Time to Make (Semi) History – Part 2

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

In the first of this three-part article (here: https://www.spurs-web.com/tottenham-hotspur-fan-articles/time-semi-history-part-1/) I hoped to shed some optimism on Tottenham’s chances of beating Chelsea in this season’s FA Cup semi-final by looking at the story of our previous cup semis. But just a few short weeks later, perhaps the need for optimism isn’t so great, we needn’t look at the past, we just need to look at the present: Spurs are on their best top-flight winning streak since 1967 while cracks are starting to show in the Chelsea unit. Defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United along with an alarming dip in form from Diego Costa might even make Spurs slight favourites, despite the aberration of their performances at Wembley Stadium this season.

Every stat you care to mention shows Tottenham are the best team in the country in 2017 and they have won their past two matches 4-0 with room to spare, never really getting out of 3rd gear in either. There’s a sense that this team has a determination to succeed and that faced with ‘real’ opposition, they will raise their game yet further. The players, and fans, are in buoyant mood and in just about every department at the moment will fancy their one-on-one challenges against their opposite numbers in blue on Saturday.  

Whatever the result, though, another chapter, for better or worse, will be written in Tottenham Hotspur’s history. As a reminder, let’s relive those previous semi-final chapters from 1961 to 1991…

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 0 Burnley, 1961

We left the story with Spurs having lost four consecutive semi-finals, the last three of which came in eight years at Villa Park, leading to a feeling around the club there was something of a hoodoo on the club at the ground. If there was, then it didn’t extend to league matches where in the post-war seasons Spurs and Aston Villa were in the same division, Tottenham had won 8, drawn 2 and lost 0 of the league meetings.

The team that travelled to Villa Park for the seventh semi-final in the club’s history was also very different to the ones that were largely underdogs in their previous three semis – they were all but convincing league champions and hotly tipped to be the first team in the 20th century to complete the league and cup ‘double’.

This, of course, they duly did, helped by this convincing win over reigning league champions Burnley, as tough an opponent as could’ve been drawn. With their title defence long-since over, it was no secret the Lancastrians were targeting a Cup winner’s medal to go alongside their Championship medals and a first FA Cup win for the club since 1914. Bobby Smith scored in each half, the second a fine volley from outside the box, and with Burnley chasing the game Cliff Jones put the seal on the proceedings with a counter-attack goal. The Villa Park hoodoo was well and truly broken.

You can see highlights courtesy of Pathe here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNWKjL7S8iM

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 1 Manchester United, 1962

With the Villa jinx over it was back to Hillsborough the following season. Tottenham had ideas of doing the double-double but these looked to be scuppered by newly-promoted Ipswich Town, the surprise package of the season, in the league. In fairness the FA Cup was only third on Tottenham’s list of priorities this season, as Bill Nicholson had set his sights on the European Cup and this semi-final came only days after Spurs returned from Lisbon licking their wounds (literally in some cases) after a 3-1 defeat to Benfica in another semi-final.

Manchester United in 1962 were in a transitionary period and still a couple of seasons away from challenging for the title, so few gave them a chance against the mighty Spurs. In the first half the Lilywhites scored two very familiar goals; Jimmy Greaves was given too much space in the box as he dispatched a first-time finish before a deep cross from John White was met by a far-post header from Cliff Jones. How many times did Spurs fans see such goals in the early 60s?

Spurs were cruising until the final ten minutes, when David Herd [who passed away at the end of last year aged 82] beat Bill Brown at his near post to potentially make it interesting, but in fact it did nothing but spur Tottenham to re-establish their superiority, netting a third through a Terry Medwin header.

Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WvbLU_fHCI

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Nottingham Forest, 1967

It was Hillsborough again five years later. Rather like 2017, fifty years ago Spurs were the form team of the moment, in the middle of their longest ever unbeaten run. Had they started the run four games sooner they might well have won the title ahead of Manchester United, but as it was Nottingham Forest, having one of those random seasons when everything clicks, came from nowhere to hold on to second place.

In this match Tottenham proved who was the better side, a fine left-foot volley from 20 yards by Jimmy Greaves in the first half, then an equally superb strike from Frank Saul into the top corner in the second sealed the victory. Forest pulled one back late on but there was no stopping Tottenham on this form, going on to win the first all-London final. Forest couldn’t continue their good form and within two years were battling against relegation.

Match Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv9tYDizyoY

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
    Replay: Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1981

The match between Spurs and Wolves at Hillsborough in 1981 was to be an ominous one, though the significance was unknown to anyone at the time but in the years since has been seen as portentous of what was to come on the same ground in 1989.

After an invigorating run by Tony Galvin, Steve Archibald gave Tottenham the lead after just four minutes, but as he did so the first signs that all was not well in the Leppings Lane end became evident. With the game underway late-comers were still streaming into the lower paddock and a crush was beginning. By the time Kenny Hibbitt equalised many Spurs fans had climbed over the perimeter fence and were sat behind the goal, and each minute brought more fans desperate to escape the suffocating conditions onto the turf.

At the opposite end Hoddle regained Spurs lead with an exquisite free-kick and at half-time there was the bizarre sight of hundreds of Tottenham fans rushing towards the Wolves end, all the while the marching band continuing to play amongst the melee. Unbelievably, no one was killed in the incident but 38 people reported injuries. Despite the sight of stretchers being taken around the perimeter of the pitch, lessons clearly weren’t learnt, to devastating effect eight years later.

On the pitch, Willie Carr’s penalty earned Wolves a replay but the relegation battle they were involved in was taking its toll and they’d shot their bolt. Highbury was the controversial choice for the replay, making it a virtual home game for Spurs supporters, but in truth no matter where the game was played there was going to be no stopping Spurs, or Glenn Hoddle. In one of the great performances of the era, Tottenham demolished a demoralised Wolverhampton. Hoddle supplied Crooks with two goals in the first half, the second a pass as good as any ever played by someone in the lilywhite shirt. Late on Ricky Villa stepped in from the right and hit a shot with his left as straight as an arrow, hitting the back of the net via the inside of the post, a goal few would’ve expected he would better that season. In another replay a month later, of course, he had other ideas…

The goals from the replay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiymyZy3c_E

  1. Tottenham Hostpur 2 – 0 Leicester City, 1982

It was back to Villa Park for a semi-final for the first time in 21 years in 1982 and Spurs were hot favourites to become the first team to retain the cup since they themselves did so in 1962. Tottenham were having a vintage season, chasing trophies on four fronts, leading them to play an unequalled TEN matches in May as the fixture backlog put paid to their title challenge.

In the League Cup Spurs had already beaten West Bromwich Albion in a tense, two-legged semi-final so they were no doubt pleased to avoid them in the FA Cup semis, instead drawn against one of the two Second Division teams still in the competition. Leicester City were an improving side, featuring a young Gary Lineker, and put up a good fight but Spurs’ extra quality finally told in the second half, a Hoddle cross met by Garth Crooks and then an unfortunate own goal enough to take them through. The match is perhaps best remembered, though, for being Ossie Ardiles’s last for the club before his enforced exile due to the escalating situation surrounding the Falkland Islands, the little Argentine regularly booed by the Leicester fans.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 4 – 1 Watford, 1987

By 1987 Ossie was back and he was involved in a tactical change part way through the season which saw an upturn in Tottenham’s performances and results. Playing in a deep-lying playmaker role (often known as a “revista”) in a five-man midfield behind Clive Allen, he pulled the strings and allowed Hoddle to push further forward.

Along with Chris Waddle and the industrious Steve Hodge, Watford were no match, even with John Barnes in their side. They’d enjoyed a decent season but were a few years past their peak as a team. The real story of the game, however, concerned their goalkeeper, the barman who found himself playing in an FA Cup semi-final.

Gary Plumley had had a solid career in the lower reaches of English football, or more specifically Welsh football, most notably with Newport County with whom he’d reached the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1981. He retired from first class football in 1985.

Watford’s first choice goalkeeper Tony Coton broke his finger two weeks before the match and Graham Taylor was desperate to find cover for reserve ‘keeper Steve Sherwood. As it was past the transfer deadline it needed to be someone who was out of contract, so he called Eddie Plumley, Gary’s father and a board member at Watford. He in turncalled his son who promptly started training again with Newport, though had no expectation of playing. That was until two days before the match when he got another call to say Sherwood had dislocated his finger – two years after retiring he was to play in the biggest match of his life at Villa Park!

Poor Plumley though didn’t cover himself in glory, in the 11th minute spilling a long-range shot from Clive Allen and Steve Hodge dutifully slid in the rebound. There was nothing he could about Allen’s next long-range effort two minutes later as it took a huge deflection off a defender, leaving Plumley rooted to the spot as it nestled into the corner. Would Tony Coton have done better with the third? It’s debatable. Paul Allen was given too much time and space to run into the penalty area and from a tight angle struck a left-footed shot hard and true, beating Plumley at his near post as it rifled into the roof of the net, putting the game to bed before half-time. Late on Hodge got his second before substitute Malcolm Allen headed a consolation

Match highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsBkHaXOKKc

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 1 Arsenal

Arsenal were imperious in 1990-91, losing just one league game and conceding a meagre 18 league goals. Twenty years after they last achieved the feat, the ‘double’ was very much on the cards again. But as Spurs fans, of course, we knew the year ended in 1 and that meant only one thing – Tottenham’s name was on the trophy.

In every cup run there is a piece of good fortune, and Spurs rode their luck on a blustery day on the west coast at Blackpool in the third round, when a Paul Stewart header was all that separated the two sides, but from then on it was all Gascoigne, Gascoigne, Gascoigne as he dragged his teammates kicking and screaming to Wembley.

Before, during and after the match he was a man possessed; gurning at the cameras as the teams marched out of the tunnel, running hither and thither in the first half, a mass ball of energy that couldn’t be contained nor sustained. By the time he was substituted he’d long since done his bit, scoring the “boys’ own stuff” free kick from 30 yards, setting up the move which led to Mabbutt (what on earth was he doing that far forward?) poaching the second. After the match he was even more manic, reporters trying in vain to pin him down for a coherent interview. After the trauma of how his Italia ’90 ended, he knew this was his time.

Where his mania had been channelled purposefully for the semi-final, it boiled over in the final, carried off after 14 minutes when he could easily have been sent off before. Sadly for Tottenham fans, one of the greatest days in our history currently marks the start of 26 years (and counting?) of semi-final hurt.

Cathartically, I shall recount those years of hurt in part 3, but for now enjoy the good times by re-living the highlights of this classic encounter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4TfBcyfd-4




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