Time to Make (Semi) History – Part 3

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

In my previous articles I detailed the dim and distant history of Spurs’ record in FA Cup semi-finals. If you want to find out how to win semis, best to read them (Part 1:  https://www.spurs-web.com/tottenham-hotspur-fan-articles/time-semi-history-part-1/ Part 2: https://www.spurs-web.com/spurs-news/time-semi-history-part-2/) as there’s little evidence of it in this chapter.

It is almost unbelievable that a club with such a proud cup tradition could lose six semi-finals in a row. As far as I can tell, no team has ever lost seven consecutively (coincidentally, we currently hold the record jointly, I think, with Chelsea) so it’s about time the form changed, but for now here are the sometimes desperate, sometimes calamitous attempts to win a semi-final over the past 24 years. Perhaps not what you want to read on the morning of the big game, but come with me on the journey, starting with our 14th semi, it will be cathartic…

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 1 Arsenal, 1993

Memories of the famous 1991 semi-final were fresh in the memory when the “North London Cup” was replayed two years later. Arsenal were still seething from that defeat and perhaps deserved this victory for a dominant second-half display, but it was a bitter and ill-tempered affair. In the intervening years, of course, El Tel had stepped upstairs and a new look Spurs, featuring Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton, playing in an FA Cup semi-final for the second year running after his heroics for Portsmouth in ’92, were led by the coaching partnership of Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence.

Tottenham had much the better of the first half with a big shout for a penalty, but in the second Arsenal dug in and it was almost inevitable that Tony Adams, much derided by Spurs fans, would clinch the winner with a far-post header in the 79th minute. Only then did Spurs put Arsenal under pressure, with Lee Dixon sent off five minutes from the end, but it was too little too late and Arsenal had their revenge.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 4 Everton, 1995


The name that will haunt many a Spurs fan. One of the most memorable seasons ended in disappointment, with many convinced Tottenham Hotspur’s name was on the trophy having originally been thrown out of the competition and then re-instated before a ball was kicked.

After one of the greatest Spurs performances of the 90s (2-1 at Anfield in the quarter-final) Tottenham seemed destined for the final with Manchester United, all that was between them was a mediocre Everton side who had been flirting with relegation for some time. What happened on the day no one can really say, perhaps over-confidence played a part, but by the standards of recent performances this was a catastrophe that few saw coming.

It had been a fevered cup campaign, inspired by Jurgen Klinsmann’s dream, like Ossie’s all those years before, to win the English Cup. After Tottenham were put into the 3rd Round draw pending an appeal, later successful, they unconvincingly dispatched with non-league Altrincham 3-0 at the Lane before drawing at home with Southampton. This led to this writer’s favourite ever game, the bonkers match at the Dell in which Tottenham came from 2-0 down at half time to win 6-2 after extra-time, inspired by Rocket Ronny Rosenthal’s thrilling hat-trick and some debatable goalkeeping by Bruce Grobelaar. Sunderland was easily put away at Roker Park before the thriller at Anfield.

So, to Elland Road and Tottenham’s nadir. Former Gunner Anders Limpar was simply too good, too quick, too determined for Stuart Nethercott, in to plug a defensive crisis at left-back. Matt Jackson and Graham Stuart put Everton in control, Klinsmann pulled one back from the penalty spot and then, with Spurs chasing an elusive second, substitute Daniel Amokachi scored his first goals for the Toffees since his home debut in September. Game over, proof that more than romance is required to win the Cup.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 2 Newcastle United, 1999

George Graham was never going to be a popular choice as Spurs manager, but after some years of near-chaos at White Hart Lane he looked to be bringing stability and a winning attitude, claiming the League Cup in his first season followed by this semi-final at Old Trafford.

With the other semi-finalists, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs, already qualified for Europe, Newcastle found themselves in the strange position of knowing that whether they made the final or not, they would be the side qualifying from the FA Cup for the UEFA Cup (as it was still known) the following season.

In the event the game lacked any real quality and didn’t live up to the wonderful atmosphere created by the supporters. Newcastle were on a downward trajectory after the heights of the Keegan “I’d love it, love it!” era and Spurs were still a work in progress. David Ginola was marked out of the game by a young Andy Griffin. As tired legs meant the game became stretched the match kicked into life in extra-time, shots firing in at both ends. Dietmar Hamann saw a 30 yard volley fizz past the post, Seffan Iversen causing the Newcastle goalkeeper far less trouble with a 20 yard effort. Shearer looked to be in after a Taricco slip, but his volley was tame, Led Ferdinand hit a shot too hot for Shay Given to hold, Griffin bundling the ball behind for a corner before Chris Armstrong could pounce.

The game was decided by two penalty appeals, one given, one not. With a replay (remember them?) looking likely Sol Campbell had a moment of madness, going to handle, then trying to retract as Duncan Ferguson clipped the ball over his head into the Tottenham penalty area. It was only the merest of touches, but it was a touch, and Alan Shearer doesn’t miss penalties. Minutes later he settled matters with one of those trademark, thundering strikes that was still rising as it hit the underside of the bar and bounced down behind the line.

How differently things may have turned out had the referee given Spurs a penalty for a blatant handball by Dabizas in the 57th minute. Sinton curled in a free kick to the far post where Campbell was ready to pounce, but the ball was deflected away from his head by Dabizas. Unbelievably referee Paul Durkin and his linesman somehow missed it. Later that year I interviewed referee Rob Harris, who was a lineman on that day, and he told me he and Durkin were distracted by the number of bodies in the box, looking for an infringement that wasn’t there and missing the one that was. Seeing the replay back after the match, he couldn’t explain how they missed it, it was just “one of those things.”

No such hard luck story to console us in Tottenham’s next FA Cup semi-final.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 2 Arsenal, 2001

On the eve of yet another semi-final, George Graham was removed as manager after a falling-out with chairman Alan Sugar (not so much as a Sir, let alone Lord, at this point) and replaced by Glenn Hoddle. But as Spurs found out in 1995, romance alone is not enough to progress to the Cup final and the romance of the old favourite returning to his beloved club to take them to Wembley in his first match is all Tottenham really had going for them. That, and the year ending in 1.

Gary Doherty gave Spurs the lead after 13 minutes heading in Steffen Iversen’s misdirected volley, but from then on it was one-way traffic, totally outclassed Tottenham were lucky to leave Old Trafford with only a one-goal defeat. If he had any doubts before taking the job the size of the task ahead of him, this match gave Hoddle ample evidence of the gulf between the North London neighbours.

In the aftermath one wag wrote into teletext (teletext!) to suggest Spurs didn’t win a trophy when the year ended in 1, only when it began and ended in 1, so Spurs would have to wait another 8,000 years to win the cup!

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 0 – 2 Portsmouth, 2010

The one that got away.

Now well and truly into the era of semi-finals being played at the national stadium as a matter of course, Tottenham reached the ‘new’ Wembley for the third year running after two League Cup Finals of differing fortunes. Two years previously Harry Redknapp led Portsmouth to a surprise FA Cup victory and as luck would have it he was drawn against his old team here. But this wasn’t the positive, enterprising Portsmouth of 24 months earlier, this was a club in disarray, who had been relegated by results going against them on the eve of the match. By contrast Tottenham were battling for a place in the Champions League. The gulf in quality between the two sides was no more stark than that.

Something strange was going on with the new Wembley turf and for much of the match proceedings resembled more an episode of Dancing on Ice than a game of football, but what chances there were came Spurs’ way and, in the second half particularly, it was the heroics only of David James that kept the scoreline goalless. It seemed just a matter of time before Tottenham’s class finally told, but a procession of near inexplicable misses from the likes of Peter Crouch and Vedran Corluka kept Spurs at bay.

In extra-time the inevitable happened; Michael Dawson became the latest to slip on the disintegrating surface and this time it was costly, allowing Frederic Piquionne to slide the ball past Huerelio Gomes. Then, with Spurs desperately throwing everything at Portsmouth in search of an equaliser, Wilson Palacios was forced to haul down Aruna Dindane with three minutes remaining. Penalty. Up stepped none other than former Tottenham midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng to tuck home and seal an unexpected victory.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 5 Chelsea, 2012

Scorelines sometimes don’t tell the whole story and this was one such match. As half-time approached Spurs were well on top and Chelsea had a goal-line clearance from John Terry and the post to thank for still being on level terms, after Rafael van der Vaart’s cross shot came agonisingly back into play and Emmanuelle Adebayor unable to apply the finish. Moments later a long ball was punted forwards, Didier Drogba did what he does in big games and out-muscled his marker and smashed the ball past Carlo Cudicini, giving Chelsea an unlikely lead at the interval.

In the second half came the moment that would define the match. Ledley King and Benoit Assou-Ekotto seemed to have just about managed to scramble the ball clear from a goalmouth melee but referee Martin Atkinson gave a goal, much to the surprise of most people in the stadium.

Spurs responded almost immediately, Gareth Bale tapping into an empty net after Adebayor was hauled down when through on goal. Pushing for the all-important equaliser, Chelsea hit Spurs on the break again with 13 minutes remaining, Mata playing in Ramires to effectively seal the match.

A stunning Lampard free-kick and a goal from Malouda in the dying moments put an unnecessarily one-sided scoreline on the affair.

Chelsea would haunt Tottenham again later in the season. With Spurs sitting pretty in 4th place at the end of the season, Chelsea famously defied the odds and the run of play to beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final to deny Tottenham access to the competition in 2012-13. It would cost Harry Redknapp his job.

There is much inspiration for revenge this afternoon…

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