Tag Archives: White Hart Lane


Sunday is the fourth time that Liverpool and Aston Villa have met in the FA cup semi final, with the Reds winning two of the three previous meetings. Liverpool’s first victory came 101 years ago when they sprang a surprise by winning 2-0 against a Villa side who had won their fifth FA Cup the year before.

Liverpool had a fairly straightforward route to the last four beating Barnsley, Gillingham, West Ham and Queens Park Rangers, who were all lower division clubs. The semi final draw though paired them with Aston Villa, the current cup holders who were second in the league table. Eyebrows were then raised by the choice of venues for the games, with Liverpool and Villa having to play at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane and the other semi final, between Burnley and Sheffield United, taking place at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.

Tom watsonIt may have seemed more logical for Liverpool and Villa to play at Old Trafford and Burnley take on Sheffield United at Villa Park, but the FA was just as strange in their venue choice back then as they have been in more recent years. Referring to the decision the Liverpool Evening Express commented that ‘it is a far far way to Tottenham’ and that ‘The FA have some funny ways.’ Manager Tom Watson was scathing about the decision to play the game there, pointing not just to the extra distance that Liverpool’s fans had to travel but also to Villa’s popularity in London. This meant that the opposition would be backed by the majority of the crowd and there was even speculation that a ground record for White Hart Lane would be set.

Liverpool’s players would spend five days in London preparing for the game. This was in contrast to Villa who remained in Birmingham but along the lines of the other two semi finalists who both spent a week at Lytham St Annes. A party of thirteen players accompanied by Tom Watson and director Mr Bainbridge set off from Lime Street station on the morning of Monday 23rd March. One player missing was inside forward Billy Banks, who had scored three goals in three appearances since breaking into the side earlier in the month. He was ineligible for the FA Cup though, having played in the qualifying rounds for Ashington earlier in the season.

Their base was the Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford, situated next to a hunting lodge used by Queen Elizabeth I. They arrived to wet weather but it was dry the following day and remained that way for the rest of the week. There was very little ball  training at Chingford, their preparation instead consisting of sprints and exercises overseen by Watson and Bainbridge. They relaxed by playing golf and billiards and visited a music hall in Walthamstow on the Tuesday night. Hotel management were pleased with the Reds players, referring to them as the ‘most gentlemanly and sociable party of footballers’ they had met. Plenty of others had stayed at the hotel and it was something of a lucky omen with Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham all having used it as a base prior to winning cup finals.

Photo Stephen McKay

Villa were the clear favourites given they were second in the league compared to Liverpool’s fifteenth. The prevailing nationwide opinion was that the Reds were just going to Tottenham to collect the gate money, but Watson believed this made his players only more determined to succeed. Watson was cautious about his team’s chances of causing an upset but felt that no team was invincible and Liverpool’s status as underdogs could work in their favour.   After observing them at their getaway a reporter from the Daily Post who was present with the team concluded that ‘if comradeship and bonhomie should suffice’ then Liverpool would be playing in the final. If Villa were to beat the Reds he claimed it would not be ‘so easily as their friends imagine.’

Captain Harry Lowe knew that despite the odds being against them there was a chance for the Reds, as long as the players didn’t relax and they contested every move. The half backs, he told the Post reporter, would have to be at their very best to counter the Villa forwards and ease the pressure on the full backs. Forward Bill Lacey, scorer of two goals in the 5-1 win against West Ham in the last sixteen, emphasised the coolness of the players in the run in to the game. When asked his thoughts by Watson he jokingly replied ‘Beat the Villa, why,  we would beat rows of houses.’

On the Friday the rest of the directors arrived and confirmed the team selection. There were no surprises as everyone was fit, meaning the versatile Don MacKinlay and full back Sam Speakman, both taken down as cover, were the two to miss out.

Four special excursion trains took Liverpool fans down to the match for a special fare of 12 shillings. The first left just after midnight from Lime Street while two more departed Central Station at 6.15am and another went from Birkenhead.  For those not able to go to London, they did have he opportunity of watching the reserves in action against Huddersfield Town at Anfield, where it was promised that the semi final score would be posted pitchside every fifteen minutes.

After spending the week doing gym work and taking brine baths Villa’s players didn’t leave Birmingham until the Saturday morning. On arrival in London they’d have found the local papers reporting that they were as good as in the final already. One wrote ‘Aston Villa are going to win the cup, on their best form they are a wonderful side.’ Another declared that Liverpool had no class in their side, commenting that Villa were superior in every single position.  The only reason the Reds were still in the competition they said was because ‘Liverpool have had an easy cup journey so far’ and if they were to win it would be bad for football as it would show that  ‘form counts for naught and pure skill is of no account.’

Newspaper reports like these only made the Reds’ players even more determined, especially with such damning comments  as ‘Liverpool’s forwards are not good enough’ and ‘all clubs were hoping to be drawn against Liverpool.’ The ground was full an hour before kick off, 27,474 being present and they wiled away the time watching a band play, the performance only interrupted by an announcement that Cambridge had won the Boat Race. Watson’s fears over being heavily outnumbered in the crowd were unfounded as the London spectators gave the Reds a reception matching that which they gave to Villa, although there were  clearly more travelling fans from Birmingham than Liverpool there.

Early in the game though most of the play was in the Reds half, with Ken Campbell making a few good saves. When they did get forward Liverpool were given no assistance by the referee, who on one occasion stopped play to enquire if a Villa player was injured when he scratched his head. On another, a Villa player’s clearance cannoned off  a team mate and out of play but a goal kick was awarded, even though all players began lining up for a corner.

Villa’s undoing came when they began to believe in their own hype, over complicating matters and passing the ball around too much in exhibition style. Liverpool on the other hand were more direct and were rewarded on the half hour when  Jimmy Nicholl (below) headed home Jackie Sheldon’s cross. Villa had the better of the remaining fifteen minutes of the half but Campbell twice made good saves and Ephraim Longworth was outstanding at the back.jimmy nicholl

Nicholl was certain that he had made it 2-0 soon after the restart when his shot hit the bar and bounced back to Sam Hardy, the ex Reds keeper, in the Villa goalmouth. Liverpool’s players vehemently protested to the referee that the ball had landed over the line but he was having none of it . Undaunted by this disappointment Liverpool upped the pressure and Hardy was having a torrid time, on one occasion losing sight of the ball completely only for Bill Lacey to shoot wide. At the other end there was a scare when a shot caught Campbell full in the face but he managed to recover and continue playing.

Late in the game Arthur Metcalfe had a shot which hit the bar and rebounded to Nicholl who made no mistake in converting the rebound.   The cheers from all parts of the ground showed just how many Reds fans had made the journey. Villa knew they were beaten now and looked like they could concede again, only being saved from going 3-0 down when Lacey’s shot skimmed the post. Watson was so confident that he got up and left the directors box after the second goal, smiling at the pressmen as he walked past. At Anfield, play stopped in the reserves game as players congratulated each other and the crowd cheered at the news of Liverpool’s impending date at the Crystal Palace.

There was no arguing with the result, with a number of ex Villa players commenting on the Reds’ supposed inconsistency. Former captain  Howard Spencer said ‘Liverpool played a spendid game throughout’ and Charlie Johnston, a   player with the in the 1880s admitted ‘We cant cavil at the result, Liverpool were quite the better side.’

There was no time for celebrations in London for the players who finished getting changed in taxis that were lined up outside White Hart Lane to take them to Euston station for the express train.  Down at Piccadilly, where university students were enjoying merriment after the boat race,  ‘Northern Hordes’ invaded the gentlemanly celebrations with tricks and scams described by the Post as  ‘a disgrace to  a top hat brigade.’ When the Liverpool players arrived at Lime Street, they were met with ‘a scene of enthusiasm never before seen.’

Had Liverpool gone on to win the cup, the scenes of jubilation would surely have been surpassed further, but on 25th April they were beaten 1-0 by Burnley and would have to wait until 1965 for that first FA Cup win.

Reds Win At Spurs to Kick Start Challenge

In 1985-86 Liverpool bounced back from a disappointing derby defeat with a win at White Hart Lane to start off a run that would see them crowned as Champions.

With just twelve games to go Liverpool were eight points behind Everton in the title race, a 2-0 home defeat to the Blues the following week seriously denting their hopes. It wasn’t just Everton that Liverpool had to overhaul if they were to win the league. Manchester United were in five points ahead in second place while Chelsea, who were in fourth and separated from the Reds by goal difference, also had three games in hand.

In the game against Everton Bruce Grobbelaar had inexplicably allowed a low Kevin Ratcliffe shot to squirm under his body, the latest of a serious of gaffes that season. On BBC Grandstand’s Football Focus the day before the Spurs game, it was estimated that Grobbelaar’s errors had cost the Reds as many as fifteen points already that season.

It was a bitterly cold Sunday and Liverpool’s fans setting off for London did so in the knowledge that the game was sill in some doubt. However heavy sanding of the pitch managed to save the day as Spurs were desperate not to lose out on television revenue and late morning the pitch was declared fit for the 3.05pm kick off. There was now even more ground to make up, as the previous day Everton had beaten Aston Villa to open up an eleven point lead.

White Hart Lane, Spurs and English football in general were completely different propositions than now. Although they had been Everton’s main challengers for the title the previous season, Spurs were struggling in the bottom half of the table this time around and the pressure was building on manager Peter Shreeves after three successive home league defeats. The stadium too was crumbling, with three of the four stands dating from before World War II, although it was seen as somewhat modern (for the time) in that it offered both standing and seating on all four sides and was totally covered.

There was no need to worry about tickets, with all terraced areas being pay on the day and admission prices being below £3. Liverpool’s support was accommodated in just two of the four sections in the away end and they were only about half full, with the total crowd being just 16,436 in a ground that could hold close to 50,000.


After just four minutes Liverpool were a goal down and it was again Grobbelaar who had to take responsibility. After turning Chris Waddle’s shot around the post for a corner that was taken by Glenn Hoddle, the Reds keeper jumped for the ball and palmed it goalwards, Waddle helping it over the line.  The rest of the first half was dire from the Reds, who struggled to put more than a couple of passes together on the bone hard pitch and at half time they were given a rollicking by Kenny Dalglish and Ronnie Moran.

The players came out rejuvenated for the second half and played some of their best football for some weeks. Former Reds keeper Ray Clemence made two great saves from Steve McMahon and Craig Johnston, while Jan Molby had a powerful headed bounce back off the crossbar. McMahon, returning after an injury, was dominating the midfield allowing Molby the space and vision to seek out the attackers and it was the big Dane who eventually got the equaliser in the 66th minute.  From a Johnston corner, Ronnie Whelan’s shot rebounded back to Molby who scored with a low drive from the edge of the area.

Liverpool dominated the rest of the game as the temperature remained around freezing point. McMahon hit the bar and Clemence made three good saves from Rush. As the game entered injury time, it was the home side who were whistling for the referee to blow for full time. Then in the 94th minute, Whelan played a defence splitting pass into the path of Rush, who was one on one with Clemence. He calmly stroked the ball past him into the corner of the net, sparking huge celebrations amongst the visiting fans, while Rush was mobbed by most of his teammates.

Rush told the Daily Mail after the match: ‘Bruce was the most relieved man in the ground when I scored the goal. I’m glad for him that I got the winner.’ Grobbelaar himself was honest in his assessment of the mistake that could have cost Liverpool he game, saying: ‘After all the publicity I’ve been getting it was a poor show to make a mistake like that. Fortunately the lads pulled it round for me. In the past I’ve made mistakes and they haven’t been able to do that but this time it might be quickly forgotten.’

The win was the fillip for Liverpool’s title charge. They won ten out of their next eleven fixtures and clinched the league championship on the last day of the season, when Dalglish himself scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Chelsea.