#ThrowbackThursday – Arsenal’s FA Cup Semi Finals: 1906 to 1993

By Robert Exley

Part one of a History Lesson in preparation for Sunday’s trip to Wembley

Arsenal’s very first FA Cup Semi Final came on the last day of March 1906 at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground against Newcastle United. At the time, the Gunners were known as Woolwich Arsenal and at the time were languishing in sixteenth place in the old First Division, having never previously won a major trophy. The Magpie’s in contrast sat in ninth place. The Gunners dreams were dashed by a 0-2 defeat, with Newcastle progressing to meet Everton in the final at Crystal Palace after the Toffees beat Liverpool in an all-Merseyside Semi Final. Everton ended up winning the Cup with a 1-0 win courtesy of goal from future Spurs player Sandy Young.

Brian Talbot settles the marathon semi v Liverpool in 1980

Not down hearted, the Gunners came back the following year to face Sheffield Wednesday (then simply known as The Wednesday) at St. Andrews in Birmingham in late March 1907. Woolwich Arsenal were seventh in the first division table, while Wednesday languished in twelfth place. Wednesday inflicted a 1-3 defeat on Woolwich Arsenal to add another disappointment. This time Wednesday went on to win the trophy, beating Cup holders Everton 2-1 at Crystal Palace. The Gunners had to wait another twenty years before the next FA Cup Semi Final appearance, this time against Southampton at Stamford Bridge in late March 1927.

By this point, Arsenal had been resident in North London for fourteen years and Herbert Chapman installed as boss for the last two years. At the time, Arsenal were thirteenth in the old First Division, while Southampton were eighth in the second tier. On this occasion, the Gunners triumphed with a 2-1 win, with goals from Joe Hulme and Charlie Buchan. Arsenal however went on to lose the final to Cardiff City. Arsenal were back a year later to face Blackburn Rovers at Leicester City’s Filbert Street. Arsenal at the time stood in tenth place in the top flight, while Blackburn Rovers were also in the old First Division, in sixth place. Arsenal suffered a 0-1 defeat, Rovers then went on to take the Cup that year after defeating Huddersfield Town in the final.

It took the Gunners another two years before they progressed to the Semi Final stage again. This time Arsenal faced Hull City at Elland Road in Leeds. At the time, Arsenal stood in sixteenth place and only four points from the relegation zone, while Hull City were nineteenth in the second tier, themselves only three points off the drop zone to the old Third Division North. A shock was on the cards as the Gunners were two goals down at half time, the second an Eddie Hapgood own goal. Goals for David Jack and Cliff Bastin pulled Arsenal back on level terms, with the game ending in a 2-2 draw.

The replay took place at Villa Park four days later. Early on, Hull City defender Arthur Childs was sent off for kicking out at an Arsenal player. One newspaper report claimed that: ‘Hull City’s vigorous tackling lowered the standard of play, and there was much indiscriminate kicking’. One Hull local newspaper however claimed that their home team were hard done by in that: ‘for the remainder of the game, the official in charge got no peace from a crowd that obviously resented his action. I have never heard such continuous booing before on a football ground’. A goal for David Jack gave Arsenal a 1-0 victory and a final appearance against Herbert Chapman’s old side Huddersfield Town, which the Gunners won 2-0 to win their first FA Cup and their first ever major trophy after forty four years in existence. Hull in contrast ended 1929/30 relegated to the third tier.

Arsenal were back in the Semi Finals two years on to face Man City at Villa Park. The Gunners were third in the top flight, three points behind leaders Everton with hopes of becoming the first side during the twentieth century to win the ‘elusive’ League and FA Cup Double. Man City on the other hand stood in twelfth place. A goal for Cliff Bastin gave Arsenal a 1-0 win. The Gunners however finished the season trophy-less, but runners up in both the League and FA Cup. Arsenal’s last Semi Final of the Pre-War era came in late March 1936 at Leeds Road in Huddersfield. The opposition were Grimsby Town, who were two points above the relegation zone in the top flight in nineteenth place. Arsenal on the other hand – after a hat-trick of League titles - were sixth in the table, but fourteen points off of leaders Sunderland.

A Cliff Bastin goal in front of a crowd of 63,210 meant a 1-0 win for Arsenal, to put them through to the Final at Wembley against Sheffield United, which the Gunners won 1-0. Five years after the end of the Second World War, Arsenal were back in the FA Cup Semi Final against Chelsea at White Hart Lane. Arsenal stood sixth, while Chelsea were twelfth in the old First Division. The Gunners fell two goals behind in the first half, with Roy Bentley twice on target for the Pensioners. In the Second half, former Spurs player Freddie Cox took a corner and scored direct for Arsenal on his former home ground. From a Leslie Compton corner, his brother Dennis headed for Arsenal’s equaliser, earning Arsenal a 2-2 draw.

The replay took place four days later again at White Hart Lane. A goal for Freddie Cox meant that Arsenal were through to their first post-war FA Cup Final, against a Liverpool side who defeated Everton 2-0 at Man City’s Maine Road home. Two Reg Lewis goals earned Arsenal their third FA Cup win. Two years later, the Gunners would play Chelsea again at White Hart Lane. The Gunners were once again in the running for the elusive Double. Arsenal were only kept off the top of the table by Matt Busby’s Man United by goal average. Chelsea in contrast were seventeenth place in the top tier.

The first tie had been abandoned due to snow. The tie finally took place a week later in front of a crowd of 68,084. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Freddie Cox on target for Arsenal again. The replay took place forty eight hours later, again at White Hart Lane. Goals for Doug Lishman and two for Freddie Cox meant a 3-0 victory for Arsenal. The Gunners progressed to Wembley, but again the Double was missed with a third place finish in the League and losing 0-1 to Newcastle United in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.

There would be a nineteen year gap between that Semi Final and the next one at the end of March 1971 against Stoke City at Hillsborough. Arsenal were second in the table at the time, while Stoke City were twelfth. The Gunners fell two goals behind by half time, with Dennis Smith and John Ritchie on target. Two goals for Peter Storey however pulled Arsenal level – the second a penalty in the very last minute of the game against the world’s number one goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, to earn a 2-2 draw. The replay took place four days later at Villa Park in Birmingham. Goals for George Graham and Ray Kennedy meant a 2-0 victory and a trip to Wembley to face Liverpool, which secured Arsenal’s first Double in May 1971.

Twelve months on and Stoke had the opportunity to enact revenge on Arsenal, as the two sides reached the FA Cup Semi Finals again, this time at Villa Park. Arsenal were fifth in the old First Division, while Stoke were sixteenth. Stoke City had already picked up the League Cup earlier in the year and had high hopes of becoming the first side to win a Domestic Cup double. Arsenal took the lead with a shot from the edge of the area by George Armstrong. A Peter Simpson own goal however saw Stoke pull level. Arsenal played out the remainder of the game needing to protect John Radford covering in the Arsenal goal, after Bob Wilson was taken off injured. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

Arsenal would therefore be involved in their fourth replayed Semi Final in a row. The replay took place four days later at Everton’s Goodison Park. Brian Greenhoff gave Stoke City the lead from the penalty spot. Arsenal however also equalised from the penalty spot, successfully converted by Charlie George. The tie was won by a goal from John Radford which gave Arsenal a 2-1 victory, though the final was lost 0-1 to Leeds United. The Gunners reached their third FA Cup Semi Final in a row twelve months later. Arsenal stood in second place in the League, one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table. Sunderland were thirteenth in the old Second Division.

Goals for Vic Hallom and Billy Hughes meant Sunderland inflicted a 1-2 defeat - Arsenal’s first FA Cup Semi Final defeat for forty five years - while Charlie George pulled one back for the Gunners. Arsenal therefore missed out on being the first side during the twentieth century to reach a hat-trick of finals. It was to be a feat however that Arsenal went on to achieve at the close of the 1970s. In April 1978 at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal faced the currently beleaguered Leyton Orient (though just plain Orient back then, the Leyton re-added to the club name again in 1987). Orient were nineteenth in the second tier, while Arsenal were third in the top flight. Two goals for Malcolm MacDonald (which if the dubious goals panel had existed would have both been deemed Orient own goals!) and a Graham Rix run from his own half meant a 3-0 win for the Arsenal.

Arsenal progressed to the Final in 1978 to meet Ipswich Town, however lost 0-1. Arsenal though were back twelve months on to face Wolves at Villa Park. Arsenal were fifth in the table, while Wolves were just three points above the relegation zone in nineteenth place. Goals for Frank Stapleton and Alan Sunderland against his old club meant a 2-0 win as Arsenal progressed to meet Man United in the final and pick up their fifth FA Cup win. Twelve months on, Arsenal reached the Semi Final again and with high hopes of reaching an historic third straight Wembley appearance. The only thing standing in their way were a Liverpool side four points clear at the top of the table, themselves hoping for their first League and FA Cup Double.

Arsenal themselves were in fourth place and hoping not only to retain the FA Cup, but also win the European Cup Winners Cup and drew 1-1 with Juventus in the first leg of the Cup Winners Cup Semi Final in the week prior. The first game took place at Hillsborough in mid-April. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw. The replay took place four days later at Villa Park. David Fairclough gave Liverpool the lead six minutes into the second half, before an Alan Sunderland equaliser eleven minutes later meant a 1-1 draw and the Semi Final going to a third match. Incredibly, the two sides were to meet each other in the League the following weekend, where Kenny Dalglish gave Liverpool the lead after twelve minutes, only for Brian Talbot to equalise twelve minutes from time for another 1-1 draw.

There then followed a nine day break in fixtures between the two sides. Arsenal in the meantime managed to secure their passage to the Semi Finals of the Cup Winners Cup with a 1-0 away leg win over Juventus. Three days later, on the last Saturday in April, the Gunners played out a 1-1 draw at home to Ron Atkinson’s West Brom side. Forty eight hours on, Arsenal travelled to Villa Park to resume battle with the Merseysiders. The Gunners took the lead with a goal from Alan Sunderland in just ten seconds. Arsenal also held on to the lead until the dying seconds, before a Kenny Dalglish equaliser meant a 1-1 draw and a record breaking third FA Cup Semi Final replay.

The third replay occurred three days later, on a Thursday evening at Highfield Road in Coventry. In the days before saturation coverage of football on TV, where an FA Cup Semi Final is guaranteed live TV coverage, the nation was largely settling down to watch a Top of the Pops episode hosted by Tommy Vance, where Dexys Midnight Runners topped the charts topped the charts with ‘Geno’ (the host excitingly proclaiming: ‘this is number one because it deserves to be!’). Meanwhile, over at Highfield Road after just eleven minutes a Brian Talbot header gave Arsenal the lead. This time, the Gunners hung on for a 1-0 win to take them through to a date with West Ham just nine days later.

Two days later, Arsenal played out the final Saturday of the season with a 1-0 win over Coventry – also at Highfield Road. That same day, Liverpool also played Aston Villa and secured the 1979/80 title with a 4-1 win to soften the blow of Thursday night’s defeat. Incredibly, on Bank Holiday Monday another forty eight hours on, Arsenal played their third fixture in five days, this time against European Champions Nottingham Forest. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw. In the FA Cup final, an exhausted Arsenal crashed to 0-1 defeat to West Ham, as well as losing the European Cup Winners Cup Final to Valencia on penalties, in what would pan out to be a record seventy game season for the Gunners.

What followed for Terry Neill’s Arsenal in the years ahead had a familiar ring to what currently surrounds the club today. The club never recovered from those losses, or the loss of major stars like Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton. The last hurrah for Terry Neill’s reign came in the spring of 1983, after Arsenal defeated reigning European Champions Aston Villa in the FA Cup Quarter Finals to set up a Semi Final tie with Ron Atkinson’s Man United at Villa Park. The Gunners had already been defeated by Man United in the League Cup Semi Final earlier in the season. Man United had lost the League Cup Final to Liverpool three weeks prior and were hungry for trophies having won just the one in the fifteen years since their European Cup triumph of 1968.

At the time, Man United stood third in the old First Division with two games in hand over leaders Liverpool, but twenty one points off the pace. Arsenal meanwhile languished in twelfth place. Arsenal certainly had history on their side, having won ten of their last eleven FA Cup Semi Finals that they had been involved in. Tony Woodcock gave Arsenal a first half lead, before an equaliser from Bryan Robson after the break. Seventeen year old Norman Whiteside decided the tie, after springing the Arsenal offside trap followed up with a superb strike to inflict a 1-2 defeat on the Gunners. Man United went on to win the 1983 FA Cup Final with a 4-0 win over Brighton in the replay after a 2-2 draw.

Arsenal finished the season in tenth place and trophy-less for the tenth time in eleven seasons. An FA Cup Semi Final appearance was not deemed enough to save Terry Neill his job and he was axed six months on to the day, after Arsenal slipped to sixteenth place in the League. After a three year spell with Don Howe as boss, George Graham took over as Arsenal manager in 1986 and restored the club to former glories, oddly enough though that didn’t immediately mean FA Cup triumph. After FA Cup Quarter Final home defeats to Watford in 1987 and Nottingham Forest in 1988, it was another eight years before Arsenal reached the Semi Final stage again to face Spurs in 1991, in the first ever North London FA Cup Semi Final.

The Gunners were riding high at the top of the League with only two defeats in all competitions all season, with that ‘Double Feeling’ beginning to grow. Spurs on the other hand, despite the hype of ‘Gazza Mania’ following the Italia ’90 World Cup were in financial disarray and sat twenty seven points behind Arsenal in eighth place. Spurs however provided a shock, with a superb Gazza free kick that put them a goal up. Gary Lineker then doubled the Spurs lead. Alan Smith pulled one back for Arsenal ahead of half time. Though GG’s side pressed hard for an equaliser, another Lineker strike meant a 1-3 defeat for Arsenal, which Spurs fans managed to milk for a long time after as their side began to decline as the nineties progressed, though they managed to win the 1991 FA Cup with a 2-1 win over Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.

Arsenal only had to wait just two years before enacting revenge on Spurs – again at Wembley in April 1993. Tottenham were two points above Arsenal in the table in tenth place, though eleventh place Arsenal had a game in hand. One of the main chants doing the rounds around this time was in reference to when Tony Adams went out for a drink in a North London nightclub to celebrate his daughter's birthday, fell down some stairs in a night club and woke up with twenty nine stitches in his head. It went along the lines of ‘when Tone….goes up….to lift the FA Cup, Mind the stairs! Mind stairs!’ Ultimately this year, it was the ‘Donkey’ that won the Semi Final Derby.

A Tony Adams headed goal made the difference as Arsenal progressed to their first FA Cup Final in thirteen years. As Arsenal held on for the archetypal latter GG era 1-0 win, Lee Dixon picked up a second bookable offence after a clash with Tottenham’s Justin Edinburgh. His red card meant he was ineligible for the League Cup Final two weeks later. His place at right back was taken by David O’Leary, who ended his Arsenal career with a League Cup winner’s medal, as well as a substitute appearance in the FA Cup Final replay when O’Leary ended his twenty year spell at the club by winning the FA Cup in his final game for the Arsenal, just days after his farewell testimonial at Highbury against Premiership champions Man United.

The FA Cup victory earned Arsenal a passage to Europe to compete in the European Cup Winners Cup. The Gunners were victorious, but that would be the final honour during the George Graham years, as GG parted company with the Gunners amidst a bung taking scandal in 1995. After one season with Bruce Rioch in charge came the appointment of Arsenal’s currently maligned manager - Arsene Wenger. Though his admirers are receding by the day - as will be seen tomorrow - it’s an undisputed fact that has to be conceded (albeit begrudgingly) that Wenger oversaw Arsenal’s most successful period of FA Cup history with as many as seven FA Cup Semi Final appearances in eight seasons between 1998 and 2005.

Robert Exley can be found on Twitter and is the editor of Upstart Football

20th April 2017 11:10:36


Comments and Reaction

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The Man From UNCLE  11:37am 20th Apr 2017

Oh yes. That 1993 win was sweet. "In the history of all great clubs, there are moments that swing the balance of time" or something like that. Tone's header made even better by that mug Ruddock not picking him up from the free kick. Mucho celebrations at the UNCLE offices that day. - Post No. 106501

Yes its Ron  12:14pm 20th Apr 2017

great memories. When you get to it please airbrush 1999 away from yr summary please!!! Worst of the worst. - Post No. 106503

TonyEvans  12:56pm 20th Apr 2017

Enjoyed that, Robert, managed to forget all about Wenger and revelled in some great memories - especially those epic Liverpool replays. - Post No. 106507

Cyril  13:27pm 20th Apr 2017

Yes, great memories. I recall we could have nailed Liverpool in the 1st semi final fixture when [I think] Sunderland had a lob beat the keeper in a 0-0 which came crashing off the bar (I was cwyiing man!!). - Post No. 106509

Alsace  18:10pm 20th Apr 2017

I started watching Arsenal at Highbury in 1981 and remember being very excited at getting to a Semi Final - the one at Villa against Monchaster Yeenighted. We got tucked up nicely by the better side that day, and as I remember in two League Cup semi finals as well. That is what made the post 1987 revival in our fortunes, the acquisition of self respect, so exciting. George Graham said that rather than whining about the superiority of Liverpool, as most others did, that we should aspire to be as good as them. To play as well as they did. To grow ourselves and meet the standard and beat it. That is what Herbert Chapman did, and what George Allison and Tom Whittaker and Bertie Mee and Don Howe did. That is Arsenal. None of them would have had a wet dream about the delicious prospect of a constant fourth place. Neither would any of our supporters in those days. - Post No. 106514

mbg  23:24pm 20th Apr 2017

Alsace, great post, and it's something this old fraud of a manager could never do, he never ever had it in him (how many successful teams did fergie build while TOF tried and STILL IS trying to build one) instead whining, making excuses and blaming everyone else for his failings, it'll be a long long time before we have our self respect back if ever because of him. wenger out now. - Post No. 106517

Cyril  23:52pm 20th Apr 2017

As the great T Benn quotes - All war represents a failure in diplomacy. - Post No. 106518

Moscowgooner  23:57pm 20th Apr 2017

That night at Highfield Road - I was right behind the goal where Talbot's header went in, having arrived about two hours before kick off to get pole position - ranks up there as one of my greatest Arsenal memories. The atmosphere that night, North Bank versus the Kop, was as good as it ever got. Also remember stopping at a service station on the M1 on the way back and the team coach pulled in and the players were celebrating with us - can't see that happening nowadays... - Post No. 106519

Roy  8:13am 21st Apr 2017

Alan, Alan Sunderland ! Great days. - Post No. 106520

Seven Kings Gooner1  9:42am 21st Apr 2017

Great piece Robert, loved it all, even the defeats. What always strikes me about football up until the last 20 odd years is that it really was about the glory of winning and not the money which has really ruined the feel of football at the top level. Another thing about your brilliant pieces Robert is that you get little snippets that are lost in the passing of time. Reminders like seeing Jon Sammels playing in the Stoke 71 semi final as a sub, he was always spoken of as a forgotten man in the last few months of that season but he was a very important part of that double season and certainly did his bit towards the run in. The other snippet I take from the Stoke game is how both Stoke's goals were very fortunate and that gets forgotten in the last minute drama of that defining match. As for the City game this weekend I expect the Mancs to gentle put us to sleep, like an old pet that was so loved but without the terrible pain, because for most of us that pain and anguish was lanced years ago when our club finally admitted it was only the money that mattered. - Post No. 106521

jeff wright  9:56am 21st Apr 2017

The move to a bigger stadium and the aspirations of some supporters was just too much for Wengo to live up to. So he just dumbed things down finishing 4th became success and the first trophy to be won. Wengo was helped by the weird religious type worshiping cult following that, for what ever inexplicable reason, grew around him with these odd followers of Arsene ,as they refer to him, known as AKB's . For donkeys years these odd characters followed their leader's line on the FA Cup that it was no longer really worth bothering with because finishing 4th in the league was what counted and was even celebrated as though a trophy had be won by Wengo his players and followers.The FA Cup sadly has been devalued by others also since times past with the FA and clubs such as AFC and United involved in it all . All of the participants involved in this weekend's TV showtime pieces at Wembley have other more important agendas the spuds and chavs are involved in a league title tete a tete ,I still believe that Chelsea will win that war although they could lose a battle on Saturday in the FA Cup side show. Wengo and Pep are both playing in the Prem for just atop 4 place Pep looks more likely than Wengo to win one. The FA Cup is just in reality a side show for them as well and the fact that the ties are being played at Wembley, instead of at league stadiums, as was the tradition with Wembley and the Cup Final being the mystical prize fought for, is all about money and sums up what the modern game is now all about. - Post No. 106522

Yes its Ron  10:21am 21st Apr 2017

SKG - recall Greenhoff fluffing that late chance tho when he went through on his own and shd have buried the tie at 3-0. I think footballs character and soul started to leak away when the top Clubs all started to import foreign players. Many have been great. Many have been poor but football lost its connection with the fans then i reckon. Its the obscene money as well as you say.The game needed modernising at all levels of course, but it was quickly hijacked by bog business wasnt it. The modern day younger fan only knows a World of corporate greed and extortion so they see nothing amiss with how football has fallen prey to it. I look fwd to the day when the bubble busts and Clubs have to go crawling back to the fans for an income. If it was Arsenal id happily tell them to go screw it. AFC is the epitome of the modern football Club and has happily shed its trappings of a football Club. Theres not one other Club that is as guilty in my view. The whole AFC corporate edifice is personified by Wenger and the Wally! - Post No. 106523

Seven Kings Gooner1  11:21am 21st Apr 2017

Hi Ron : Yes, Jimmy Greenhoff 9 out of 10 times he puts that chance away and that would have been the end of any double. You are so right about Wenger and Theo - Arsenal are the first team to openly declare that trophies are not a priority, Kronke said so himself. Wenger always has that wry smile on his face because of all the people who would like him to leave, his one true supporter just happens to be the man who owns the whole Arsenal franchise! - Post No. 106524

Redshirtwhitesleeves  11:43am 21st Apr 2017

Ron- beautifully put and bang in the money - Post No. 106525

Yes its Ron  11:43am 21st Apr 2017

Yes, hes absolutely loving the central actors role in his self contrived 'will he wont he' suspense opera. I d love to be a hack and just turn up at his next press con and ask him if he agrees that in the eyes of most Gooners hes acting like a petulant p---k and that hes more boring than his teams football, plus to query him why his Board dont seem to be very supportive his daft antics or whether their paralysis is to be interpreted as just an extension of his own? It should be followed by asking him if hes of the view that there is nobody in the Club who does actually manage the shambles, on or off the pitch and that the question extends to him as much as the Board? - Post No. 106526

TonyEvans  11:54am 21st Apr 2017

Ron - never has a typo been more apt - football has certainly gone down the toilet! - Post No. 106527

600NER PETE  13:08pm 21st Apr 2017

The only thing to get excited about football wise nowadays is past memories. The FA cup in particular for me, as in the seventies I used to try and get to every FA cup game (even when I moved to Devon). I went to all the replays against Liverpool except the final one at Highfield Road as it was just too far to get too after a days teaching in Sidmouth. I remember Alan Sunderland scoring after ten seconds. Just after I had bought the ticket (after the WBA league game on the Saturday before I think) I got Alan Sunderland to sign it. Standing on the Holte End I was showing my ticket to everyone and saying "He's going to score tonight, look he's signed my ticket! We all went ballistic when he scored. Liverpool equalized in injury time so we were ahead for more than 90 minutes! It was always good atmosphere travelling away with Arsenal on those cup runs. Happy days! - Post No. 106530

mbg  15:02pm 21st Apr 2017

jw, spot on, he wasn't up to the job (and never was and still isn't) he was well found out wasn't he ? but as you say his followers just couldn't see it (and still can't) they still follow him like a dog on heat hanging on his spin and lies, they deserve him they really do, unfortunately the Clubs true proper fans don't. #no new contract, we want wenger out. - Post No. 106531

Issue #269 - Out Now!

Gooner Editorial

23rd February 2018

It Is Actually Getting Worse

Online Ed: Arsenal’s largely unmotivated players defeated at home