The 10 most momentous FA Cup semi-finals EVER

Over the years, the final four have served up some fascinating and memorable encounters. Jon Spurling recalls the cream of the crop

1. By the bye (1872)

The FA Cup's inaugural season highlighted several of the vagaries in Victorian football. Firstly, the semis and final were played at the Kennington Oval, now better know as a cricket ground.

The second semi involved Glasgow outfit Queen's Park: the Scottish FA didn’t ban their members from participation south of the border until 1877. However, Queen’s Park reached the semi without actually playing a match, thanks to withdrawals and byes (several of the 15 entrants dropped out without playing).

When the Glaswegians finally faced the Wanderers, the 2,000 spectators witnessed a tight 0-0 draw which was testament to Queens Park's legendary tactical and defensive acumen.

However, unable to afford the train fare for the replay, the Scots then withdrew from the competition – meaning the Wanderers, whom as their name implies didn’t officially have a home ground (but tended to use Kennington), received their own bye to the final.

An early game (but presumably at night) at the Oval

An early game (but presumably at night) at the Oval

2. Powers of recovery (1958)

"On reflection, it's a miracle that we were able to field a half-decent team in the the FA Cup that year at all," reflected Manchester United coach Jimmy Murphy. Just 44 days after the Munich air crash, a patched-up United side drew their semi-final against Fulham 2-2 at Villa Park; four days later at Highbury, they somehow summoned the willpower to win the replay 5-3.

The second game, at Highbury, was a titanic battle. United led 3-0 before the Johnny Haynes-inspired Cottagers fought back to level the scores, but the Red Devils prevailed.

"Of course, I'd have loved to have reached the final with Fulham," Haynes admitted, "but in light of what's happened, there can't be a football fan alive who can begrudge United getting to Wembley." "It's got to be one of football's most remarkable comebacks,” said Murphy, although in the final Bolton denied their neighbours a Hollywood ending.

3. Super Spurs (1962)

"There are some in the game," seethed Tottenham boss Bill Nicholson, "who claim that we're a flash-in-the-pan side and that Jimmy Greaves – in some way – has disrupted our flow." The reigning Double-winners' 1962 FA Cup semi against a re-emerging Manchester United at Hillsborough presented the perfect chance to prove that they remained the main attraction in the early 1960s, despite being in the process of losing their league title (eventually won by Ipswich as Alf Ramsey’s top-flight debutants overtook spluttering Burnley).

Fittingly, Greaves opened the scoring after just four minutes, and Cliff Jones nodded in John White’s cross to put Spurs 2-0 up at the break. Although David Herd’s late strike gave United hope, Spurs soon settled the matter, as described by contemporary reporter Alan Hoby: “Moving the ball at strolling pace, time-wasting with nonchalance, they mounted a leisurely yet breathtaking attack down the right wing” – and Terry Medwin’s resultant header was “like the ferocious stab of a bayonet – a killer goal, and it heralded the end for this slow-thinking and unimaginative United side.” As Bill Nick put it rather more bluntly: "I think that we've proved our point." His team went on to win the final – again 3-1, again with Greaves scoring in the opening five minutes.

4. Realism 1, Idealism 0 (1970)

It took Don Revie's Leeds United three attempts to defeat a declining Manchester United in March 1970. The reigning league champions finally delivered the knockout blow in an ugly second replay at Bolton’s Burnden Park, as Leeds' midfield duo of Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner helped stop George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law.

Journalist Brian Glanville later described the quality of football on show as being "largely primitive and horrendous on the eye, with quality being eclipsed by brute force and total pragmatism".

Just for good measure, Bremner scored the winner, with journalist John Arlott noting that while "idealistic" managers would select George Best for their teams, "the realists, to a man, would have Bremner".

Alex Stepney dives in vain as Bremner's bazooka flies past him

Alex Stepney dives in vain as Bremner's bazooka flies past him