Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium FA Cup clash with last season’s Champions League Finalists Tottenham Hotspur is one of the standout ties of this year’s Third Round draw. The Teessiders look to reverse a trend of having never beaten Spurs in the FA Cup dating back to the early twentieth century. As part of a project exploring the history of Middlesbrough’s former Ayresome Park home, Manchester Metropolitan Historian Dr Tosh Warwick looks back to 1905 and the first FA Cup clash between the two clubs…

Pitching up at Ayresome Park on Saturday 4th February 1905, Tottenham Hotspur arrived for the First Round tie having enjoyed recent trophy successes, most notably lifting the 1900/1901 FA Cup as a non-league side. The Teessiders had moved to their new Ayresome Park home two years earlier with ambitions to join the game’s elite but met non-league Spurs as they struggled to make an impact in the First Division.


In line with trends across the country, FA Cup football at Ayresome Park proved a huge draw for the Teesside football faithful as the prospect of cup glory increased attendances and gate receipts. The previous tie held at Ayresome Park, a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, attracted a ground record attendance of 33,000 supporters. The Tottenham tie once again captured the imagination of sports fans in the Ironopolis as a season-high 20,340 attendance brought gate receipts of £797.

The large crowd witnessed a hard fought 1-1 draw with the spectators getting ‘full value for their money’ according to Middlesbrough’s North Eastern Daily Gazette. After falling behind to a seventh minute Alexander Glen goal for Spurs, Middlesbrough replied through Henry Astley’s equaliser. Boro might have qualified ‘had the home team availed themselves of the chances presented to them’ with Atherton and Thackeray guilty of missing open goals in the first half. Boro were also denied an almost certain goal as Thackeray was tripped by Tait in the area, with Boro’s Agnew failing to convert the subsequent penalty. Had VAR been in play back in the 1900s Boro might have had another penalty when Tottenham’s Tait was again the culprit as he handled in the penalty area. However, the referee failed to award a spot kick and Spurs held on for a replay at White Hart Lane.


Press reports of the Ayresome Park encounter praised the visitors’ resilience and rued Boro’s poor finishing. The Daily News (London) led with the headline ‘HOTSPUR DO WELL UP NORTH’, praised Tottenham’s efforts and described the home crowd’s appreciation of the ‘speedy, tricky and effective’ performance of Spurs’ Joe Walton ‘for the hardy Northerner loves to see such play, even if it does come from one of the visiting side’. The North Eastern Daily Gazette reported that ‘Middlesbrough should have won by at least 3 goals to 1 had the grand chances that came their way been accepted’ and considered Tottenham ‘very fortunate’ to escape with a draw.


Boro travelled to London for a 9th February replay having not won away from home since a 3-0 success against Preston North End in the FA Cup on 20th February 1904. Yet, hopes were high that with improved finishing John Robson’s men might progress to the next round. Once again the men from Teesside were found wanting in front of goal and despite an excellent display by Boro goalkeeper Tim Williamson at White Hart Lane, an O’Hagan goal with three minutes remaining put Boro out of the FA Cup and secured Spurs a tie with Newcastle United. Williamson’s performance drew plaudits in the national press and his fine form would see him gain his first England cap weeks later in a 1-1 draw with Ireland at Ayresome Park. In late February, Tottenham were knocked out of the FA Cup in the following round by Middlesbrough’s Tyneside rivals Newcastle United, whilst Boro’s woeful away form was ended courtesy of a debut goal by controversial new £1,000 world record signing Alf Common in a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.


Tottenham’s next taste of FA Cup glory would come in the 1920/21 season and the club would go on to enjoy further success in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s, winning the tournament a total of eight times. Middlesbrough have reached the FA Cup Final once, losing 2-0 to Chelsea at Wembley Stadium in 1997, and are yet to win the trophy.

Article © Tosh Warwick