With the FA Women's Cup semi-finals being played in weekends to come, we look back to the shock victory registered by Wembley (now Barnet) over Arsenal in 1997...It's a BLAST FROM THE PAST!
FA WOMEN’S CUP SEMI-FINAL, 1996-97
Report by Colin Aldis
The semi-finals of the FA Women's Cup (Sponsored by UK Living) took place on Easter Sunday 30th March 1997.
After starting the competition with 168 clubs, the final four all came from London and the National Division of the FA Premier League. In its 27 year history, it was the first time the final four were from London and would ensure the Final would be in the capital, at Upton Park (West Ham United) on Sunday May 4th 1997.
With Arsenal leading the league, and only losing two games all season, they would be confident of reaching the final and winning the Cup and League double, as they did in 1993.
So the 'Gunners' dominated the early stages against Wembley Ladies (now known as BARNET FCL), Marieanne Spacey striking a powerful volley over the bar in the first minute. A minute later, the same player hit a free kick just wide.
In the 5th minute, Arsenal won their first corner, on the left which was taken by Marieanne Spacey, but the ball was cleared. A minute later, Clare Wheatley lifted a cross to the far post which caused problems for Wembley keeper, Lesley Higgs, but fortunately for her the ball fell just behind Faye White and she touched the ball wide of the right post. Soon after, Arsenal captain Sian Williams fed the ball through to England team-mate Joanne Broadhurst, but just as she was about to shoot, Kirsty Hewitson (a post graduate student at Oxford University) stuck out her right leg to block the shot.
Then, Faye White sent a long ball forward to Joanne Broadhurst, who was challenged by Kirsty Hewitson. The former 'Belles' player had a shot on target, but Lesley Higgs paried the ball over her head and then caught it.
In the 22nd minute, Wembley created their only real chance of the half, with a corner on the right which was headed on by Naz Ball, but the Arsenal defence cleared the danger.
Wembley were gradually having more of the play, such that the next chance for Arsenal came in the 28th minute, when a cross from the left by Clare Wheatley went across the face of the goal, which led to them winning a corner on the right. The ball was swung in by Kelly Smith, but although it ended in the net, Joanne Broadhurst had nudged Lesley Higgs to get it there. A minute later, Marieanne Spacey crossed the ball from the right, for Joanne Broadhurst, but the swerve away from goal meant the ball was headed out, rather than towards the target.
In the 34th minute, Joanne Broadhurst showed some neat skill on the left, but the low cross went passed all the players. Moments later, Sian Williams sent in a high cross from the left which was punched away by Lesley Higgs. The next shot went just passed the right post and then Kelly Smith put a superb lob just over the bar from at least 30 metres out.
A minute later, Marieanne Spacey beat a couple of players and from just outside the penalty area, hit a stunning shot against the top of the bar before the ball went out of play.
The next chance went to Kelly Smith, following a cross by Natasha Daly, but the shot went wide of the right post. In the last couple of minutes of the half, Arsenal had three corners from the right, all taken by Kelly Smith. The first was punched out by Lesley Higgs and the second headed out by Carol Harwood. The third reached Kelley Few at the far post, but her strong header went just wide of the post.
The first half ended goal-less, with Arsenal having 12 goal attempts to Wembley's one.
Wembley made a change at the start of the second half, Donna Burns replacing Paula Callanan. Nevertheless, Arsenal continued to dominate the play and Kelly Smith sent in a cross from the left which was headed by Carol Harwood, out to Kirsty Pealling, who hit a shot high and wide of the right post.
In the 58th minute, Arsenal keeper Sara King had to make her first real save, a great free kick from 35 metres by Sue Jones. A couple of minutes later, Wembley made a second change, Ayala Liran coming on, to replace Naz Ball. Arsenal then resumed their attacking play, with a cross by Kirsty Pealling being too hard for Natasha Daly to deal with.
Then Kelly Smith tried an angled shot from the left, which Lesley Higgs pushed away for a corner at the near post.
In the 70th minute, Arsenal had another corner on the right, taken by Kelly Smith but again the ball was cleared. Wembley replied with a solo run down the right by Ayala Liran, but the cross went directly to Sara King, not surprising as there were no red/white shirts around.
A minute later, Arsenal made a change, Natasha Daly going off, and Sharon Barber coming on. Then Kelly Smith took a free kick from the right, but Lesley Higgs made a safe catch, while Ayala Liran recovered from a knock. Soon after, Joanne Broadhurst was severely shaken by a challenge by Siobhan Melia, and play was held up for several minutes.
With just four minutes of normal time to go, the deadlock was broken, but not by the team that had dominated the play.
For Wembley it was a 'route one' dream come true, Lesley Higgs punted the ball down field and on the hard surface, Faye White somehow missed a relatively simple clearance. TRACY KOCH, who had worked non-stop for a chance to be in the FA cup final, suddenly appeared between the Arsenal defender and keeper, to lob the ball into the left corner of the goal.
Arsenal, in a state of shock, brought on Rachel Yankey to replace central defender Vicky Slee, which gave them added impetus in attack.
Within a minute, the fresh young player broke clear and appeared to tussle for the ball with Marianne Spacey. The first shot was saved by the outstretched leg of Lesley Higgs, the second was again blocked by the keeper and despite being partly down on the pitch, Lesley Higgs held onto the third shot.
Soon after, Rachel Yankey again caused problems for the Wembley defence, but they still managed to clear the danger. Then Carol Harwood (who was named, FA Player of the Match) blocked a shot by Marieanne Spacey, followed by Tracy Koch heading out a Kirsty Pealling free kick.
Into injury time, Lesley Higgs saved a shot by Sharon Barber and then another by Rachel Yankey, before the final whistle brought relief for Wembley.
So it was a 'shock' result and a good day for the 'underdogs', but Wembley were delighted to be on their way to their first ever FA Cup Final.
There, they would meet Millwall Lionesses, who surprised many by beating Croydon on penalties, after the match had finished 1-1 after extra-time. With 116 minutes played, England veteran KERRY DAVIS gave Croydon the lead, which they must have thought was enough to get them through to their second final in a row. But Millwall have tenacious streak and TRACY OSBORNE (from Portland, USA) headed the equaliser with seconds to go.
In the drama of the penalty shoot-out, Pauline Cope saved two of the Croydon spot kicks and then beat Louise Cooper to keep Millwall ahead. Brenda Sempare scored for Croydon, but then Tina Mapes missed.
Justine Lorton had scored the first for the Lionesses, so Tina Lindsay stepped forward to clinch the victory, 3-1.
In the Final, Wembley lost a tight match 0-1 against Millwall Lionesses at West Ham United FC.
We've got some piccies from this era...and maybe even this match. Give us a shout below if you want us to dig 'em out, scan 'em in and upload them here!
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Neither are workable or likely at present but hypothetically, would you prefer a more strict salary cap in the FA WSL OR should centrally contracted England players (that receive salaries from The FA) be allocated more evenly around WSL1 clubs?