Que sera sera
This weekend sees the FA Cup semi finals at Wembley. With all fans travelling at least two hours to get to the stadium, they need something to read on the train, so here are OTP’s top five semi-finals. To stop Wikipedia reliance, the games have been chosen from a time period in which I at least existed:
Coventry 3-2 Leeds 1987
Coventry were in the First Division, Leeds in the Second Division, but Coventry had never reached the FA Cup Final. There were bucketloads of nerves on show, but rather than that making it a tepid affair, both teams just thought “b*llocks to this, let’s just attack”.
The result was a free-flowing and thoroughly entertaining semi (sort of thing my girlfriend says to me). Leeds led, Coventry led, Leeds forced extra time, Coventry broke their hearts.
For Coventry, it is unfortunate that 1987’s FA Cup became a story of Ricky Villa and his goal.
Man Utd 3-3 Oldham and Man Utd 2-1 Oldham 1990
We all know the legend that if Mark Robins had not scored against Nottingham Forest in the third round, Fergie would have been sacked. Advance that three months, and Jim Leighton may be the real hero. His saves against Oldham, both in the first leg where he conceded three goals and the second, where he was inspired, probably kept Sir Alex in a job.
Oldham, in truth, dicked on Man Yoo, but the image of Leighton tipping a volley onto the underside of the bar should be framed on Fergie’s office wall.
Crystal Palace 4-3 Liverpool 1990
But that was not the only classic on that sunny day in ’90.
Liverpool had beaten Palace 9-0 earlier in the season, with an amazing eight different scorers. So to say they went into their semi-final rematch as underdogs would be an understatement. Whether or not Liverpool assumed they would sail through, their complacency and underperformance led to the second classic of the day.
Rush put Liverpool in front, and the North West side led at the break, and after swapping goals they still led in the dying minutes. From then on it was Palace folklore: Andy Gray (not the sexist type) scored from a corner, and in extra time Alan Pardew rose to head home.
Palace made the 1990 Cup great. Their run included 7 games which provided 23 goals, 14 in the semi-final and final alone.
Spurs 3-1 Arsenal 1991
Paul Gascoigne is a flawed genius, this much is clear. His uneducated and immature mind has been clouded by yars of fame and alcohol. His most famous act in the last three years is to bring chicken and a fishing rod to a fugitive.
But for one day in 1991, Gazza was King. Alongside Stuart Pearce’s penalty miss, it was the defining image of English football in the early nineties.
The FA Cup semi-final. A North London Derby. At Wembley. 30 yards out. And it never looked for one second as if it was missing.
And to paradox the joy of sporting success with the (literally) crippling nature of sporting failure, this moment of perfection came just weeks before Gascoigne’s horrendous foul on Gary Charles in the final. Ignominy follows precision: it is the Paul Gascoigne way.
Gazza is akin to the star of the Truman Show, his every moved mapped out by the cruellest of puppet masters. This was his pride before the fall.
Chesterfield 3-3 Middlesbrough 1997
It is considered that the arguments for goal line technology are almost a new trend, with Sky cameras showing controversies from every angle in order to crucify officials already under pressure.
But forget Frank Lampard, Jonathan Howard should be the most aggrieved. Chesterfield were already in dreamland at 2-1 up against Middlesbrough. Howard hit a shot past which hit the underside of the bar and clearly crossed the line. Nothing was given. Middlesbrough forced a replay which they won with ease.
Howard was denied his shot at glory, stayed with Chesterfield for six years and drifted into non-league football with Burton Albion.
Man Utd v Arsenal 1999
The comeback on ‘that night in Barcelona’ (just ask Clive Tyldesley) may rightly grab the headlines, but United should never had the chance to get the treble.
After Bergkamp’s missed penalty and Giggs’ wonder goal, the agony and ecstasy of football was portrayed through the emotions of fans, players and managers. It is closest that sport has come to being written in the stars.
If you want an argument for FA Cup replays rather than penalties, just watch the video above (and I know you have seen it before).