Six times the FA Cup semi-final was greater than sport

It rarely fails to be anything other than a very special day on the football calendar as two teams progress to a domestic final and the very real prospect of realising a lifelong dream while the other – 22 individuals – lie dejected on the turf, staring at the blue sky, and cursing the cruel fates.

The FA Cup semi-final weekend is Shakespeare masquerading as sport. It is death or glory with little in between. It is engrossing for neutrals and utterly nerve-wracking for supporters with a vested interest.

Down the years these pair of fixtures has given us incredible drama, mind-blowing goals, and heart-breaking sights and so ahead of this weekend’s Wembley encounters – and thoroughly spoilt for choice – we look at six such occasions that should always be included on the highlights reel.

I’m now away to get me suit measured

Paul Gascoigne’s fizzing, curling set-piece that left David Seaman flailing at thin air in 1991 is a semi-final moment of genius that not only won a north London derby but left an audience of millions spell-bound.

His all-too-brief post-match interview wasn’t too shabby either, as unhinged ecstasy was blurted out in the most Geordie-est of accents ever committed to screen.

Compare and contrast to the generic ‘I’m just pleased for the lads’ fare we’re treated to today.

Giggs’ run and rug

In a smidgeon under ten seconds flat Ryan Giggs slalomed through a beleaguered Arsenal defence and perfectly encapsulated a long and distinguished career of tearing sides apart. It was an exhilarating and typically adventurous run that concluded a momentous clash between England’s two best teams, a clash that had already afforded us a missed penalty, a red card for Roy Keane, and a long-range wonder-loop from David Beckham. This, though, was something else entirely.

For a smidgeon under two seconds flat, Giggs was a god. That was until he decided to take his shirt off and expose the Axminster carpet where his chest should be.

In that instant thousands of young women recalled the brooding Welshman staring back at them from a poster on their teenage bedroom wall. And they shuddered.

The passion and the gory

We Brits love seeing a bit of claret spilled down a jersey. In a pie chart representing ‘pashun’ in the modern game it’s a highly-valued thin sliver surrounded by a thick wedge of players who adorn gloves in a mild breeze.

In 1978 West Brom defender John Wile took this passion to extremes when he clashed heads with Ipswich’s Brian Talbot at Highbury and copious amounts of the red stuff began pouring down his shirt. Think Terry Butcher for England in 1989, then treble it.

Even when bandaged up he still resembled a doomed hero in a war film about to pass on his final message to a sweetheart back home. But would Wile come off? Would he hell!

Ipswich won the game 3-1. Life is quite patently unfair at times.

Home-grown Hewitt the hero

Even from the distance of twenty years its hard not to feel Chesterfield were well and truly robbed of an incredible final appearance back in 1997. Already they had secured household status across the land having beaten Bristol City, Bolton, Nottingham Forest, and Wrexham to reach a famous semi-final at Old Trafford against Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough.

Now they were on the cusp of making it to Wembley with Boro 2-1 down and a man short following the sending off of Vladimir Kinder. With just 21 minutes remaining the Spirites increased their lead only for the referee to wrongly insist the ball hadn’t crossed the line and the injustice was soon compounded when the top flight side staged a late turn-around.

Only seconds remained in extra time when Jamie Hewitt – born and bred in Chesterfield – flighted home a dramatic equaliser that sent anyone living outside of Teeside utterly doolally.

Case cracks it

After eight successful years at Anfield Jimmy Case moved to Brighton in 1981 as part of the deal that took Mark Lawrenson the other way, but if anyone expected the midfield dervish to settle into semi-retirement they obviously didn’t know his character.

The tigerish midfielder forged a partnership with Tony Grealish that had ankles trembling in pure fear and in ’83 the duo hauled the Seagulls on a tremendous cup run that ended with a final replay to Manchester United.

It was in the semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday though that the seasoned veteran really cracked it, the ball that is, from fully 35 yards.

Pick that one out.

Wise goes in two-footed

Diplomatically put, Dennis Wise was not the most popular of players unless he hustled and bustled for your club and then he was adored. Yup, he was one of them. A Robbie Savage. A Roy Keane lite.

But never let it be said that the diminutive scamp didn’t maximise what little he had and here, for Wimbledon’s winner against Luton in 1988 to set up the Crazy Gang’s beating of the Culture Club in the final, is a perfect example.

It was not unknown for Wise to go in two-footed. In this instance it was to ensure his teeny legs reached a searching cross. Initiative, that.