As rivalries in English football go, City vs Spurs is sort of a second order fixture. It doesn’t quite have the same punch as United vs Liverpool or the North London Derby, but it does have its own history and animus. We’ve written before about a particularly thrilling fixture between these two, in City’s pre-Mansour days. And of course, they’re both ambitious Top 4 rivals in the current balance of power in the Premier League. This has made recent meetings between the two tense and exciting on their own merits.
But the history of English football is long and interconnected, and it’s almost unavoidable that teams will build up a history with each other before a proper rivalry develops. In English football, as it is elsewhere in life, the past is prologue.
This week we look back at a prefacing clash between City and Spurs— the 1956 FA Cup semifinals.
Both sides had a relatively uncontroversial journey to their semifinal tie. City dispensed with Blackpool in the Third Round, followed by Southend United, Liverpool (after a replay), and Everton. Tottenham overcame Boston United, Middlesbrough, Doncaster Rovers, and West Ham United (on replay) to book their trip to Villa Park.
The game itself was even and exciting, if a bit short on fireworks. Spurs had an early chance off of a corner kick only to have it cleared off the line. Minutes later, City won a free kick and, after a training ground feint routine, got a clear shot at goal but sent the ball over the crossbar. Much of the first half was finely-balanced and somewhat fraught, with each side struggling to find a breakthrough. City found theirs first, when Scottish international Bobby Johnstone headed in at the far post from a cross to give his side the lead right before halftime. Spurs came out with guns blazing and a change at the back to try and force their way back into the game; they came close, first with a header off a corner kick that had to be pushed over the bar, and then toward the end of the game with a scrum in front of goal that should’ve produced an equalizer. Ultimately, Spurs were stronger in the back than up top, and they just couldn’t find a way through City’s defense. The Mancs won the game 1-0 and booked their trip to Wembley.
City would go on to lift the FA Cup that season with a solid 3-1 win over Birmingham City. But they would also finish fourth in the First Division, a full 14 points behind their hated rivals United, who took the league title that year. Meanwhile, Tottenham would struggle the rest of that season, finishing in 18th place in the league and only two points clear of the relegation zone.
City and Tottenham meet again this Saturday at the Etihad in a fixture that could have massive implications on the Top 4 race and, potentially, Pep Guardiola’s tenure at City. Kickoff is at 12:30pm Eastern on NBC.