Greatest FA Cup Shock? Non-League Tottenham Win 1901 FA Cup


Tottenham Hotspur – 1901 FA Cup Winners

Tottenham won the 1901 FA Cup while a member of the Southern League, defeating clubs from the Football League in all but one of the ties to complete the biggest FA Cup shock ever. Bradford City’s qualification for the Capital One Cup final is approaching those proportions such is the gulf in financial standings between the Premier League and League 2 clubs. Congratulations to Bradford and may they go on to complete the task at Wembley against Swansea City.

Tottenham’s 1901 FA Cup Win

Tottenham’s 1901 FA Cup success saw them become the only non-League club since the foundation of the Football League in 1888, ever to achieve this honour. Spurs were competing in the Southern League but they overcame League opposition in true ‘giant-killer’ style to win their first FA Cup trophy. It was to be the first of Tottenham’s eight FA Cup wins.

1901 FA Cup Final (Replay)

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sheffield United 1

Non-League Spurs Triumphant

It had been less than nineteen years earlier that a group of schoolboys who played cricket in the summer had decided to form a football team to keep themselves active during the winter months. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that their team would make such progress in so a short period of time. From their humble beginnings in 1882 Spurs’ early football was a mix of friendly games and Cup competitions around London and the south as they maintained their amateur status.

The Football League was formed in 1888 and was the preserve of teams from the Midlands and the north of England. In an effort to improve the standard of football in the south, the Southern League was formed and having turned professional, Spurs joined it in 1896. Tottenham quickly established themselves in the 1st Division of the Southern League and won it in their fourth season, 1899-00. It was as Champions of the Southern League that Spurs entered the FA Cup in 1901.

Road to the Final

1st Round v Preston North End (h) Draw 1 – 1  Brown

In 1901, the 1st Round was the equivalent of today’s 3rd Round but the match wasn’t played until early February due to the death of Queen Victoria. Spurs were defending Southern League Champions and their first opponents were the might of the 1st Division, Preston North End, the team they had so admired that they had adopted their colours two seasons previously and who had defeated them in the same round a year earlier. Having lost at Preston the previous year, Spurs were hoping for revenge but when the visitors took the lead midway through the first half the prospects were not looking good. Spurs increased the pressure in the second half but the Preston goalkeeper played exceptionally well to deny them until nine minutes from time when Sandy Brown equalised.

1st Round (Replay) v Preston North End (a) Won 4 – 2  Brown (3), Cameron

The return of inside forward David Copeland, the previous season’s inspiration, from long term injury just prior to the first game, had been a great boost to the team and they set out for the replay at Preston with another injured player returning, captain John Jones. In the replay Spurs looked a different side going ahead through player/manager John Cameron and Brown then added another two before the interval. Preston pulled a goal back but Brown completed his hat-trick and although Preston scored again, Spurs were safely through to the next round – the ‘giant-killers’ were on their way.

2nd Round v Bury (h) Won 2 – 1  Brown (2)

No-one could accuse Spurs of having an easy ride in the FA Cup. Having removed 1st Division Preston from the competition in the previous round, they were drawn against Bury, the FA Cup holders. In the previous year’s Final Bury had brushed aside Southampton, Spurs’ rivals from the Southern League. Spurs had home advantage but 1st Division Bury took the lead within two minutes, before some of the record crowd of 20,250 had taken their places inside White Hart Lane. Bury then dominated the game putting Spurs’ defence under constant pressure but after half an hour Spurs managed to score – very much against the run of play. From a rare foray into the Bury half, winger Tom Smith centred from the right and Sandy Brown scored the goal that completely changed the game. Spurs were filled with confidence and in the second half there was a complete transformation in the match. Brown scored a second goal and while Bury recovered to fight back in an effort to retrieve the situation, it was Spurs, the non-League side, who were playing the cultured football and deservedly progressed to the next round.

3rd Round v Reading (a) Draw 1 – 1  Brown

Reading were the only other non-League team left in the competition but Spurs had lost at Reading in the Southern League in November so although they had defeated League opposition in the previous rounds, this match was not going to be easy and so it proved. Every Cup winning team has a moment when they could so easily have gone out of the competition and it happened for Spurs at Reading. A goal down early on to a robust home team, Spurs were struggling to make any impact on the game. Early in the second half Spurs recovered for a brief period and equalised through winger John Kirwan but then Reading took control again. Spurs were forced to hang on but when goalkeeper George Clawley failed to hold a shot, full-back Sandy Tait punched the ball clear – a certain penalty. Everyone saw what had happened except the referee and the linesman so when a goal-kick was awarded the 3000 Spurs’ supporters gave a collective sigh of relief and Spurs held on for a replay.

3rd Round (Replay) v Reading (h) Won 3 – 0  Brown (2), Copeland

In the replay the following Thursday Spurs took control after David Copeland had given them an early lead. Sandy Brown scored two more to give Spurs a comfortable win and so maintained his record of scoring in every round of the Cup. As Spurs looked forward to a semi-final tie against West Bromwich Albion, the question being asked was – “Could this be Spurs’ year to win the Cup?”

Semi-Final v West Bromwich Albion (at Villa Park) Won 4 – 0  Brown (4)

The Southern League’s side’s next opponents were 1st Division, West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park while Sheffield United and Aston Villa contested the other semi-final. Although the game was like a home game for Albion, Spurs took thousands of spectators to the Birmingham venue.

The Spurs’ hero was Sandy Brown who scored all four goals as Spurs won comprehensively. Brown having scored in every round of the Cup had a total of twelve goals in the competition. Spurs were very much the under-dogs and all of the Spurs’ players deserved credit for this performance. Although the game was scoreless at half-time Spurs had more of the play and from the time that Brown headed the first goal just after the restart from a centre by John Kirwan, there was no doubting the result. He scored twice more in the next twenty minutes – his second from a corner, the third was a shot from thirty yards and the fourth, five minutes from the end, after a passing movement had taken Spurs the length of the pitch.

Following a replay Spurs discovered they would be meeting Sheffield United in the Final to be played at Crystal Palace.

Final v Sheffield United (at Crystal Palace) Draw 2 -2  Brown (2)

The non-League ‘giant-killers’ had reached the FA Cup Final but no-one expected them to win again. An attendance of 114,815 watched as Spurs took on the experienced League team who took the lead after twelve minutes. Spurs were under a lot of pressure but took control of the game and equalised through Sandy Brown thirteen minutes later, heading in from a free-kick after a foul on Kirwan.

Brown put Spurs ahead five minutes after the interval with a goal which involved all five Tottenham forwards as he fired a shot in off the bar.

A dubious refereeing decision, however, gave United an equaliser one minute later. George Clawley, the Spurs goalkeeper, fumbled a shot but when challenged managed to scramble it clear for a corner as signalled by the linesman. The referee, however, ingnored his colleague to award the ‘goal that never was’.   From this point the game drifted to a draw and a replay.

Two nights after the Replay, cinematic newsreel shots showed that the ball had not crossed the line and the United equaliser should not have counted.

Final (Replay) v Sheffield United (at Bolton) Won 3 – 1  Smith, Brown, Cameron

Only 20,740 were present for the replay at Bolton Wanderers ground, partially due to the cost of travel as the railway company had refused to make reduced price offers available to the fans. Spurs had taken the initiative and took the game to United but they found themselves behind five minutes before half-time. The United goal had been against the run of play but for the final minutes of the half Spurs had to defend desperately to ensure they didn’t fall further behind.

United’s physical approach was making it difficult for the more intricate play of Tottenham but after the interval Spurs continued to dominate and equalised after 55 minutes through John Cameron. Twice after this Brown had the opportunity to put Spurs ahead but the goalkeeper denied him. Spurs then took the lead when winger Tom Smith scored fifteen minutes from time. Brown ensured victory with a header from the third of three quick corners, with seven minutes remaining.

Sandy Brown had become the first player to score in every round of the Cup, scoring 15 goals. On the final whistle joyous Spurs fans invaded the pitch and at the presentation, the captain, Jack Jones, received the trophy adorned with blue and white ribbons. Prior to the presentation the wife of a Tottenham director had attached the ribbons to the trophy, thus starting a tradition that has been maintained to the present day.

When the team returned to London at 1.00am the next morning, the fans who had been waiting for three hours, gave them a tremendous reception as they paraded from South Tottenham station to the ground.

Tottenham had brought the FA Cup to London for the first time and while they appeared to be making a point for southern teams over their more dominant northern opponents, the Spurs team was comprised of five Scots, three Welsh, one Irishman and three English men, all from north of the Trent.

Team: Clawley; Erentz, Tait; Morris, Hughes, Jones (Captain); Smith, Cameron, Brown, Copeland, Kirwan.

Cup Winning Hero

Sandy Brown

Sandy Brown had joined Tottenham in the summer of 1900. He was the only change that manager, John Cameron, had made to the previous season’s Southern League title winners. The leading scorer in that team, Tom Pratt, had decided to return to Preston so Brown was signed from Portsmouth who had finished as runners-up in the battle for the Southern League title. Brown who was from Ayrshire had also played for Preston North End. He was a prodigious goalscorer but his Tottenham debut saw the team lose at home by three goals to Millwall Athletic. The team and Brown, however, soon found their form, winning the following week by five goals with Brown grabbing a hat-trick. Through the first half of the season, results were disappointing but there were signs of improvement as the FA Cup approached.

Brown’s record of fifteen goals in the FA Cup is a record that still stands and he became the first player to score in every Round. He played for one more season with Spurs before returning to Portsmouth in 1902. He scored 96 goals in 113 appearances for the club but he will be forever remembered as the player who scored the goals as Tottenham enjoyed their first FA Cup triumph.

Over to You!

What is your greatest Cup shock involving Tottenham?