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The 1921 FA Cup

The story of the 1921 FA Cup run is told in the following extract from the Official History of Tottenham Hotspurs, published in 1948 as part of the 'Famous Football Club' series written by Fred Ward.

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Without showing any disrespect for the sound, solid side of 1901 this 1921 side (Hunter; Clay, McDonald ; Smith, Walters, Grimsdell ; Banks, Seed, Cantrell, Bliss, Dirnmock) is often referred to as the most brilliant combination the Hotspur ever possessed. I do not quarrel with that opinion and I have seen Hotspur teams over something disquieteningly near to fifty years.

That team won the Cup in six straight matches. That is to say that there was no need for a replay. There was so much cleverness in every player that, whenever it was necessary to " hold ” the ball in order to make the opportunity for an advantageous pass there were ten players who would nearly always introduce that bit of individuality which makes for complete combination.

For instance, was there ever a better wing half-back than Arthur Grimsdell ? Who can forget his strong dribbles up to his forwards and then the short, square pass to a colleague left unmarked because a defender saw that it was imperative that Grimsdell should be tackled ?

Who can forget Jimmy Dimmock, that outside left of mighty yet easy-looking kicking force ; the elusive Jimmy Cantrell ; that subtle-minded schemer, Jimmy Seed; Banks, sometimes brilliant, sometimes so-so, and last, also least in size, the puckish, impudent Bert Bliss who, when he did not leave you engrossed in admiration of his skill, caused you to laugh at the perky effrontery of his manner in taking the ball close to some bulky defender and then looking up to that defender’s face as if saying “ Get out of my way, I haven’t got the ball."

CHAPTER V

It seems to me to be a duty to record here that no team could have played more determinedly and cleverly than this Villa side did under the handicap of being a goal down. They were just magnificent. In traditional Villa manner they changed positions smoothly and speedily; they also changed tactics in attack with such adroitness that only superb understanding in defence prevented them from scoring.

Tommy Clay ? Give another goal away? Get this good and hard : The Spurs have never had a back who played so nearly perfect a game. His tackling was faultless and his placing of the ball to his forwards with long, low kicks was as accurate as if they had been so many passes of fifteen to twenty yards. That wicked piece of football misfortune of the previous season was forgotten in admiration of a player whose name must go down among those of the greatest, classical backs of all time.

Then the Villa right wing must have begun to think they were trying to dribble around St. Paul’s Cathedral, so big a part did Arthur Grimsdell play in dealing with this ever-changing, ever-brilliant attack that the Villa produced in the endeavour to wipe out that goal.

It was such a team that the Hotspur defeated and there was not a man on the winning side who had not pulled his weight. That was so much so that I feel compelled to excuse myself for singling out Clay and Grimsdell ; but, in a brilliant team, those two were superb.

Three features of the semi-final with Preston North End on Sheffield Wednesday’s ground remain in what I venture to call my mind : Joe McCall's display at centre-half ; the combination between Grimsdell and Bliss which led to the two goals to Preston’s one and the worst exhibition of refereeing that I have ever seen in many semi-finals. I believe I am right in saying that the official came from Lancashire.

With an ordinary, everyday man in McCall’s place goodness knows how many goals the Spurs would have scored. That great centre-half, however, was not the greatest handicap the winners had to contend against. In the Press box none of us could find a reason why a first-half goal by Banks should not have been allowed. It was a goal and an inquiry of the referee confirmed that opinion, for it was said that he gave a free-kick because a Tottenham player had been fouled ! That in itself was ridiculous enough; but half-a-dozen of us who saw the goal coming would have been willing to swear that the whistle had not sounded before the ball was in the net. Then, in a near-goal tussle someone kicked the ball into the Preston net. There was too thick a scrimmage to see clearly what happened, but my old notebook contains “ Spectators near Preston goal laughing and clapping sarcastically."

Anyhow, this best-of-all Hotspur team got to the Final—at Stamford Bridge because Crystal Palace had ceased to be used since 1914. You could scarcely imagine a worse day for the most attractive game of the English football season. Rain fell like stair rods, pools formed on the pitch and if the players had been jockeys the winners might have been disqualified for carrying overweight.

THEIR TOUGHNESS HELPED

It is said that “ a good team will play well under any conditions." True, but not so well in sludgy, squidgy soil as under fair conditions. One thing served the Wanderers. They. as part of their training, used to run on ploughed fields and smarten up on the tract afterwards. This muscle-toughening process stood them in good stead, for, although the Second Division men were by no means so skilful as the Spurs, their limbs seemed to stand the constant strain of maintaining balance on insecure foothold extremely well.

Notably was this the ease with Brooks, their sturdy little outside left, who gave Bert Smith a very hard time, harder than he had had a few weeks before when playing for England against Scotland.

Hotspur’s outside left, too, caused much comment during this match. There were those who thought Dimmock played a selfish game. I did not. I know this : when a forward has the ball well under control and feels himself well balanced on such muck, any defender is liable to slip and leave a great scoring chance. Dimmock’s idea was quite sound, but those sturdy insistent Wanderers would not oblige by slipping. Anyhow, Dimmock got the goal that won the match and he was always generous enough to give half the credit to Bert Bliss for a beautifully-judged pass, the strength of which made progress easy to Dimmock and compelled the Wanderers’ right back to lose time in turning.

Dimmock’s shot was one of his specials which sent the ball low and at a terrific pace to the net; Mind you, Dimmock had to run quite a long distance with the ball. Here is what Bliss told me afterwards when I congratulated him on that ideal pass: “ The pass might have been all right ; but only a chap like Jimmy could have got in a shot like that."

Here are the players in the 1921 Final :—

Hotspur : A. Hunter, T'. Clay, R. McDonald, B. Smith, C. Walters, A. Grimsdell, J. Banks, J. Seed, J. Cantrell, B. Bliss, J. Dimmock.

Wolverhampton : N. George, M. Woodward, G. Marshall, Val. Gregory, J. Hodnett, A. Riley, T. Lea, F. Burrell, G. Edmonds, A. Potts, S. Brooks.

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Note: You can find scans made from an original of the Official History of Tottenham Hotspurs booklet on the White Card Lane website (see pages 22-26).