Continuing the story of Tottenham's 1901 Cup triumph. The mood in the Spurs camp must have been even better when the draw sent us to Reading in the next round. The only other Southern League side left in the competition. The sides had already met four times that season with Spurs winning twice at home, the second just a week before the Cup tie. At Elm Park we had lost and drawn.
The attraction of this game in the then blue ribbon competition brought the home side a record crowd of fourteen and a half thousand, Spurs are thought to have taken three thousand.
The fates smiled upon Tottenham that day. Spurs had gone behind (the third game running) before Kirwan leveled after a move down the right, (this would be the only game Brown did not score). Tottenham seemed the more likely to score the winner but then towards the end of the game a Reading shot beat Clawley but Tait behind him was widely believed to have punched the ball away. Despite strong protests neither the referee nor linesman saw it and awarded a goal kick. The game ended with ‘over anxiety spoiled all efforts at scoring.’ Spurs lived another day after a game described as ‘Science was lacking on both sides the Hotspur being put off their game by the powerful play of the home team.’
The Tait incident, that their fans still talk about today much as Spurs and the Arsenal crossing the Thames.
Left - Action from that first Reading match and top the teams leave the field at halftime.
The 3rd round replay with Reading on the following Thursday afternoon brought a gate of just fewer than twelve thousand and a very different Spurs scored twice in the first half, Copeland and Brown (yet another Smith cross) to ensure he scored in every round. He then scored again in the second half and Spurs had reached the semi final of the Cup for the first time. Tottenham had been referred to by various nicknames in the recent years and The Athletic News reporting this game refers to them as ‘the Hottentots’ and says the ‘Biscuitmen’ (Reading) were well beaten.
The draw for the semi final had been made before the game and the West Bromwich directors where at the game. Straight afterwards they suggested the tie be played at Villa Park, hardly neutral as its only 3 miles from their home ground but the Spurs directors agreed, possibly the promise of a large gate helped.
Problems then arose when trying to arrange a date and it was finally agreed for Easter Monday the 8th April. The first time a semi final had been scheduled for a Monday. The problem was that the various leagues did not like rearranging fixtures.
Left - The press reveal the problems of fixture congestion.
The leagues didn't like rearranging fixtures and the other clubs (rightly) were concerned about losing a 'good gate.'
Tottenham were due to play Gravesend away on the 3rd, then home to Southampton (league leaders) on the 5th and Bristol City (1) on the 6th. City were not happy as Spurs had sent a reserve team for their Western League meeting the day before the Reading replay. Something that wasn’t unknown at that period but City were concerned about the effect on the gate takings escaping them. There was even the talk in the press that Tottenham would be fined if they did not play a full strength side.
Tottenham won both their Southern League home games 1-0 and set off straight away to Birmingham. West Bromwich at that point were bottom of Division One but still favourites to proceed. Spurs however played excellently and won by 4-0. The Sporting Life proclaimed that the semi-final performance ‘was an astonishing performance by any standards.’ All the goals came in the second half and all scored by Sandy Brown as he became the first man ever to score four in a semi final and the feat was not repeated until 1934. This brought his personal tally to 12 (out of 15).
The first came straight from the restart and a Kirwan cross. His second followed a corner. The third was a shot from ‘a full thirty yards.’ The last is said to have been a passing movement that embraced the length of the pitch.
The semi final was watched by forty six thousand providing receipts of £1,852.
Right - Poster produced by WBA for the game, with a poem.
Spurs had moved on to the final to be played at Crystal Palace (no connection to the club) just 12 days later. Cup fever became the order of the day. Tottenham went into the final with the possibility of setting various records. Would they become the first Southern side to win the trophy since 1882? The first professional side from London to do so? and the first non-league side since the football league had been formed?
After the semi-final the Portsmouth Evening News praised Brown (he had played for them the year before) and referred to Spurs fans as ‘Tottenians.’
April 20th and there are (slightly exaggerated) reports that North London was deserted as the hoards traveled south of the river for the game. The figures for the crowd vary but the most common figure is 114,815 and various sources suggest this is unlikely to be high.
Right - More action from the first Reading game.
Without doubt this was a new record for the fixture (nearly 25% up on the old record) and a world record for any game till that point. Reports claim that many of the crowd were inside the ground three hours prior to kick off and that bowler hatted gentlemen were seen climbing trees to ensure they could watch the action. It is reported that Sheffield brought 75 trains from Yorkshire this was helped by a young travel firm, Thomas Cook, offering affordable breaks in London, as well as the train they included meals and a tour of the capital.
Spurs prepared by staying at The Royal Forest Hotel in Epping the night before then they traveled by train from Chingford to Liverpool Street before transferring to horse drawn coaches to travel across the Thames and south to the ground. Spurs had stayed here before and in the words of the Athletic news (2) ‘taken away to live quietly in the country far from the gossip and questions of enthusiastic supporters which are apt to increase the sense of anxiety and responsibility so detrimental to the confidence of any team.’
Upon arrival at the ground the crowds were so immense that they were unable to gain access to the ground through the players entrance. The directors thinking quickly took the side around to the officials gate where at first they were refused entrance (they had the wrong tickets) however the gate keepers were made to see sense (and possibly prevent a riot), the side entered and the stage was set.
In part three we cover that final and yet another controversy. If Spurs had good fortune at Reading earlier in the competition then today was Sheffield United’s as Spurs are robbed of winning the trophy at the first attempt.
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Notes – 1- Again some sources incorrectly suggest this game was played in Bristol
2 – Athletic News 8th April the day of the semi final carried this after an interview with John Cameron.
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