It had all the ingredients that the tabloid press could wish for, dressing room problems, an injury crisis, penalties in extra time and players registered with two clubs.
It was a 120 years ago that The newly turned professional Tottenham played in their first cup final.
The season of 1896/97 was Tottenham’s first in the Southern League, where they finished 4th in the table, they also competed in the United League, but used this as a secondarily competition and for trialing new players. The cup action that winter came in the FA Cup where they went out in the third qualifying round.
It was in the Wellingborough Charity Cup that Spurs reached their first final. Whilst at first glance it may seem an unlikely trophy, based in Northampton, the results were reported throughout the national and provincial press. Each team they met in the competition they had previously played that season in league action.
In the first game in November, Gravesend United visited Northumberland Park William Fleming opened the scoring after twelve minutes and ten minutes later ’a good shot’ from Willie Almond increased our lead. Gravesend pulled one back before the break and it was late in the game that Fleming got his second before Gravesend again scored as Spurs won 3-2.
Our next opponents in December were Wolverton, like Gravesend another Southern League side, the away match saw us win 2-0. Our first goal came from Charlie Lanham, after five minutes. Wolverton had a number of chances but it was Richard McElhaney who got the second as we were the better side in the second half.
The next game, the semi final, wasn’t played until the April although other teams appeared to played another round in this period, There was one suggestion that Tottenham received a ‘walk over’ during the spring in one round. Looking through the press of the time I found no detail of this.
The semi was played at Wellingborough and saw us play Rusden, who were in the United League alongside us. The Sporting Life informs us it was one goal a piece after ninety minutes and we won 2-1 after extra time. Bob Clements scoring our first with the winner a McElhaney penalty. Three days later the Southern League was completed.
Thus the first cup final Tottenham would contest would be on 29th April 1897, when we returned to Wellingborough (another United League side) to play the home side on their own ground. They having beaten Bulsam in the other semi-final.
Things did not go quite as planned for the Spurs as in the games leading up to the final as Richard McElhaney who had helped to the final and three other players, James Devlin, Frank Wilson and Jimmy Milliken were all suspended by the club. It was alleged they had not been trying in the games leading up to the final. While several reports refer to ‘acts of insubordination.’
If you will allow me to skip to the end of the season for a moment, you will understand why in a moment. McElhaney and Wilson were released at the end of the season. James Delvin was resigned, then it was discovered he had also signed to play for Millwall, one of our biggest rivals at the time. At first he was suspended from all football then in the October he was transferred to the South London club.
Milliken’s story is slightly confusing, in two accounts (1) he is described as being given a reprieve (possibly due to a shortage of players after Spurs suffered a number of injuries to other players at that time) and that he then played at right back, he was normally a inside forward. Either way Milliken also left the club at the end of that season and returned to Scotland.
With the Southern League finishing on the 8th, Spurs filled the three week gap with prestige friendlies against with Nottingham forest, Blackburn and Everton. The United League continued and ten days before the final the two sides met at Tottenham and drew a United League game 1-1.
Tottenham’s team for that final on the 29th was Charlie Ambler, Milliken, Jock Montgomery, Jimmy Allen, Stanley Briggs, A Robertson, S Brown, Peter Hunter, Willie Newbigging, Bob Clements and Harry Crump.
As for the actual match, the match reports are sparse. The Northampton press do tell us that a large crowd enjoyed the good weather and an entertaining game. The ‘home’ side were the better team throughout and won by 0-2.
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Notes – 1 - THFC website and confirmed by The Tottenham Who’s Who. A third source does suggest the right back that day was A. Milligan. This would be his only game of the season and I can find no other mention of him, thus I suspect this is an error.
Additional Thanks – Sporting Life, London Evening Standard,
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