Friday, April 12, 2013

FA Cup Semi Final Day

Semi-final day was another day of FA Cup excitement. Four teams left, two to go to Wembley.

Previously semi-finals were played at neutral grounds – Villa Park, Highbury and Hillsborough were frequent hosts. However, in my view, one of the lowest points of FA Cup history was the 1991 semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham – as, for the first time, a semi-final was played at Wembley.

We were told that this would be a one-off. But then in 1993 and 1994, both semi-finals took place at Wembley. And now it is the norm - since 2008, both semi-finals have taken place at the great stadium. I am informed this is to help pay for Wembley’s rebuilding work, but I think this lessens the importance of the final itself.

For television, in the 1970s and 1980s, both games were played at the same time – and the TV channels would show highlights of one each. As ever, fans would be crowded round the radio to listen to progress.

My first memory of an FA Cup Semi Final is the controversial match of 1977 between champions Liverpool and their old rivals Everton at Maine Road which was on Match of the Day that evening. A great game reached 2-2 and, in the final minutes, a cross from Ronny Goodlass was deflected into the goal by Bryan Hamilton’s hip – but disallowed by referee Clive Thomas for reasons unknown to this day. We can only assume he thought Hamilton had handballed it or that he was offside (although there was no flag) but Everton fans have been aggrieved to this day – and Liverpool won the replay 3-0.

In 1990, for the first time, both games were shown live and on a Sunday, and they were two crackers with Crystal Palace beating Liverpool 4-3 and, after an hour break for the EastEnders omnibus (only two episodes a week in those days!) we saw Manchester United and Oldham drawing 3-3.

The semi-finals of 1978, our featured year were:

Saturday 8 April 1978 – Match of the Day
Ipswich 3-1 West Bromwich Albion (at Highbury)

Sunday 9 April 1978 – The Big Match
Arsenal 3-0 Orient (at Stamford Bridge)

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