It’s a funny old game, isn’t it? Yesterday was the anniversary of an FA Cup Semi-Final replay that followed a 2-2 draw in which the Arsenal trailed by 2 goals at half-time. Today, we recount another FA Cup Semi-Final…in which the Gunners were 2 behind at the break but fought back to force a replay. Honestly, what is it with Arsenal’s predilection for only asserting themselves after going a goal or 2 down? Masochists, we are. That’s the only explanation.
The year is 1971. It’s exactly a decade since that lot up the Seven Sisters won the League & Cup Double – the first team to do so since the 19th century. Until the Fairs Cup triumph in 1970, the Arsenal had to do a lot of suffering in those 10 years, as the other North London club retained the Cup in ’62, won the Cup Winners’ Cup in ’63, and collected the FA Cup once more in ’67. Those Cocks were doing a lot of crowing, that much is certain.
It might be hard to believe now, but the Arsenal weren’t exactly outright favourites when they took the field at Hillsborough to face Stoke City. For starters, the Gunners hadn’t won the FA Cup in 21 years, and hadn’t won anything at all since the League triumph in 1952/53. Stoke, by contrast, were champions in ’62/63, and could call upon World Cup winner Gordon Banks in goal. As if to underline the point, Arsenal were led by Frank McLintock – he had been on the losing side in 3 Wembley Finals thus far in his career.
Arsenal needed a good start, so of course they didn’t get one. Instead, they conceded the sort of goal that – in this writer’s humble opinion – we seem to lead the world in; a freakish horror-show that you’re unlikely to see anywhere, save for when the ball is bobbling around the Arsenal penalty area. Stoke won a corner which Harry Burrows whipped in to the near post, where Peter Storey seemed to deal with the danger before blasting the ball against Denis Smith. Bob Wilson had no chance as the rebound sped past him like a bullet to crash off the underside of the bar, whereupon everyone in yellow could only watch in agony as the ricocheting ball slowly, painfully slowly, bounced over the line and against the post.
The Gunners seemed to respond well to the setback, testing Banks a couple of times, only for lightning to strike twice before the end of the first half. Collecting a headed clearance from Peter Simpson, and with absolutely nobody around him, Charlie George – the King of Highbury himself – played the kind of backpass that still gives Steven Gerrard nightmares. Essentially, Charlie laid the ball on a plate for Stoke’s John Ritchie, who gleefully touched the ball beyond the desperate clutches of Wilson before tapping home.
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Arsenal were having a ‘mare, make no bones about it. Thankfully, Storey came to the rescue. Desperate to make up for his defensive blunder that had been punished in the most fluky way possible, he hovered on the edge of the Potters box looking for a knockdown…and when it came, he smashed the ball past Banks. It needed the aid of a slight deflection, but Storey and his teammates didn’t care. Their tails were up.
Even with the shot in the arm that Storey’s strike provided, it looked like the Gunners were going out of the competition as the minutes ticked away. In fact, Stoke looked more likely to add a third on the break; Jimmy Greenhoff, in particular, will want to forget his blazed finish when one-on-one with Wilson. The match entered stoppage time, and the Arsenal faithful braced themselves for the worst. Just time to take one last corner…
Geordie Armstrong put in a peach of a delivery, Ray Kennedy met it perfectly, and the ball sailed into the corner of the net. Or, at least, it would have, had John Mahoney not dived to handle the ball on the line. Thankfully, the officials on this occasion had better eyesight than those at Cardiff in 2001, and the referee had absolutely no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Storey took responsibility for converting the penalty, and with a calmness that he surely didn’t feel, dispatched it past a static Banks. Pandemonium.
So, a breathless, pulsating contest came to an end, and Bertie Mee’s men would have to do it all again at Villa Park 4 days later.