1957 Blnchflower resigned as captain, in 1993 Venables and Sugar fell out while following the 1995 defeat by Everton, Spurs lost Jurgen Klinsmann who along with Teddy Sheringham had been such a vital part of Spurs’ resurgence that season.  The season had started with Spurs banned from the competition as punishment for the financial irregularities uncovered in the Sugar/Venables affair.  It was only as the 3rd Round approached that the decision was overturned and Spurs were re-instated.  Progress to the semi-finals had brought memorable performances at Southampton and Liverpool and now Spurs were faced with Everton at Elland Road as the final step back to Wembley.  The media were predicting a Spurs/Manchester United final but unfortunately Everton hadn’t read the script.  Spurs were troubled by injuries on the day and Stuart Nethercott had to play as emergency left back.  Spurs simply did not perform, little resembling the side that had played so well in earlier rounds and produced such exciting football during the season.  Everton started the better and took a two goal lead.  Klinsmann scored a penalty for Spurs but two late goals sealed Spurs’ fate and added to their embarrassment.

The result was a shattering blow to the fans and the club but the further ramification was that Klinsmann later announced that he would be leaving at the end of the season.  He had brought vitality to the club but with the team not being able to offer him European football the following season he decided to return to Germany.  This was an even greater blow to the Club and one that they have been striving to recover from since that fateful day – only in the past two seasons have there been signs of some early shoots of recovery.

In 1999 Spurs under George Graham had already won the Worthington Cup and were looking for a Cup ‘double’ as they took on Newcastle United at Old Trafford.  Progress to this stage had been seen a comfortable victory over Watford, replays were needed to see off Wimbledon and Leeds, the latter succumbing to two spectacular goals from Anderton and Ginola at White Hart Lane.  Ginola produced another ‘special’ to win at Barnsley and Spurs were looking confident as they came to play Newcastle.  However, Spurs weren’t at their best against the Tyneside club but the game turned on the hour when the referee missed a blatant handball by the Newcastle defender, Dabizas, as he struggled to head clear from a free-kick.  The game remained scoreless and went into extra time when from a similar situation Campbell was penalised and Newcastle were awarded a penalty.  Shearer scored and with Spurs deflated, added a second to end Spurs’ dreams of a second visit to Wembley.

In 2001, Spurs had another opportunity to reach the FA Cup Final but once again Arsenal stood in their way.  In the entire history of the FA Cup, the two clubs have only met on two occasions in earlier rounds of the competition but of the four times they have both reached the semi-finals, they have been drawn together on three occasions.  The background to the tie was Spurs’ change of manager.  A week after Spurs’ thrilling victory over West Ham United at Upton Park in the 6th Round George Graham was sacked.  David Pleat took temporary charge while the club waited for Glenn Hoddle whose first game in charge was the semi-final at Old Trafford.  It started brightly for Spurs with Gary Doherty who had been the hero of earlier rounds with two important goals, giving Spurs the lead.  However, Arsenal came more and more into the game and it was only an outstanding display by Neil Sullivan in the Spurs’ goal that kept the score to 2-1 for Spurs’ north London neighbours.  While Hoddle’s return to Tottenham was welcome, the timing was not the most appropriate, before such an important game and especially as the players had come together as a team through the Cup run.

It is now six years since Spurs have progressed to an FA Cup semi-final, Chelsea have again denied them with two spectacular goals to pull them through a game that they were unable to dominate and they were satisfied to leave White Hart Lane with a result.  In truth, Spurs surrendered the tie at Stamford Bridge when they failed to make the most of the two goal advantage they had achieved at half-time.  But that is the story of the FA Cup, season after season – it brings dreams that ultimately go unfulfilled but on those few occasions when it all falls into place they are the greatest moments and create lasting memories that carry you through in hope for the seasons that lie ahead.

For the Record:

1901 West Bromwich Albion (Villa Park) Won 4-0 Brown (4)

1921 Preston North End (Hillsborough) Won 2-1 Bliss (2)

1922 Preston North End (Hillsborough) Lost 1-2 Seed

1948 Blackpool (Villa Park) Lost 1-3 (aet) Duquemin

1953 Blackpool (Villa Park) Lost 1-2 Duquemin

1956 Manchester City (Villa Park) Lost 0-1

1961 Burnley (Villa Park) Won 3-0 Smith R (2), Jones

1962 Manchester United (Hillsborough) Won 3-1 Greaves, Medwin, Jones

1967 Nottingham Forest (Hillsborough) Won 2-1 Greaves, Saul

1981 Wolverhampton Wanderers (Hillsborough) Draw 2-2 (aet) Archibald, Hoddle

Replay Wolverhampton Wanderers (Highbury) Won 3-0 Crooks (2), Villa

1982 Leicester City (Villa Park) Won 2-0 Crooks, Opp. o.g.

1987 Watford (Villa Park) won 4-1 Hodge (2), Allen P, Allen C

1991 Arsenal (Wembley) Won 3-1 Gascoigne, Lineker (2)

1993 Arsenal (Wembley) Lost 0-1

1995 Everton (Elland Road) Lost 1-4 Klinsmann (p)

1999 Newcastle United (Old Trafford) Lost 0-2 (aet)

2001 Arsenal (Old Trafford) Lost 1-2 Doherty

Logan Holmes





Spurs and the FA Cup, by Logan Holmes