Time To Make (Semi) History – Part 1

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

So it’s to be Chelsea in the semi-final at Wembley and the collective groan as the draw was made was audible throughout North London. Five years on from our last semi-final and history repeats itself. Or will it?

The omens, it seems, aren’t good; our recent Wembley hoodoo, a semi-final jinx and (the last meeting notwithstanding) our general form against Chelsea over the past 27 years point to defeat. Surely there’s some good news? Perhaps there is. From my research I can’t find a team that has lost seven semi-finals consecutively and Spurs will be in no mood to start now. Those who played in the last semi-final (was it really five years ago already?!) and the League Cup Final against Chelsea will surely be out for revenge. And then there’s history, and lots of it. Nineteen previous semi-finals, some glorious, some calamitous, an old hoodoo finally buried. For the uninitiated, this is the story of those 19 semi-finals.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 4 – 0 West Bromwich Albion, 1901

With our 20th semi-final appearance we equal the record of West Bromwich Albion, coincidentally the team we faced in our first semi-final on the glorious run to the Cup in 1901. Despite victory over Preston North End in the first round and cup-holders Bury in the second, this was the game that really gave the country pause to consider how good Tottenham might be and that a team from the south could do the unthinkable and win the cup. Indeed, one reporter ventured that he hadn’t seen a team play football as good as Spurs did on this day in any League game that season.

When you’re hot you’re hot. All four Spurs goals were scored by Sandy Brown; tap-ins, a header and a thirty-yard screamer, Brown scored the lot in this match and his 15 goals in one FA Cup campaign remains a record to this day. With Tom Morris bossing the midfield, Cameron full of running and dropping deep to support the half-backs and Kirwan supplying a stream of delightful crosses, Spurs outclassed their famed League opposition. Many observers considered it conclusive proof that a “scientific” approach, when carried out properly, will always beat brute force.

The “Tottenham Way” of playing football was born.

  1. Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Preston North End, 1921
  2. Preston North End 2 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur, 1922

The great Spurs side assembled after the Great War was involved in a pair of peculiar semi-finals against Preston North End, both played at Hillsborough. In the first they were victors, despite the referee’s apparent efforts to thwart them. Two seemingly legitimate goals were disallowed in the first-half, a blatant penalty ignored and several other handballs and fouls waved away. Many a team facing such misfortune (we’ll call it that so as not to defame the dead) might have crumbled, resigned to the notion it wasn’t to be their day, so it was to Spurs’ great credit that they came through.

The hero on the day was the diminutive Bert Bliss, who at 5’6” was almost as short as the famed Fanny Walden, scorer of two very well-taken goals. With outside-right Walden injured, Tottenham’s real strength was down their left and both goals were the products of the interplay between Grimsdell and Dimmock. Preston pulled a late goal back when a routine shot was deflected off the knees of England right-back Tommy Clay, but Spurs more than held on for victory.

One of the goals in the first half was disallowed because the ref claimed he had blown for an earlier foul on Jimmy Seed, though this was news to the Spurs forwards and a relieved Preston defence. Unbelievably, and more crucially, a similar fate befell Spurs exactly a year later when the two sides met again.

Tottenham were once again the dominant side in the first half missing several chances and only had a Jimmy Seed goal to show for it. Preston, out for revenge, were much improved in the second-half. It was rumoured they’d drunk champagne at half-time to give them more ‘fizz’! They soon equalised and the battle was on for the winner. Spurs thought they had it when Bliss rifled into the top corner, but history was to repeat itself. The referee claimed that after Bliss had struck the ball, but before it had crossed the line, he’d blown his whistle. The reason was a Preston player he believed was injured on the half-way line and in need of urgent attention. What a ruse; the goal was chalked off, the player got up with barely a limp and Preston went on to win.

Little did Spurs know at the time, but this was the start of their first semi-final jinx.

  1. Blackpool 3 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur, 1948
  2. Blackpool 2 – 1 Tottenham Hotspur, 1953

Sometime in the 1990s Sir Alf Ramsey was asked to name his most memorable game. What do you think he chose? The first time he stood on the terraces, igniting his lifelong passion for the game? The game that won the title for the Push & Run side in 1951? His great achievements with Ipswich as a manager? Or perhaps a certain game at Wembley in the summer of 1966? It’s the mark of a man to choose what he considered his lowest moment as a player.

In 1948 Spurs were a Second Division side, but the first signs that Arthur Rowe was building something special at White Hart Lane came when they reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. Their opponents were Blackpool, a solid First Division side with two stars, England centre-forward Stan Mortensen and a 33-year-old Stanley Matthews. At Villa Park Len Duquemin continued his rich form by scoring his eighth of the cup run, but there was no stopping Matthews and Mortensen as they combined for the equaliser. In extra time their superiority showed as Mortensen scored a trademark header and later completed his hat-trick from another Matthews pass.

Here is a link to brief highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3U5o4Z7QF4

This result possibly affected Spurs for the rest of the season, managing just two more wins in their final 12 league matches and slumping to 8th. It was a very different Tottenham that Blackpool would face five years later. In the previous two years Spurs had won the league and finished runners-up, and while their powers were diminishing (they finished 10th in 1953) were still considered favourites to beat Blackpool. With the great Push & Run side slowly disintegrating, the players knew this was their last chance of FA Cup glory. It is perhaps this fact that explains why szxaRamsey considered this match his greatest regret in football.

Most teams play seven matches to win the cup, but Spurs had already played eight just to reach the semi-final stage. They’d been held to a draw by Tranmere Rovers before thrashing the same opponents 9-1 at the Lane. It then took two matches to beat Preston North End, one to beat Halifax Town and three to get past Birmingham in the quarter-final.

So it was that they would face Blackpool at Villa Park once again. Matthews was by now 38 but still able to give any left-back the run-around, on this occasion it was poor Charlie Withers who was mocked time and again, unable to stay close enough to prevent crosses. Blackpool lead at half-time when Perry scored a near-post header from a corner.

It looked like the tide had turned though when Bennett centred, Sonny Walters dummied and Len Duquemin slammed home from 12 yards.

Then came Ramsey’s blunder. In the last minute of injury time Blackpool played the ball over the top, forcing Ramsey to face his own goal. Normally such an elegant and clean player, there seemed no immediate danger as he chested the ball down, but he misread the bounce and the ball ran away from him as he tried to pass back to the safe hands of Ditchburn. Ramsey could get but a toe-end on it and the ball fell to a grateful Mudie who made no mistake.

The moment would haunt Ramsey for the rest of his life, but of course one man’s nightmare is another man’s dream and the resulting final between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers will go down as one of the all-time greats; 4-3 and Mortensen’s hat-trick in the ‘Matthews Final’.

You can relive Sir Alf’s horror here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJcfn2FsLUU&t=2s

  1. Manchester City 1 – 0 Tottenham Hotspur, 1956

Three years later and it was a much-changed side that returned to Villa Park for yet another semi-final. The foundations of the Double side were coming together with Blanchflower, Bobby Smith and a young Maurice Norman playing at right-back. Duquemin was still at centre-forward, though.

After a wretched start to the season that saw just two wins and two draws from their opening 15 games (making the travails of 2008-09 under Juande Ramos look trivial by comparison), Spurs had steered themselves to relative safety and were building what was to become a fondly remembered side that would finish 2nd and then 3rd in the league over the next two seasons. In fact in an inconsistent season they had previously beaten Manchester City twice, so would well have fancied their chances of reaching Wembley for the first time in the club’s history.

In the event it wasn’t to be, City proving the league table didn’t lie. Bobby Johnstone headed them into the lead in the first half and despite Maurice Norman venturing forward to add some power to the attack, Spurs rarely threatened. One final incident of note, though, spotted by the Pathe News cameras but not the officials at the time. In the closing stages George Robb pounced on a Bert Trautmann fumble and as the Spurs winger attempted to get his shot away the flailing City keeper wrapped his arms around his ankles, allowing his defenders to clear. As blatant a penalty as you could wish for, as the footage shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZA-v-WCITo

Once again, of course, Spurs had unwittingly helped write another chapter in FA Cup history as Bert Trautmann went on to lift the Cup with Manchester City, despite fracturing his neck during the match.

So, from a 100% record in semis to four consecutive defeats and a hoodoo at Villa Park. But we must cling on to the hope that our current run of defeats in semi-finals and our Wembley hoodoo must come to an end soon, just as our last jinx did in 1961 – and how! For those who don’t know their history, the story is about to get better, much better. Cliff Jones, Greavsie, Hoddle, Villa and Gazza all to come in part 2!

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