Stirling Moss, Tim Brooke-Taylor and now Peter Bonetti, all in the same day, as awful a cull at once as any we experienced in 2016.
Though he was a truly great goalkeeper, Peter Bonetti was doomed to be remembered, by those of us who were not Chelsea fans in 1970, for coming into the England team for the quarter-final of the World Cup against West Germany. After conceding only one goal in his first six appearances for England, Bonetti conceded three, as England slipped from a seemingly impregnable 2-0 lead. He never played for England again.
It’s unfair to him, but that is the memory. It can haunt him no longer.
I’m at the end of this series now, right up to the modern day, Cup Final Day 2016. At the time I’m starting this piece, we don’t yet know the Finalists: indeed, as I write, it was only yesterday that Manchester United even confirmed the semi-final line-up, beating West Ham United in a replay that took place exactly one calendar month after their original draw. This is the longest delay, excluding weather-related postponements, between tie and replay in the Cup’s long and no longer august history, and it is yet another symbol of its unimportance in this degenerate age.
United’s victory means that they are the only one of the ‘Big Four’ or ‘Five’, however it is to be defined, in the semi-finals. They face Everton, twice opponents in the Final. If United win, they have a shot at their first Cup Final win at the New Wembley, and at regaining a share in the FA Cup record, equalling Arsenal’s newly-set record of twelve wins.
The other semi-final will produce a record of some sort: whichever of Watford and Crystal Palace reaches Wembley, then they will produce either the forty-fourth Cup-Winner, or else the fourth team to have appeared in two or more Finals without winning the trophy.
Having opened the doors to sponsorship with the power company, E.ON, the Cup allied itself in 2012 with Budweiser. A beer company. An American beer company. Their name still came after ‘the FA Cup’, making it easier for purists like myself to shut our eyes and ears to it.
There was another record number of entrants, 763, and Manchester United exercised revenge for their semi-final defeat last year, by defeating holders Manchester City 3-2 on their own ground in the Third Round, though they were knocked out in the Fourth by eventual Finalists Liverpool.
As we’ve seen, the Cup has suffered tragedies off the pitch, at Bolton and Hillsborough, but in the Sixth Round, this season came perilously close to the most personal of tragedies, when Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch at Tottenham Hotspur, having suffered cardiac arrest. Thankfully, the provision of medical support at grounds had only lately been enhanced, following an incident when Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech sustained a fractured skull. Muamba’s life was saved, though he could never play again. The tie, 1-1 at that point, was abandoned. Spurs won the rematch, but were defeated in the semi-final by Chelsea.
It was Chelsea’s fourth Final in six years, and their fourth win, beating Liverpool 2-1 with the aid of a winning goal by Didier Drogba, setting a new record by scoring in his fourth Final, more than any other player (though not equalling Ian Rush’s record of five Cup Final goals). And they went on to claim a Double, winning the European Champions League Final, the first London team to win that trophy, and the last English winners to date.
Sadly, the Cup was yet again degraded. The Final was once more scheduled for a day with a full Premier League programme, with yet more fixtures scheduled for the following week. This time, the decision was taken to provide a four week gap between the end of the domestic season and the 2012 European Championships.
This time, however, the Premier League fixtures were not moved around. They took precedence. It was the Cup Final that had to shift, to an unprecedented and utterly dismaying 5.15pm kick-off.
It was a disgraceful decision, ending 140 years of tradition that previously had only been disturbed by war. It showed blatant disregard for the Liverpool fans, who would be leaving Wembley and North London no earlier than 7.15pm, having to make their way home to the north west.
But the fans were of no importance. Television had made that plain from the very beginning of the Premier League: Sky selected Southampton vs Manchester United for their first Monday Night Match, leaving the visitors to start heading home at 10.00pm from the South Coast. The FA had sold out yet again. There would be no need the following year for the Cup Final to be played alongside a League programme. Indeed, it would be restored to the ‘showpiece’ position, but television, having noted the audience figures for 2012, insisted on the early evening kick-off. It suited them better, it made them more money. It stank on ice, but who gave a shit?
The following year there was a more orthodox controversy in the Second Round when Bradford City, after drawing at home to Brentford, were disqualified for playing an ineligible player, Curtis Good, whose registration had not gone through by the deadline hour. Playing an ineligible player is an absolute rule, as Droylsden found to their cost in 2008. Suddenly, it wasn’t: Bradford appealed and were reinstated, their punishment reduced to a financial penalty: one rule for some, eh? Natural justice saw to it that Brentford comfortably won the replay that should not have been permitted.
The same round also saw the draw pair M. K. Dons with AFC Wimbledon, the first meeting of the two clubs with an unwanted relationship. This caused great concern for Wimbledon, with talk of withdrawing from the fixture rather than extend recognition to the team many still called Franchise United. The game did go ahead, covered live on TV due to the rivalry between the clubs, with M.K. Dons, the higher situated team, winning 2-1.
Luton Town, once Finalists, once of the old First Division, got through to the Fifth Round before being eliminated, a more impressive feat for a club who had slipped into the Football Conference.
The semi-finals paired the Cup’s last two winners, with the unfancied Millwall and Wigan Athletic – one of the second tier, the other in grave danger of returning to that level – in the other tie. It was the two north-western clubs who prevailed, making Wigan the latest First-Time Finalists. Their prospects were rated no higher than those of Sunderland in 1973 and Wimbledon in 1988 – a good omen – or Sunderland in 1992 or Millwall in 2004, making history a very mixed blessing.
A long way back in this series, I teased the fact that the 1959 and 1960 Finals were linked by a bizarre kind of coincidence. The first half of this paid off twenty-five years later: Roy Dwight, scorer for Nottingham Forest in 1959, was carried off with a broken leg. His nephew Reg, better known as Elton John, was chairman of Watford when they were beaten as First-Time Finalists in 1984.
Dave Whelan, Blackburn Rovers defender, who suffered the same fate in 1960, had to wait over half a century, but this time it was he in person who came to Wembley as chairman of a First-Time Finalist.
And unlike the Dwights, the tale ended with unexpected but delightful glory. The game had reached injury time scoreless, and Manchester City had been reduced to ten men, Pablo Zabaleta having collected a second yellow card to become the third player to be sent off in a Final. Wigan sent a corner in from the left and their substitute, Ben Watson, who had been out of action for six months with a broken leg, sent a header over City keeper Joe Hart to win Wigan the Cup.
Wigan Athletic became the forty-third, and most recent club to win the FA Cup. Having been founded only in 1932, they also became the ‘youngest’ club ever to win the Cup. Their victory was marred, to some extent, when defeat in their final League match saw them undergo relegation from the Premier League, emulating the fates of Leicester City (1969), Brighton (1983) and Middlesbrough (1997), though unlike their predecessors, Wigan actually won the Cup!
City’s defeat came as a shock, though perhaps not to the same extent of those of Leeds and Liverpool, as the Manchester club were relative newcomers to prominence. It was also the last match in charge for their manager, Roberto Mancini, in succession to Bill Shankley (1974) and Tommy Docherty (1977), though it was an open secret throughout football that irrespective of the Cup result, Mancini was to be replaced.
Improbable as Wigan’s feat was, they came within a penalty shoot-out of back-to-back Finals, this time as a second tier club. Their conquerors were Arsenal, whose victory set-up a near-identical Final to that of the previous year: a well-established, leading club facing off against First-Time Finalists, this time in the shape of Hull City, the fifty-sixth and most recent team to reach the Cup Final. What’s more, Wigan beat Manchester City again, at their own ground, in the Sixth Round.
The Cup did enjoy another first in its earliest stages, with the first appearance of a club from the Isle of Guernsey, prosaically called Guernsey FC, though their landmark appearance only lasted as far as the Second Qualifying Round.
Hull’s opponents in their semi-final were third tier Sheffield United and both semi-finals had their kick-offs held back by seven minutes, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.
The Final, once again, endured an evening kick-off, although this was slightly alleviated by being brought forward to 5.00pm. And for the first time since 2010 it returned to its rightful place as the last match of the domestic season. For an astonishing seventeen minutes, a repeat of Wigan’s bombshell looked to be on, as Hull took a two goal lead eight minutes after kick-off (and very nearly added a third!).
But Arsenal pulled back a goal comfortably early and went on to defeat Hull 3-2, in injury-time. It was their eleventh Cup win, drawing level with Manchester United as record-holders. They were also the first team to be presented with the fifth FA Cup. Once again, identical to the third Cup, this version is heavier yet than the fourth, and meant to be more durable in an era when the Cup itself spends as much time on the road and travelling to different events than it does in the hands of its current holders.
Arsenal also concluded an unusual Cup Double when their Ladies team won the Women’s FA Cup Final, a fortnight after this victory.
As Arsenal had already qualified for the Champions League by virtue of their League position, Hull City took the Europa League slot available to the FA Cup. They are the last team to do so to date: changes to UEFA rulings now bar the Cup runners-up from qualifying for Europe in that role.
Last year saw a host of minor issues. Rights to terrestrial coverage returned to the BBC once more, though this made no difference to the kick-off time of the Final, which went further back yet, to 5.30pm. However, the BBC did revive the old-time tradition of an entire day’s programming based on and around the Final, starting at 9.00am.
To rub further salt in Droylsden’s wounds, a second League club fielded an ineligible player, in the Second Round, but instead of being expelled, were simply ordered to replay the tie. The discrepancy was further emphasised by Chesterfield being the beneficiaries: they beat M.K. Dons 1-0 in both versions of the game.
In the same round, a new record was set for a penalty shoot-out, with thirty-two kicks needed to separate Worcester City and Scunthorpe United, the latter winning 14-13.
Arsenal, having knocked out Manchester United away in the quarter finals struggled to overcome second-tier Reading in the semi-final, needing an extra-time goal deriving from a goalkeeper’s mistake to return to Wembley, where their opponents were Aston Villa, the former record holders, in only their second Final since establishing that record fifty-eight years previously.
Though Villa had performed prodigies to defeat Liverpool in the semi-final, Arsenal’s Final was as easy as the 4-0 scoreline suggests. It was only a surprise that Villa held out until the 40th minute before conceding the first, and once Arsenal scored their third, confirming victory beyond any shadow of a doubt, I switched the game off, missing the injury-time fourth goal, that equalled Manchester United’s twice-held record victory margin in a Wembley Final.
Arsenal’s win did however send them clear of United as record Cup winners, and Cup Finalists, with a twelfth win from a nineteenth Final. Their win was blighted during their victory parade when midfielder Jack Wilshere made an obscene reference to rivals Tottenham Hotspur (not a first offence) bringing down a misconduct charge on his head.
The current season has progressed (at the time of writing this section) to semi-final weekend: in six hours from this moment, Everton play Manchester United in the first such match, at the New Wembley.
There have been no especially memorable stories to date in the competition. FC United of Manchester reached the First Round for only the second time, in only their tenth year of existence, but were comfortably beaten at home by, ironically for my personal history, by Chesterfield. It has not been a season for non-Leaguers: only Enleigh featured in the Third Round.
Nor has it been a competition with any great giant-killing feats, the closest to that being Watford’s Sixth Round defeat of holders Arsenal at their home in the Sixth Round, putting paid to the serious talk at Arsenal of winning a third Cup Final in succession.
But the Sixth Round also threw up another example of the Cup’s decline, with the month-long delay between the drawn Manchester United vs West Ham United tie and its replay. The delay was due to the inability to find a suitable date. In addition to the Police stipulations about providing security, there was the UEFA demand that televised matches should not clash with rounds of European competition.
In the end, the date did clash with the Champions League, the best the FA could do being to order the tie to be played at 7.00pm, heedless of the convenience of the fans, because that way only the second half would overlap.
In addition to the various possibilities I’ve outlined above, there is a double possibility of a repeat Final stemming from this weekend’s results. A Manchester United victory this evening could set up a repeat of the 1990 Final if Crystal Palace overcome Watford, whereas if the results both go the other way, we’re looking at a repeat of the 1984 Final.
And if the first option should come off, then there’s the possibility of a United win not merely pulling them level again with Arsenal as record holders, but also of Crystal Palace duplicating the unique achievement of Queen’s Park, of failing in two Finals – against the same team!
And the outcome was a repeat of 1990, Manchester United vs Crystal Palace. In addition to the possibilities I’ve set out above, this will be the third time United have played a repeat Final, more than any other club, and given the club’s current struggle to regain their domestic fortunes after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, there’s an echo to this year’s Final.
Not only would a United victory see them equal the record number of Cup wins, exactly as it did in 1990, but a United victory over Palace was the first trophy of the Ferguson era, and a repeat performance would be the first trophy of the post-Ferguson era.
A lot rests on this year’s Final – for both teams. Remember too that Palace Manager Alan Pardew is also deeply connected to the first meeting, having played for Crystal Palace in both Final and Replay.
The Final will be played on 21 May 2016, and will be the 135th Final in the Cup’s 145th year.
And with extra-time required, a sending-off and having to come from behind with ten men, Manchester United beat Crystal Palace for the second time to regain a share in the Cup Final record, immediately equalling Arsenal’s new record set last year. Only Blackburn Rover of the previous record holders and sharers have returned from being overtaken.
Palace are now the fourth team to have played in more than a single Final without winning the trophy, fifty-five years since the last team to fall into that category, Leicester City.
And Chris Smalling became the fourth player to be sent off in a Final, and Manchester United became the only team to have experienced two such red cards.
(all Finals played at the New Wembley Stadium)
2011/12 Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
2012/13 Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester City 0
2013/14 Arsenal 3 Hull City 2 (aet)
2014/15 Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0
2015/16 Manchester United 2 Crystal Palace 1 (aet)
Only half a decade has passed. Nine clubs have appeared in the five Finals to date, and there have been four different Winners, Arsenal being the only team to reach and win two Finals. In doing so, they set a new record, although Manchester United recovered immediately to regain a share in that record). There have already been two First-Tine Finalists, and one First-Time Winners. Wigan Athletic also became the only team to win the Cup and be relegated in the same season. The last Final to date is a repeat, with Manchester United prevailing again. The Cup’s future lies ahead. In light of the last two decades, it is hard to imagine it ever recovering the pin-sharp brightness of previous decades. A personal hope: after their remarkable first League success, I would love to see Leicester City finally win the Cup, and eradicate its most painful record.
Finally, we reach the last complete decade of the FA Cup’s history, taking it to the competition’s 140thAnniversary and its 130th Final. It was a decade of decay and degradation, as the elements that made the Cup special were stripped away. For many years, the League Cup had been the tournament that teams failed to take seriously, playing reserves and juniors without thought of progressing, and saving their strongest sides for the League. In this decade, the same approach began to take over the Cup.
Once, a Cup run was a wonderful distraction from a dismal relegation struggle. Now, with the monetary perils of relegation grown life-threatening, a Cup run was the last thing a manager wanted if he had his eye set on keeping his job. And, with the ‘Big Four’ having more or less cornered the Final, what price the unforgettable run of glory?
In 2002, in the fourth London Derby Final, Arsenal emulated Manchester United by completing a Third Double. The Double was once so rare that, in the first 114 years of the Cup, it had only been achieved five times: indeed, until 1961 it had long been thought impossible given the longer League programmes of the Twentieth Century. But a further five Doubles had been completed in only nine years, and they had been shared by only two teams. Many thought that the Double had been devalued, and it’s hard not to think that they’re right, but what it was was another demonstration of the way Football itself was coming under the domination of a handful of teams, made rich by television money and establishing an informal, yet unbreakable hierarchy under which all trophies were slowly becoming the exclusive province of a tiny number of Clubs. After all, Arsenal’s Double was their second in five years, which meant they’d beaten Manchester United to the Premier League title. But United had already won seven of the ten Premierships played.
But winning the Cup was traditionally the completion of the Double. The ever-increasing improvements in ground maintenance had all but done away with match day postponements through water-logged and frozen pitches, and television’s influence on the fixture list had long since prompted a strict adherence to ending the League programme(s) the weekend before Cup Final day.
Not this year. For a second successive season, a final round of Premier League games was scheduled for after the Cup Final. Arsenal still had to play Manchester United, needing a win to secure the League, and they achieved that at Old Trafford. Sky’s pet competition was now the great wrap-up to a football year.
Terrestrial coverage of the Final reverted to the BBC after three years of ITV.
And Arsenal were back at Cardiff twelve months later to win the Cup again. It was their third successive Final appearance, and they became the only club to reach a hat trick of Finals twice, having already achieved this between 1978 and 1980. Their opponents were Southampton, appearing in their first Final for twenty-seven years but unable to duplicate their success as a Second Division club. Both clubs defeated second-tier opposition in the semi-finals.
This was the first Final to be played indoors: due to rain, the retractable roof of the Millennium Stadium was closed. The artificiality of the proceedings, which meant that the game was played wholly under artificial light (on a Saturday afternoon!), removing the spectacle yet further from football as we know it, increasingly attempting to pursue a sterile, plastic perfection.
It was the first time since Tottenham Hotspur in 1982 that the holders retained the Cup the following season, and only the tenth such instance in the Cup’s history.
Arsenal’s successive wins had put them only one behind Manchester United, but the Reds made their first Final appearance at the Milliennium Stadium in 2004, extending their Cup record to eleven wins by defeating First-Time Finalists, Millwall 3-0. Millwall were the first team outside the top tier since Sunderland in 1992 to reach the Final, ironically beating the Wearsiders – also of Division One – in the semi-final, but dreams of glory were easily dispelled. Millwall player-manager Dennis Wise suffered at United’s hands for a second time, having been captain of the Chelsea side beaten by United in the Final ten years previously. United became the first and only team to be awarded, and score penalties in three different Finals (which will not surprise those who feel that United have had an exceptional favourable deal with referees for far too long). All three penalties have been scored by non-British players, Ruud van Nistlerooy making it two Dutchmen and a Frenchman.
Millwall substitute Curtis Weston set a record as the youngest player ever in a Cup Final when he came on in the 89th minute. At 17 years 119 days, he broke the record set in 1879 by James Prinsep of Clapham Rovers by 126 days.
Millwall’s appearance made them the fifty-fourth team to reach the Cup Final and the ninth team to have lost on their only appearance. Bizarrely, they were the fourth such to suffer this fate against Manchester United, joining Bristol City (1909), Brighton (1983) and Crystal Palace (1990).
To receive and parade the Cup, the Manchester United team all donned shirts bearing the name and squad number of promising midfielder Jimmy Davies, who had died in a car accident in the opening month of the season.
From the moment that Cup Final replays were abolished in 1999, all true Cup fans and purists feared that the day would come when the Cup would be decided by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. And six years after that fateful decision, it duly occurred. The 2005 Final, between Manchester United, the holders and record-holders, and Arsenal, in their fourth Final in five years, and second in the record tables, ended goalless at the Millennium Stadium, and Arsenal lifted the Cup when United’s Paul Scholes saw his penalty saved.
I hated it. Not the losing: I have witnesses to prove that, as extra-time wore down, I was openly willing for Arsenal to score, if that was what it took to avoid that indignity. A penalty shoot-out is a horrible way to end any game, but especially to win a trophy, and even more so this trophy, the original, the very first, the Cup of Cups. Once again, the Cup was diminished, because its defenders were not prepared to defend it.
The game itself, between two such well-matched team, was astonishingly one-sided, with United battering Arsenal for 120 minutes but only putting the ball in the net once, from an offside position. This was the first, and thankfully only time since 1912 that the Final had ended goalless, and it also featured only the second sending off in the Final, when Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes received a second yellow card in the last second of extra-time.
Again and again, we see the Cup’s penchant for ironic reverses: only two players have been sent off in Finals, one for Manchester United, the other, exactly twenty years later, against Manchester United.
But it had been done: penalties had been needed. The Cup had been spoiled yet further, and twelve months later, it happened all over again.
The 2006 Final was the sixth to be played in Cardiff. Originally, the deal had been for three years, and then five, but uncertainty as to whether New Wembley would be ready in time for a slightly earlier than usual Final forced the Cup’s exile to endure another season.
En route to Cardiff, there were a few surprises. For a second successive season, Manchester United were held to a goalless draw in the Third Round against lowly opposition, this time Football Conference side Burton Albion. But their hopes of a third successive Final appearance were dashed by defeat in the Fifth Round to Liverpool, the latter’s first Cup win over United in the 85 years since their first such meeting.
With England having qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany – the tournament that Manchester United’s defection in 2000 was supposed to secure – the FA acceded to manager Sven-Goran Eriksen’s request to bring forward the Final date by moving the Sixth Round into mid-week. It was another rare instance of an all top-tier quarter-final stage, and Liverpool’s 7-0 win away to Birmingham City was one of the biggest victory margins ever at this stage.
Liverpool’s opponents in Cardiff were West Ham United, playing their first Final in twenty-six years, an event sadly recalled by the death of then manager John Lyall, six days before the semi-final.
The Final was one of the most thrilling games in modern times, with unfancied West Ham taking a two-goal lead, and regaining it after Liverpool fought back to equalise. They were clinging on into added time when Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard hit a screaming shot from thirty-five yards to secure extra-time. When that ended without further score, a second successive penalty shoot-out was required. This time, the full allocation of penalties was not needed and Liverpool won 3-1.
By 2007, the New Wembley was open and available for Cup Finals and Internationals. It had taken twice as long as anticipated to build, and cost several billions more than budgeted. The FA were now concerned about getting in money to service their debts. After years of reluctant resistance, the FA wore paper-thin and accepted sponsorship for the Cup.
At first, it was genteel, and shame-faced: The FA Cup, sponsored by E.ON. But everybody knew it was only a matter of time before the World’s oldest trophy would be purloined to shill for an advertiser too stupid to understand that they were contributing to destroying the worth of the trophy they sought to get a hit off.
There was a throwback to ancient times in the Second Round, when Bury beat Chester City, only to be expelled for fielding an ineligible player, but the remainder of the competition proceeded without notable incident and the Final paired Premier League Champions Manchester United, playing their third Final in four years, with the League Cup Winners, Chelsea. United were bidding to extend their Cup-winning record, and to secure an unprecedented Fourth Double, whilst Chelsea were looking to become only the third club to do the domestic Cup Double.
To celebrate the opening of the new Stadium, above which the famous, elegant and iconic Twin Towers had been replaced by an illuminated, angled arch, a parade was held before the game, featuring one player from every Empire Stadium Final between 1959 and 2000.
In the event, after the extravaganza of 2006, the Final was a crashing bore. Both teams played in a cagey manner, but the New Wembley turf was a major factor, being heavy and lifeless, and cutting up quickly. In the end, Chelsea became the first Cup-Winners at the New Wembley, as they had been the last Winners at the Old Wembley, again winning 1-0, with a Didier Drogba goal four minutes from the end of extra-time, and preventing the monstrous indignity of the third consecutive penalty shoot-out.
It was by far and away the worst Cup Final I have ever watched, and I again have witnesses to confirm that after 80 minutes, I said that if the FA had any guts, they would walk onto the field, confiscate the ball and call off the Final, on the grounds that neither team deserved to win it, playing like this.
For the last seventeen seasons, every Cup Final had featured one of the ‘Big Four’ clubs. For none of them to even feature in the semi-finals (only Manchester United and Chelsea even reached the Sixth Round) marked the 2007/08 Cup out as something different and therefore, for a season at least, special. This was a year in which its traditional role as the great leveller was back in force.
Leeds United, once giants of the game, had slipped into the third tier for the first time ever: they played in the First Round at Hereford, and lost their home replay. Both Havant & Waterlooville and Chasetown played in the Third Round for the first time ever. Chasetown are the lowest tier club ever to reach this stage, then playing in the Midland Alliance, a feeder League to the Southern League, at the ninth tier. The club enjoyed its record gate but were beaten at home by the eventual Finalists, Cardiff City, who, in a wonderful gesture, invited the Staffordshire club to play the first official game at their new stadium, in the following July.
Havant went one better. Also drawn against Welsh opposition in Swansea City, they reached the Fourth Round with a splendid 4-2 replay victory, though they then lost 5-2 at Liverpool.
On a more prosaic level, Manchester United were drawn against Aston Villa in the Third Round for the second successive season and the fourth time in seven seasons.
But the quarter-finals produced a round of shocks, without a replay being required, producing a semi-final line-up consisting of only one Premier League club, and three second tier teams. For a moment, it looked like the unthinkable – an all second tier Final – might be on, but Portsmouth, who had beaten Manchester United, put out West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City defeated Barnsley, who had put out Chelsea (and Liverpool before them).
Having rejoiced in the unpredictability of this season’s competition, the Press reversed itself and started spreading doom and gloom about the prospects of a Final without a Big Four club to ‘guarantee’ quality (did they even watch the 2007 Final?). Both Finalists had won the Cup once before, Portsmouth in 1939, who had held it for the longest period ever, and Cardiff in 1927, the only time the Cup had left England.
It was, of course, an irony that they should reach the Final again, only two years after it had left their city.
In order to service their debts, the FA decided as of this season to move all semi-finals to Wembley, permanently. It was particularly inappropriate in this of all seasons, with the frisson the fans experienced at a return after so long an absence being dissipated in advance, but what cared the FA for their prize? In the end, status told, with Portsmouth scoring the only goal and qualifying for European competition for the first time ever.
Not that it did them much good. The Club suffered crippling financial problems within a year, went into administration twice, and slid down the Leagues to the fourth tier within five seasons. They are now debt-free, and the largest Club in England to be owned by their fans through a Supporters Trust.
Cardiff are, to date, the last second tier team to reach the Cup Final. And, despite the Press carping about an unappealing Final, Portsmouth vs Cardiff holds the record for the highest attendance in a New Wembley Cup Final.
It was back to business in 2008/09, however. The Cup began with its highest ever number of participants, 762 clubs entering, although one club folded before the competition started, making the actual intake 761. Remember that in 1871/72, only fifteen teams thought to enter this new Cup?
The First Round featured some notable non-League successes, with Curzon Ashton beating Exeter City, four levels above them, whilst Blyth Spartans, Droylsden and Histon overcame clubs two levels higher.
In the Second Round, Droylsden were drawn away to Chesterfield, resulting in the first tie since the introduction of penalty shoot-outs to go to more than two games. The original tie was abandoned at half-time, with Droylsden 1-0 up, due to fog, and when re-played resulted in a 2-2 draw. The replay was abandoned due to floodlight failure with twenty minutes remaining and Chesterfield 2-0 up, and when this game was re-played, Droylsden won 2-1, to reach the Third Round for the first time ever.
The club were then expelled for fielding an ineligible player in their eventual win. The player – who had scored both Droylsden goals – was suspended thanks to a yellow card received in the first, fog-abandoned game, and the club had designated the match from which he was to be suspended the day before the floodlight-abandoned game. In the rush to rearrange the tie again, no-one noticed that the suspension now fell on that additional match.
Histon and Blyth won their Second Round ties, the former beating Leeds United, but were knocked out in the Third Round.
Television rights to FA Cup coverage had once again returned to ITV, whilst the short-lived Setanta outbid Sky for the satellite coverage, but the terrestrial broadcaster was involved in controversy during live coverage of the Fourth Round replay of Everton v Liverpool, cutting to commercials before the final whistle and missing the game’s only goal.
Unlike the previous season, the semi-finals featured three of the ‘Big Four’, with Chelsea beating Arsenal and Manchester United knocked out on penalties after a goalless draw with Everton. It was United’s first defeat in the semi-final since 1970, bringing to an end a run of thirteen semi-final successes.
The Final began with a shock, as Louis Saha beat Roberto di Matteo’s Wembley record, scoring the fastest Cup Final goal after only twenty-five seconds (so fast, I missed it, turning the TV on fractionally late). It also beat the all-time record, set by Bob Chatt, for Aston Villa in 1895, which had taken thirty seconds. It was of no avail: this was the business as usual year and Chelsea recovered to win 2-1.
This was the first year in which the current arrangement whereby teams can name seven substitutes, though still only introduce three, featured in the Cup Final.
For a second successive season, 762 teams entered the FA Cup, and for a second successive season, one folded before playing, although as they were not due to enter the Cup until the First Qualifying Round, this resulted in their opponents being awarded a walkover.
In the Third Round, Manchester United were knocked out at home by Leeds United, still of the third tier. It was their first Third Round defeat since the upset at Bournemouth twenty-six years earlier, in 1984, as holders, and their first Cup defeat by lower opposition since that same game.
With Liverpool also defeated at that stage, and Arsenal following suit in the Fourth Round, only holders Chelsea remained of the ‘Big Four’. They would go all the way to Wembley, facing the 2008 Winners, Portsmouth.
The club’s fortunes were radically different. Chelsea had secured the Premier League and became the seventh Team to complete the Double, as well as becoming only the fifth club to win successive Cup Finals. Portsmouth, in administration, were already relegated, having incurred a nine point penalty deduction. They were the first first tier team to enter administration, and given that almost every Premier League club operated at a loss, there were fears of a domino effect that never, thankfully, materialised.
The Final was significant for the first, and only to date, in which both teams were awarded penalties, and the first in which two penalties were not scored. Kevin-Prince Boateng’s shot, to give Portsmouth the lead, was saved, but Frank Lampard’s late effort, to increase Chelsea’s lead, missed the target, the first Final penalty to do so since Charlie Wallace for Aston Villa in 1913. Like Wallace, Lampard’s team won 1-0, thanks to a goal by Didier Drogba.
Drogba became only the second player, after Ian Rush, to score in three different Finals. Chelsea defender Ashley Cole also set a personal record by winning his sixth Winners Medal. No other player has won the Cup as often.
Structural changes to the UEFA Cup saw it adopt a group format similar to that of the Champions League with effect from the 2010/11 season. Chelsea’s League Title meant that they qualified for the Champions League, but Portsmouth’s financial status saw them denied a licence to compete in Europe and they were thus denied a Europa League place based on their status as runners-up.
As the last completed decade of the FA Cup’s history came to an end, there were the first signs that the so-called ‘Big Four’ might have to be redefined as a ‘Big Five’. For the second time in four years, none of them reached the Final, Manchester United losing in the semi-final again. But oil money was transforming, had transformed their neighbours, Manchester City, who inflicted that defeat on United, and who were clearly going to be a much greater force in football than they had ever before been in their often-chequered history.
There was a slight drop in entrants for this latest season, to 759, though 806 clubs in all applied for entry. FC United of Manchester, the Club formed by Manchester United supporters grown frustrated with the ever-increasing corporatisation of football, and spurred on by United’s takeover by American businessmen, reached the First Round for the first time in only their sixth season of existence, beating League opposition in Rochdale in a live televised match. They would then draw League One leaders Brighton away in the Second Round, with the Seasiders requiring a late equaliser to avoid being knocked out, before comprehensively winning the replay, 4-0.
Droylsden, in the Second Round for only the third time in their history, led Leyton Orient 2-0 away with only twenty minutes of their replay left, but crumbled as Orient first forced extra-time, then added six more goals to finished 8-2 winners.
Crawley Town of the Conference reached the Fifth Round before losing to Manchester United at Old Trafford, by 1-0. They were the first non-League club to reach this stage since Blyth Spartans in 1994.
The semi-finals were an all-Premier League affair, with the Manchester Derby out-glamourising the tie between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. The latter’s comprehensive 5-0 win saw them reach their first Cup Final, the first First-Time Finalist since Millwall in 2004. A single goal by Yaya Toure took City to their first Final in twenty years, and the same player scored the only goal of the Final, to bring the club to its first Cup Win since 1969, ending an overall trophy drought that had lasted thirty-five years (as celebrated visually at Old Trafford).
Stoke, as runners-up, became the first English team to qualify for the Europa League via the FA Cup.
But it was not the game but its scheduling that marked another step along the long road of decline. For once, the situation was forced upon the FA rather than of their increasingly spineless, money-fixated making. The 2011 European Champions League Final was set to take place at Wembley on 28 May (where Manchester United would, for the second time in three years, be beaten by Barcelona). UEFA rules insist that no games should take place for fourteen days before the Final, forcing the Cup Final to be played on the weekend of the penultimate round of Premier League games.
This time, the programme was not suspended or re-scheduled, as it is for England Internationals. The League programme went ahead on the same day as the Final. Coincidentally, Manchester City and Stoke would have played each other in the League that day, leaving only nine matches to distract from the Final. Four were played at 12.45 on Cup Final day, the other five on Sunday at 4.00pm.
Even then, Manchester United’s lunch-time win to secure their third successive League title (the second time they had achieved this) overshadowed the Cup Final, and particularly their neighbours’ success, which should have been allowed to stand alone and celebrated without distraction.
One hundred and forty years had passed. What had once been the great glory of English football had become something to be pushed around, got out of the way any old how. Increasingly, teams were seeing the Cup as an unwanted distraction from the day to day business of League positions, where money could be made. It had always been a distraction, but it had been a wonderful one, filled with a magic of its own, a dream of glory. Now, it didn’t make anybody any money. It never did, that was it’s whole point, but now clubs sent out weakened sides, squad players and youth teamers, paying lip service to glory and thinking more of the grind.
And there was more disservice to come.
(all Finals played at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff up to and including 2006, and the New Wembley Stadium thereafter)
2001/02 Arsenal 2 Chelsea 0
2002/03 Arsenal 1 Southampton 0
2003/04 Manchester United 3 Millwall 0
2004/05 Arsenal 0 Manchester United 0 (aet)
(Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties)
2005/06 Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3 (aet)
(Liverpool win 3-1 on penalties)
2006/07 Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 (aet)
2007/08 Portsmouth 1 Cardiff City 0
2008/09 Chelsea 2 Everton 1
2009/10 Chelsea 1 Portsmouth 0
2010/11 Manchester City 1 Stoke City 0
The fourth decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured twelve clubs, and six winners. Arsenal, with three, were the most successful team, and there were two wins for Chelsea, with both teams winning back to back Finals. Manchester United and Chelsea also reached three Finals, with Chelsea losing one of theirs and United the decade’s biggest losers, with two defeats. Two Finals were, shamefully, decided by penalties. Portsmouth were the surprise winners of the decade whilst Stoke closed out this era as the only First-Time Finalists. United’s 2007 defeat kept them from securing their Fourth Double, whilst their conquerors, Chelsea, went on to record their own Double, the seventh club to do so and the eleventh overall, three years later.
The FA Cup had been conceived and commence in the Nineteenth Century. Had those whose inspiration it had been ever foreseen what it, what their youthful, unformed game would become? I doubt that they had ever imagined what this sport, so recently codified to eliminate handling and hacking, might become, though several lived to see the outline of the future. Several lived to see the Twentieth Century: could they have imagined their trophy might last until the Twenty-First Century?
One thing that did not was the trophy itself. The third FA Cup had, by 1992, become so fragile that it could no longer be risked and a fourth – identical but sturdier – was made. But the glamorous old trophy was reserved one final outing under the North London sky that season.
The Third Round began with a bang, with one of the great Cup results of all time. It came at Football’s New Year, the Third Round, at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, where the visitors were Arsenal.
The great beauty of the Cup is that on any given day, any team of eleven players can defeat any other team of eleven players. The distance between the two clubs could not have been greater: Arsenal were the reigning League Champions, whilst Wrexham had finished bottom of Division Four, and had only escaped relegation to the Football Conference because of a failed plan by the Football League to expand to 94 teams. First played ninety-second. If you could arrange for this to be played one hundred times as a League game, Arsenal would have won ninety-nine and drawn the hundredth. And they scored first.
But this was the Cup. In the space of two minutes, the oldest player on the field and the youngest player on the field scored for Wrexham to overturn Arsenal’s lead and send them out of the Cup. It was a welcome demonstration of what the Cup really meant. It is the stuff of which dreams are made.
In 1973, Sunderland had shocked the whole of English Football by winning a game they were never expected to compete in. They beat Leeds United, one of the greatest teams of the time, and they beat them whilst representing the Second Division. In 1988, Liverpool had played in the other shock Cup Final result of all time, but that time they had been the overwhelming favourites, losing a game they were never expected to be vulnerable in. For the first Final of this latest decade, Sunderland, once again a Second Division, were back at Wembley and looking to pull off the same feat against the other victim.
But history never repeats itself when you’re relying upon it to do so, and Liverpool, after a goalless first half, negotiated the Sunderland challenge more than adequately. Michael Thomas, who’d destroyed Liverpool’s Double Double dreams in 1989, by scoring the goal that enabled Arsenal to steal the League in the last minute of the season, opened the scoring, and Ian Rush became the first player to score in three different Cup Finals. It was his fifth Cup Final goal, a record that remains to this day.
Somehow, the sets of medals were switched round so that Liverpool’s team received losers medals and Sunderland winners. The players rectified the issue themselves on the pitch after the presentation.
The FA Cup still remained the showpiece, the climax of the season, but something went out of it in this season, heralding a new decade. With effect from 1991/92, there were to be no more marathon ties. Henceforward, if the scores were still level after extra time in a replay, the game would be decided that night, by a penalty shoot-out.
It was not a decision taken by the FA, rather one that was enforced upon it. The game was emerging from the dark ages of being regarded as the cause of hooliganism, as opposed to being its victims. Football fans had refuted their image as thugs at Italia ’90. Manchester United had gone straight back into Europe and won a trophy at the first time of asking. All-seater grounds were beginning to spread, in accordance with the Government’s directives. The membership scheme was gone, the fences were gone, good things were coming.
But the Police, whose relationship with football had been forever soiled by the experience of Hillsborough, decided to put their foot down. Their presence for crowd control and safety was mandatory before a game could take place: suddenly, they decided that they would no longer provide that on anything less than ten days notice.
It was a direct blow to the Cup. Traditionally, replays were instant: draw on Saturday, be back at it by Tuesday or Wednesday. That was gone in an instant: no replays until the week after. And any subsequent replays would also need ten day’s notice. And there wasn’t that much time between Rounds that could accommodate later replays.
So the FA gave in, decided to cut their losses, accept the police’s position, introduce penalty shoot-outs as a standard Cup feature. In the Fourth Round, Manchester United became the first First Division Club to go out of the Cup without losing, at home to Southampton.
And it diminished the Cup, just as so many things would begin to do so in this fateful decade.
The biggest of all, though it made no direct difference, came that summer, though it had been bruited almost all the season. The long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over who really controlled English football were settled when the FA persuaded (it was down to money, which was always the most convincing talker) the entire First Division to secede from the League and form the English Premier League, a separate competition.
It settled the argument decisively: it was the Clubs, hand in hand with the money from BSkyB Satellite Broadcasting, buying Football, hook, line and sinker. It made no difference to the Cup, structurally: The Premier League simply took the place of the old First Division, the Football League renumbered its Divisions, moving everybody one level up, and the game went on as normal, or so it seemed.
But the money went into the Premier League, not the Football League. And the financial benefits of a successful Premier League season suddenly outweighed the glamour of the Cup. It didn’t happen immediately. But the seeds were sewn, and in very fertile ground, well-watered with money.
Arsenal would be the first Premier League team to win the Cup, completing as they did a new Double, the first club to win both the League Cup and the FA Cup in the same season. Both games ended 2-1 and both times the defeated side was Sheffield Wednesday, proving yet again that football is weirder than fiction. It is the only time this has happened.
But there was much more to this Cup season than that. Once more, only two years later, the North London rivals were drawn together in the semi-final, making a mockery of the FA’s claims, in 1991, that a Wembley-staged semi-final would be a complete one-off. Given the greater capacity, the FA were hardly upset at having to repeat the exercise, but were faced with a revolt over the other semi-final venue.
By an odd coincidence, this too was a derby match, the two Sheffield clubs having been paired by the draw. Originally, and in accordance with the traditional approach, the game was scheduled for Elland Road, Leeds. But United and Wednesday protested furiously. They were upset that their rivals were being favourably treated by experiencing the Wembley atmosphere ahead of them, and given the rivalry between Sheffield and Leeds, they were unhappy at being required to play in a city where they both were hated.
So, after an initial show of reluctance that seemed to be based more in trying to demonstrate who was boss, rather than upholding principle and tradition, the FA accepted the Sheffield clubs’ proposals. And got a much higher gate than any Elland Road could have produced.
There was another shift as well. The live televised semi-finals of the past two years had both been free-to-air on terrestrial television. But the advent of BSkyB as a major player, televising live Premier League games, extended to the Cup. The Sheffield semi-final took place on the Saturday, on Sky TV: only the North London semi-final – won on this occasion by Arsenal – was shown on BBC.
Unusually, the Final began with the presentation of a Winners’ Medal, to Arsenal’s Steve Morrow. It was a holdover from the League Cup: Morrow had scored the winning goal and, at the final whistle, was lifted off the ground by team-mate Tony Adams, who unfortunately dropped him, causing Morrow to break his shoulder and have to be rushed off by ambulance with receiving his medal.
The Final was drawn, one apiece, making this the fifth Final in the last thirteen years to require a replay. It was also the last time this would occur. In 1999, the FA would decide to abolish replays for the semi-finals and Final: any such match not settled after extra-time would go to a penalty shoot-out, an indignity that all fans of the Cup immediately and devoutedly hoped would never be required in the Final.
It nearly came to pass in the replay. The match finished 1-1 again, Arsenal’s goals in each match both scored by Ian Wright, adding him to the short list of players who’d scored for two different Cup Final teams and bringing his total in Finals to four, one short of Ian Rush. And the game was in injury time at the end of extra-time when Andy Linighan headed the Arsenal winner to spare that fate.
This was also the first Final in which the teams played in squad numbers, with their names on their backs, instead of the traditional 1 – 11. The innovation was taken up the following season by the Premier League and has now spread to all of English professional football.
The first Premier League was won by Manchester United, ending their twenty-six year long quest for another title. It was to be the springboard for a season that would see them come closer than anyone ever before or since to winning not merely the classic Double, but a Grand Slam, a Clean Sweep of every trophy in the domestic game.
United were League leaders for all but twenty-eight hours of the season, and they won the Charity Shield after a penalty shoot-out (shared Shields were no longer permissible in the BSkyB era). At one point, they led the League by sixteen points, but in the Spring they suffered a collective loss of form that threatened to leave them with nothing. It did cost them the League Cup, beaten 3-1 by Aston Villa, and suffering their fourth red card in the space of a month, two of which in successive games having led to a five match suspension for their talisman, Eric Cantona.
One of those other matches Cantona was disqualified for was the FA Cup semi-final.
Once again there was controversy over the venues. Mindful of the income a Wembley tie would produce, the FA seized upon the draw pairing Chelsea with Luton Town as an excuse to nominate the Empire Stadium, and with a sanctimonious air, proclaim that fairness demanded the other tie also be held at Wembley, even though United were paired, for a second time in five years, with their Greater Manchester neighbours, Oldham Athletic.
United protested loudly at the expense yet another trip to London would mean for their fans, particularly pertinent with the country still in recession. The FA decided to let things rest upon a ballot of both clubs’ fans, agreeing to switch if both sets agreed. United’s fans voted overwhelmingly for change, but a majority of Oldham fans wanted Wembley, and so it was. It is rumoured in Manchester to this day that the Oldham verdict was tipped by a large intake of Manchester City fans, out to inconvenience their rivals.
United were in poor form. The semi-final was not the six goal thriller of yesteryear, and an Oldham goal nine minutes from the end of extra-time was on the point of taking the club to their first Final, when a spectacular equaliser by Mark Hughes secured a replay. This was played at Maine Road, Manchester, where the tie should always have been played, and United were comprehensive 4-1 winners.
This was another Final I failed to see on TV, for the simple fact that I was at Wembley itself. The omens were mixed, with Chelsea the only team to do the League double over United, both times by a single goal from Gavin Peacock. Who hit the bar in the first half, which was goalless. The second half was a different story as United were twice awarded penalties, one clear cut, the other controversial. Both were stroked home in identical manner by Cantona, the first Frenchman to play in the Cup Final.
It was the first, and to date only occasion when two penalties have been awarded to the same team, and Cantona’s first was the first Cup Final penalty to be scored since Arnold Muhren for United in the replay eleven years earlier.
The second penalty was the subject of controversy, referee David Ellary giving the award from thirty yards away when his linesmen, ten yards from the incident, failed to flag. However, Ellary was at the correct angle to see the offence, whereas his linesman’s view was blocked by the body of United’s Andrei Kanchelskis. I have always found it significant that, despite England’s top referee being correct in seeing the offence, his linesman was unable to tell him that contact had been two yards outside the area. Subsequently, Elleray admitted regretting his decision.
Not being at home, I missed the BBC’s near blunder in allowing replays of the penalty incident to nearly overrun United’s third goal, by Hughes. This too was a personal record: it was Hughes’ fourth Wembley appearance of the season – Charity Shield, League Cup Final, FA Cup semi-final and Final – and he had scored in every game. Indeed, Cantona’s first penalty had been United’s first Wembley goal that season NOT to be scored by Hughes!
The Frenchman came inches from scoring the first Cup Final hat trick since 1953 but United equalled their own record for biggest winning margin at Wembley with a fourth goal just before time, set up on a plate for Brian McClair by an act of unselfishness above and beyond the call of human nature by Paul Ince.
United’s eighth win equaled Tottenham Hotspur’s record and they also became the sixth team to win the Double of League and Cup in the same year. That the Cup was still the great glory game may be signified by the fact that it was not until the third United goal, securing the Cup, that I remembered United were the League Champions, and had therefore won the Double!
This was also the first Final to features three substitutes for each team, enabling clubs thereafter to always have a goalkeeping substitute available in the event of injury or sending off.
After winning their Double, Liverpool had come close three times in the next four years to be the first Club to win in twice. In 1994/95, Manchester United came within two blinding saves of doing it back-to-back.
That season’s Cup almost began with a team short, as Tottenham Hotspur were initially banned from entering the Cup, as a punishment for financial irregularities. On appeal, however, it was decided that a financial penalty was better suited for financial improprieties and the joint record-holders were reinstated.
Manchester United’s season was rocked in February by the suspension of their talismanic striker, Eric Cantona until September 30 1995. Cantona had been sent off in a League game at Crystal Palace and was pursued along the touchline by a home fan spewing racial and obscene taunts at him, until Cantona vaulted the fence and kung-fu kicked the fan (quickly revealed to be a National Front member).
United reacted promptly and responsibly by suspending Cantona for the rest of the season, though the FA decided it needed to be seen acting and extended that ban by a further ten weeks.
Without Cantona, United still reached the Final, needing a replay to beat their 1990 Final opponents, Crystal Palace in the semi-final, whilst Everton comfortably beat the reprieved Spurs to set up a repeat of the 1985 Final. United, hampered by the absence of Cantona, arrived at Wembley as Premier League runners-up by a single point, a title-winning win in their last game denied by great saves from Ludek Miklosko for West Ham.
The repeat Final from ten years previously would end with the same score, but this time Everton prevailed. United were denied extra-time by a blinding save from Neville Southall, who played in both games, preventing an equaliser by substitute Paul Scholes. Scholes would score in a Final before the decade was out.
Nevertheless, United’s failure in 1995 was reversed only twelve months later. Cantona’s return from his lengthy suspension saw him create one and score one in a 2-2 home draw with Liverpool, and several vital goals from the Frenchman saw United overhaul season-long League leaders Newcastle United to regain the title.
Once again, an entire round was almost wiped out by snow, in late January, with only four of sixteen ties in Round Four being completed on the day. There was another oddity when Round Six featured an all-Premiership line-up, a very rare occurrence, and due to television’s demand for live games, all four ties were played on different days.
In the semi-final, United were drawn to play Chelsea. It was their third successive semi-final and their third against recent and previous major Cup opponents: in order, United had played their 1990 semi-final opponents, their 1990 Final opponents and their 1994 Final opponents, who they beat 2-0 at Villa Park.
For once, the Cup missed a trick. The other semi-final was played at Old Trafford between Aston Villa and Liverpool, who won by a comfortable 3-0, denying the Cup a Final between clubs who had won their semi-finals at each other’s ground!
For a second successive season, Manchester United faced a repeat Final against opponents they had previously beaten at Wembley, but where Everton had gained revenge, Liverpool were unable to prevent a second defeat, inevitably at the hand, or boot, of Cantona, four minutes from the end. For those who watched on TV, the game was a dull disappointment, but I can only speak for myself when I say that inside Wembley, the game was tense and fascinating at every minute.
United became the first team to win the Double Double, only two years after completing their first such. This was their ninth Cup win, setting a new record, and Eric Cantona became the first player to score Cup Final goals from both the penalty spot and in open play. They also became only the fifth team to reach three successive Finals, as recently achieved by Arsenal and Everton.
Speaking in my personal capacity as a Manchester United fan, I have to comment that when United were beaten in a Fourth Round replay in the 1996/97 tournament, it was a very strange sensation. It was the first time in four years that we had no interest in the Cup after January. I don’t mean to be big-headed at that: I am sure that Arsenal fans in 1981 and Everton fans in 1987 had exactly the same sense of vague displacement.
There was a guaranteed first time Finalist that season when Middlesbrough were drawn against Second Division Chesterfield. This was the first appearance in the semi-finals by a third tier team since Norwich City in 1959, and Chesterfield took their Premier League opponents to a draw, or rather it was the reverse, as Chesterfield led twice and were denied a third goal when the referee, David Elleray again, missed seeing a shot bounce behind the line. Within two minutes, the referee awarded a penalty to Middlesbrough for an obstruction that took place outside the penalty area, from which Boro scored their second equaliser. Chesterfield’s run was broken in the replay, which Middlesbrough won comfortably.
In contrast, Chelsea were easy winners in their semi-final against Wimbledon, coming their closest to repeating the glories of 1988, just five years before the controversial and fatal decision to allow the club to be uprooted to Milton Keynes. Chelsea were equally comfortable at Wembley, winning their second Cup, twenty-seven years after the first, whilst Robert di Matteo broke Jackie Milburn’s record for fastest goal at Wembley, set forty-two years earlier, scoring after only 43 seconds.
Middlesbrough would complete the unwanted Double of Cup Final defeat and a very controversial relegation in the same season due to a points deduction, not to mention defeat in the League Cup Final. But it was a personal triumph for Chelsea striker Mark Hughes, winning a record fourth Winners Medal after three with Manchester United. Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit became the first foreign and non-white Manager to win the Cup.
Chelsea would go on to record the seventh English win in the European Cup-Winners Cup, the only English team to win it twice. Their victory came in the Cup’s penultimate season: it’s reputation had seriously declined and a decision was taken to abolish it after the 1998/99 season.
In 1988, Arsenal emulated Manchester United by winning their Second Double, though this came twenty-seven years after their first. Arsenal were also the first team to win the Cup after progressing through two penalty shoot-outs, the second of these in the semi-final. Their opponents at Wembley were Newcastle United, the third time this pair of clubs had met in the Final, the only pairing to meet more than twice. Newcastle had won both the previous encounters.
Though he was not in the match-day squad for the Final, the first in which each team could name five substitutes, of whom only three could be used, Ian Rush had scored for Newcastle in Round Three against Everton, his 43rd goal in the FA Cup. Like his five in Finals, this is a Cup record that stands until today: no player has scored more Cup goals.
This year saw ITV replace BBC as the terrestrial TV broadcaster. Because of Arsenal’s Double, Newcastle became the last English team to qualify for the Cup-Winners Cup, alongside holders Chelsea.
This was another Final that I refused to watch, the reason this time being the teams playing. In every Final where I did not have a personal stake in the outcome, I could always settle upon one team to support. It seemed as necessary as breathing. I cannot be perfectly neutral, perfectly disinterested. I need some element of passion, however spurious or brief. How this was to be determined depended on multiple factors: sometimes, I would support one side because I couldn’t stand the other. This Final presented me with a conundrum. I couldn’t stand Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger, and wanted them to lose. On the other hand, I couldn’t stand Newcastle manager, Kenny Dalglish, and wanted them to lose.
So I went up to the Lake District for a day’s walking and managed to avoid learning the result until the Sunday paper was delivered.
Arsenal had equaled Manchester United’s record of winning the Double twice. Practically the whole 1998/99 season, in League and Cup, was a struggle between the two teams to become the first club to win it three times.
Before this reached a head in the semi-final, there was a sensation in Round Five involving Arsenal, who defeated Sheffield United thanks to a controversial goal, breaking the unwritten ‘rule’ about returning the ball to opponents who had knocked it out of play to allow medical treatment for an injured player. Manager Arsene Wenger offered to replay the game, which Arsenal won second time round.
Neck-and-neck in the Premier League, Arsenal and United were drawn together in the semi-final, where a properly dramatic draw would have paired them at Wembley. The game was goalless with David Elleray once again at the heart of controversy, disallowing a valid United goal over a misinterpretation of the offside rule.
This set the scene for the last ever semi-final replay. Ellary sent off United captain Roy Keane and disallowed an offside Arsenal winning goal. United saved a last minute penalty and the game was won in extra-time by a goal from Ryan Giggs that was immediately hailed as one of the greatest ever scored in Cup history.
United’s win prevented the first case of back-to-back Finals with identical teams since Blackburn Rovers vs Queen’s Park, in 1885 and 1886. They duly completed their Third Double in six seasons (and the fourth in that same period) before going on to win the Champions League Final, and complete the Treble that they had denied to Liverpool in 1977. Almost unnoticed, United extended their record as Cup Winners to ten. As the Cup-Winners Cup no longer existed, Newcastle United became the first English club to qualify for the UEFA Cup by this route.
Much was (unavailingly) expected and feared of the Millennium. For the Cup, it was a progression into the third Century of its existence, and it was also the seventy second and last Final to be played at the Empire Stadium Wembley, with its famous Twin Towers. To their everlasting shame, defending holders Manchester United withdrew from the Cup, the only winners to fail to defend their trophy. United were under pressure to play in the FIFA World Club Championship in South America, in the misguided belief that it would support the FA’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The Championship would have clashed with the Cup’s Fourth Round, and the suggestion that United muster a team of reserves and juniors for that Round – assuming they would reach it, which was not a given – was dismissed as an insult to the Cup. How that could have been worse than simply refusing to play – as holders – is hard to understand.
The FA Cup’s prestige was delivered a blow, by the people charged with maintaining its history and tradition. In one moment, that was discarded, and the Cup’s meaning, except for romantics such as myself, has diminished ever since.
To accommodate United’s absence from the Third Round draw, the FA opted to re-include a ‘lucky loser’, a random Second Round victim. This fell upon Darlington, the only club ever to get a second Cup life. They were promptly beaten by the eventual Finalists, Aston Villa.
There was a big shock in Round Five when League Two (i.e., fourth tier) club Gillingham beat Premier League Sheffield Wednesday, but their hopes were crushed in the quarter-finals by eventual winners, Chelsea.
With the demolition of the Empire Stadium, and its replacement to be paid for, the FA dispensed with the neutral ground tradition in favour of the increased gate money and brought the semi-finals to Wembley again. This was a foretaste of the eventual decision to make Wenbley the semi-finals’ permanent home. Chelsea kept Newcastle from reaching a third successive Final whilst Aston Villa reached their first Final since setting their seven win record in 1957, thanks to a penalty shoot-out.
But the last Old Wembley Final went to Chelsea, the claret and blue shirts finishing on the losing side as they had in the very first on that ground, with Roberto di Matteo scoring for Chelsea in the Final a second time.
So, for the first time in seventy-eight years, the Cup Final needed a new home. It was suggested that Old Trafford, Manchester, be used, as the stadium with the greatest capacity in England, but instead the FA chose to take the Final away from England, agreeing to utilise the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the five years it was estimated it would take for the new Wembley to be constructed (it would, in practice, take six years).
Manchester United returned to the competition they had dishonoured, winning 2-1 away at Fulham in the Third Round, but beaten in unusual circumstances at home by West Ham United in the Fourth Round, when an attempted bluff by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez failed to deter Paolo di Canio from scoring the only goal.
There was a shock in the Fifth Round thanks to second tier Tranmere Rovers, who came from 3-0 down to Premier League Southampton to win 4-3, thanks to a hat trick by former Southampton striker Paul Rideout, scorer of the winning goal in the 1995 Final for Everton, but it was overshadowed by fourth tier Wycombe Wanderers in the next round, by beating Leicester City 2-1, their late winner coming from a player who had only recently joined the club after seeing a newspaper advertisement.
Wycombe made history by becoming the first fourth tier team to reach the semi-finals, where they were only narrowly beaten by Liverpool, all three goals coming in the last twelve minutes.
The other semi-final was the third meeting at this stage between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Surprisingly, after the FA’s sincere concerns about capacity for such a meeting, the clubs managed perfectly well at Old Trafford, Manchester. Then again, Old Trafford did hold more than 70,000 by that time, so everybody was happy, except perhaps for the fans, with both sets of supporters having to travel over 250 miles – on the same routes – to reach the venue.
The Spurs fans were certainly the unhappiest: for once, their Cup affinity with years ending in 1 let them down.
The first wholly Twenty-First Century Cup saw the first Final to be held outside England. There was no score until Arsenal took the lead, twelve minutes from time, and looked to have secured the Cup, but two late goals from Michael Owen turned the game around, and it was Liverpool who ended the thirteenth decade as Cup-Winners, exactly as they had started it.
This was the fourth, and to date last Final that I missed watching, and for the same reason as 1998: Arsenal? Liverpool? What joy can be had from watching a Final where you desperately want both teams to lose, and one must win?
The FA Cup was now 130 years old. But at last it was beginning to show its years. It wasn’t just the indignities shown to it during its thirteenth decade, many of them practiced by the men who were supposed to be respecters and guardians of its heritage, record and glamour. But football as a whole underwent a massive change in the Nineties, thanks to Sky TV. Millions were poured into the game, much more than the game that had once been the province of sportsmanlike Public schoolboys and hard-nosed working class men alike had ever seen. And money changed everything, in many ways for the better but, for good or ill, it changed things irrevocably.
If it was about anything, Sky TV was about control, which came from exclusivity. But it couldn’t show the FA Cup exclusively. The Final was still a ‘Crown Jewel’, a Protected event that had to be shown free-to-air. So the Cup didn’t get what the Premier League and the Champions League got. These became the money-pots, the tournaments to win. Glamour is all very well, but it doesn’t pay for that new record signing who doesn’t know that once upon a time you won one of the most exciting FA Cup Finals ever.
This was demonstrated vividly by the scheduling of the Final. For the first time, the Final was deliberately scheduled to be played a week before the end of the League season. Though the day was cleared for the Final itself, nevertheless one final round of matches (with nothing but relegation to settle, Manchester United having won the League at a canter) was scheduled for the week after the Final.
The men who ran the FA betrayed the Cup, betrayed football, for the smell of the money. Weak men in power, a dangerous, indeed fatal combination. Nothing was safe in their hands, not if the chance of an extra buck was dangled before them. Everything was for sale, even the FA Cup.
This degradation of the Cup would only rise through its next, and last complete decade so far.
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley unless otherwise stated)
1991/92 Liverpool 2 Sunderland 0
1992/93 Arsenal 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
R: Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
1993/94 Manchester United 4 Chelsea 0
1994/95 Everton 1 Manchester United 0
1995/96 Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0
1996/97 Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0
1997/98 Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0
1998/99 Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0
1999/2000 Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 0
2000/01 Liverpool 2 Arsenal 1 (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff)
The third decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured only eleven clubs, and only five winners, this latter equalling only the previous decade. Manchester United, with three again, were the most successful team again, and there were two wins for Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Only Everton disturbed the ‘Big Four’ clubs in their dominance. Each of the ‘Big Four’ appeared in one losing Final as well as their wins, and, with the exception of Everton, each of the other one-timers went down to defeat, including Middlesbrough, the Decade’s only First-Tine Finalists. But Manchester United have to be the team of the decade, each of their three wins being Doubles and, in the case of the third of these, a Treble unprecedented amongst the major Leagues of Europe (a formulation chosen to obscure the fact that, in 1967, Glasgow Celtic had gone one better than everyone). ‘Big Four’ domination would continue into the next decade, as the romance of the Cup, and its unpredictability diminished even further.
The final decade of the FA Cup’s first century spanned the Sixties, a period of social change, of liberalisation, of optimism and incident. England won the World Cup. Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United won the European Cup-Winners Cup and Manchester United the European Cup. But these did not overshadow the competition that was still regarded as every British footballer’s dream. League Championships were harder to achieve, a more serious accomplishment. But nothing beat Wembley on a May Saturday afternoon, with the eyes of the whole country on you, and the thrill and dash that a Winners medal meant.
The World Cup aside, the Cup Final was England’s only live televised football game each year. It was the highlight of the season. And in their varying ways, the Finals of this decade lived up to the reputation of the fixture.
As it had ten years earlier, the decade began with Tottenham Hotspur retaining the Cup, only the fourth team ever to do so at that time. And they would go on to bring a European trophy to England for the first time, when they won the following season’s Cup-Winners Cup. Three other Cup winners this decade would emulate them.
The Final, played between the second and third placed League clubs that season, was downplayed in the Press, who nicknamed it the ‘Chessboard Final’ for being short on excitement and long on caution and tactics. However, statistics showed that the game had had more penalty area action and more saves than any other post-War Final. And the game was not without controversy as a second Burnley equaliser was ruled out for a very marginal offside, whilst the third Tottenham goal, a penalty converted for a goalline handball, was granted when the referee ignored his linesman flagging for a Spurs foul.
Burnley did enjoy one record from the game: their goal, scored by Jimmy Robson, was the 100th goal scored in a Wembley Cup Final.
This was the last Final to be played at a Wembley with uncovered terraces and, shades of the decade ahead, the last in which the winning captain called for the crowd to raise three cheers for Her Majesty the Queen, to be followed by the National Anthem, though the playing of this before and after the game would continue until 1971.
The following season,the Cup’s schedule was massively disrupted by the Big Freeze of 1963. Only three of the thirty-two Third Round ties were played on the day and the Round was not completed until 11 March, when the last outstanding tie was settled by a replay, in favour of eventual Finalists, Leicester City. This was two days after the originally scheduled date for the Sixth Round.
The draw was thrown into confusion by the haphazard manner in which ties were completed, and later rounds and draws were put back to try to accommodate the weather. One Fifth Round tie resulted in pairing eight teams in a sixteen-way possible outcome of as-yet-unplayed Third Round ties. The eventual winners, Manchester United, did not get to play their Third Round tie until 4 March.
The Final was eventually played on 27 May, three weeks after the original date, the latest the Cup Final has ever been played. United, who had reached the semi-final the previous season before being put out by Spurs, were decidedly the underdogs, having rescued themselves from relegation in only the penultimate match of the First Division season, but they brushed Leicester aside, condemning the Foxes to their third defeat in as many Finals. But no team had lost all their first four.
Though United’s red and Leicester’s blue tops did not clash, the clubs were asked to change by the BBC, as their shirts would not be distinguishable on black and white television. This was the first instance of television interfering with a football game for their benefit. Sadly, it would not end there.
For Manchester United, this was a turning point. The side that won the Cup – United’s first post-Munich trophy – was on the point of morphing into Matt Busby’s third great team, and United would set an incredible record of reaching five consecutive Cup semi-finals between 1962 and 1966, and another in 1970, though this would be their only win of the decade.
In 1964, they would be knocked out by the Winners, West Ham United, lifting the Cup for the first time, forty-one years after playing in the first Wembley Final. Their opponents were Preston North End, a decade on from their last Final, and providing the Second Division with a first finalist in fifteen years. They also included the youngest FA Cup finalist in seventeen year old half-back, Howard Kendall. But despite taking the lead twice, it was not their day, Ronnie Boyce heading the Hammers’ winning goal in the ninetieth minute.
The Cup was lifted by West Ham captain, Bobby Moore. It was the first step in a unique treble for Moore who would lead West Ham to victory in the Cup-Winners Cup Final, at Wembley, twelve months on, before raising the World Cup as captain of England, in the summer of 1966.
A second first-time Winner was inevitable in 1965, with a War of the Roses Final between Leeds United, reaching their first Final, and Liverpool, unsuccessful in two appearances going back over fifty-one years. For the first time since 1947, extra-time was required to separate the teams, after the Final finished goalless in normal time. Liverpool would reach the following season’s Cup-Winners Cup Final, but would lose out to Borussia Dortmund, in a game which I am sure was televised live in Britain: it was the first televised football I was aware of, even if I wasn’t particularly watching it.
The old Wembley hoodoo that had affected so many Fifties Finals nearly struck again, with Liverpool full-back Gerry Byrne suffering a broken collarbone in a seventh minute collision, though he played all 120 minutes, unaware of the severity of his injury. For Leeds, Jimmy Greenhoff finished on the losing side but would collect a Winners medal twelve years later, for Manchester United, ironically against Liverpool.
Less pleasant was the experience of Leeds’ South African winger, Albert Johanneson, the first black player to play in the Final. Johanneson was subjected to appalling racist abuse from before he even got onto the field, which went unchecked throughout the game.
With the World Cup looming on the very near horizon, it would have been very easy for the 1966 Final to be overshadowed, yet Everton and Sheffield Wednesday produced an amazing game to stake their own claim to fame under the Twin Towers. There’s a famous story that when Princess Margaret was introduced to the teams before kick-off, she asked Brian Labone, the Everton captain, where Everton was actually from. When told it was Liverpool, she replied, ‘Ah, yes, we had your first team here last year.’
Sheffield Wednesday were out to record their first victory in thirty-two years, and looked to be well on course when they went 2-0 up in the second half. But Everton responded with three goals in fifteen minutes to overturn their Yorkshire opponents and record their own first victory in thirty-three years.
By doing so they became only the second, and last, team, after Blackpool in 1953, to recover from a two goal deficit and win the Cup in normal time, whilst Wednesday became the only team to lose such an advantage whilst retaining eleven fit players on the pitch.
Like Jimmy Greenhoff the preceding year, Wednesday’s Jim McCalliog would go on to claim a Winners medal a decade later, this time playing against Manchester United.
For reasons that are not now apparent, this season was the first of three in which the Third Round was pushed back into the second half of January, instead of being played on its first Saturday. Indeed, for the next two seasons, that honour would be vested in the Second Round.
The first post-World Cup tournament began with an unusual North East Derby in the First Round as non-Leaguers Blyth Spartans and Bishop Auckland fought four games for the right to progress, only for Auckland to be hammered 7-0 by Halifax Town in the next round (in a replay, of course). Manchester United, after reaching the semi final five years in a row, were put out in the Fourth Round at home by then bogey-team, Norwich City.
Amazingly, given the profusion of clubs in the Capital, it had taken ninety-five years to produce a London Derby Final: inevitably nicknamed the ‘Cockney Cup Final’. Tottenham Hotspur made it five out of five, despite a late consolation goal from their West London rivals, Chelsea, whose record was now nought out of two.
This was the first Cup Final of which I watched any part, a large chunk of the second half and I still have vague memories of seeing what my memory insists as being the Chelsea goal, but which was actually Spurs’ second and winner from Frank Saul. This was the first Final in which substitutes were named, following the long overdue change in the Laws, though at this time they were only allowed on for injury, so neither featured in the game.
Having partially broken my duck the previous season, I would watch the whole Cup Final in 1968 for the first time, beginning a personal association with and love for the Cup that has lasted all my life. In all the years that have followed, I have only failed to watch the Final on four occasions, for varying reasons.
In part, my decision to devote the afternoon to the game came out of cupidity. Foolishly, I had a bet on the result with a schoolmate. I say foolishly because I had committed to the prize of 3d without establishing who was betting on who. I wanted the favourites, Everton, but was forced into supporting the underdogs, West Bromwich Albion.
Satisfaction came early in extra-time, when Jeff Astle drove in the only goal, not that I ever got to see my winnings. There’s no honour in gambling.
Astle’s goal saw him join the limited ranks of those who have scored in every round of the Cup, whilst his team-mate Dennis Clarke became the first substitute to come on in a Final. And the midlanders created a new record with this game, becoming the first team to appear in ten Finals, although irony must record that, having established this landmark, WBA have never reached the Final since.
And a thought must be spared for Howard Kendall, now a part of the classic Everton midfield trio with Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, once again on the losing side. Like so many tremendously talented footballers, he was never to know the thrill of winning the Cup.
The Cup returned to normal in 1968/69, at least as far as the Third Round went. The tournament itself was again affected by weather as snow in early February wiped out the entire Fifth Round, the only time a Round has not seen any match played on schedule. The Cup itself this season was notable for producing no Second Replays at any stage, and when the semi-finals were drawn, there was the prospect of an immediate repeat for the 1968 Final. But both Everton and West Brom were beaten by goals coming in the last five minutes of each tie, and it was Manchester City and Leicester who contended the 1969 Final.
Though City had struggled in the First Division for a long time, they were still reigning League Champions, whilst Leicester were still far from free of relegation concerns, and no team had ever lost their first four FA Cup Finals. But a first half goal gave City the Cup, and Leicester’s failure in their outstanding League fixtures saw them go down, only the second club to undergo relegation and Cup Final defeat in the same season: ironically, the only other club had been City themselves, in 1926.
Leicester became, and remain, the Cup’s least successful Finalists, with four defeats and no wins. Manchester City would go on to become the third English team to win the Cup-Winners Cup, though ironically, their success would be all but invisible outside Manchester (and I have met at least one City fan unaware of their only European triumph), thanks to the FA Cup. And City’s manager, Joe Mercer, became the first person to win both League and Cup as player and as manager.
Long ago, I heard a fascinating FA Cup question: what is taken to Wembley every year but never used? The answer is, of course, the ribbons in the losing team’s colours. Since the Final was first housed at the Empire Stadium, the same could have been said about the name of the Replay venue. At last, after forty-eight years, a Wembley Cup Final ended as a draw, fifty-eight years after the last such, and a replay was duly required, at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Old Trafford had been the venue for the Khaki Cup Final in 1915, when Chelsea had lost the first of their two appearances. Once again, the Cup was guaranteed a first-time Winner as the Blues measured up against Leeds United.
In 1970, England were to defend their World Cup crown, in the unfamiliar settings of Mexico. In order to give the squad a month to acclimatise to the heat and the atmospheric conditions, the season was shortened and the Cup set for 11 April. Three weeks elapsed between the Third and Fourth Rounds, and the Sixth Round and the semi-finals, but only two weeks each between the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth.
Manchester United reached their sixth semi-final in nine years but were beaten in a second replay by Leeds, by the only goal in 330 minutes play.
The early Final meant that the game was played only a week after the Horse of the Year Show, and this showed in the appalling condition of the surface, which was directly responsible for at least one of the goals in a 2-2 draw, Jack Charlton’s header from a corner simply not bouncing, and rolling under what would normally have been a routine goalline clearance.
Because of the compression of the season, it was not possible to schedule the Replay for another eighteen days, making this the longest Final on record. Again Leeds took the lead, and again Chelsea equalised, but it was not until extra-time that they scored the winner, taking the lead for the first time over the 240 minutes of the two games. Chelsea would compound their first Cup win by becoming the fourth English winners of the Cup-Winners Cup, knocking out Manchester City in the semi-finals (revenge for defeat at City’s hands in the next season’s Fourth Round) and, ironically, requiring a replay to add their European trophy.
As for Manchester City, their Cup-Winners Cup Final was played the same night as the Cup Final Replay: no television coverage, no fuss and ado.
The Replay attracted 28,000,000 viewers, an audience exceeded only by the 1966 World Cup Final in sporting events and the sixth highest television audience of all time in Britain. Chelsea’s Peter Osgood was the last player to date to score in every round of the Cup. The games themselves were representative of an era of hard and often brutal challenges on the pitch: it has subsequently estimated by referee David Elleray that, in the modern era, six red and twenty yellow cards would have been issued, but the matches have also been defended for the fact that no-one dived and no-one tried to get an opponent sent off.
For the first time, a Third and Fourth Place Final was introduced, played on the Friday evening before the Final. Manchester United won this unwanted honour, beating Watford 2-0. It was not an innovation that would last: the match would only be played five times before being abandoned as the unwanted and ill-considered thing it was.
It had taken sixty-three years to come up with a Twentieth Century Double. It took only ten more to come up with another. Arsenal secured the first half of their Double on the Monday night, away ironically to Spurs, and added the Cup in the hot Wembley sunshine after a goalless ninety minutes. Although the Final is remembered mostly for the pile-driver winning shot from Charlie George, and his highly distinctive celebration, a forerunner of the modern era, I’ve always thought that Steve Heighway’s opening goal was the more important of the game.
I’d actually seen Heighway, the first graduate footballer of note, score for Skelmersdale United at Droylsden only twelve months before. Twelve months and a considerable number of levels later, he swept in from the left with the ball and, with the Arsenal keeper Bob Wilson anticipating the ball across goal, slammed his shot through the wide-open gap between Wilson and his near post. It created a shockwave, as if it were the first goal ever scored at the near post, and it changed the face of football in an instant. No keeper ever left that kind of gap at his near post ever again.
Arsenal’s Eddie Kelly became first substitute to score in a Final, though the Arsenal equaliser was celebrated on the day as belonging to George Graham (who made no bones about claiming it). His opposite number, Peter Thompson, became the first Cup Final substitute to be brought on for tactical reasons.
In the Third Place Play-Off, Stoke City beat Everton 3-2.
The FA Cup had now been in existence for one hundred seasons.
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley, unless otherwise stated)
1961/62 Tottenham Hotspur 3 Burnley 1
1962/63 Manchester United 3 Leicester City 1
1963/64 West Ham United 3 Preston North End 2
1964/65 Liverpool 2 Leeds United 1 (aet)
1965/66 Everton 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2
1966/67 Tottenham Hotspur 2 Chelsea 1
1967/68 West Bromwich Albion 1 Everton 0 (aet)
1968/69 Manchester City 1 Leicester City 0
1969/70 Chelsea 2 Leeds United 2 (aet)
R: Chelsea 2 Leeds United 1 (aet) (Old Trafford, Manchester)
1970/71 Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1 (aet)
The final decade of the FA Cup’s first century featured twelve clubs and nine winners, including two first-time Winners. Only Tottenham Hotspur won the Cup twice in this period, although Everton, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leeds United and Leicester City would also reach Wembley twice, the latter two losing on both occasions. There were three First-Time Winners in this decade plus another First-Time Finalist, who would go on to lift the Cup, and one representative of the second Division. The decade saw the only occasion since the Cup came to the Twin Towers of the Empire Stadium when the Cup was presented away from Wembley, the honour going to Old Trafford on the first time a Wembley Cup Final ended in a draw. By the time this situation was repeated, Wembley itself was the nominated Replay venue, leaving Old Trafford with a unique status. The 1965 Liverpool/Leeds Final became the first in eighteen years to need extra time, but once this barrier had been crossed, three of the last four Finals of this period would require extra-time, as would that Replay.
Years of change. The biggest of all was the Great War, causing the FA Cup to be suspended for four seasons, but when Football resumed its place in post-War society, it too would undergo drastic change, moving towards the game as we would know it for most of the rest of the Century.
There was no sign of any of the changes that were to come when the Cup moved into its fifth decade. Barnsley, defeated two years earlier by Newcastle United, reached their second Final and this time won the Cup, although they again needed a Replay, and actually lifted the trophy considerably nearer to home, in Sheffield, at Bramall Lane.
This was the third successive Final to go to a Replay, which led to some Press rumblings, exactly as it did when the same thing occurred in the 1980s. Neither side played well, though you have to feel sympathetic towards West Brom who, due to a series of postponements from early in the League season, had to play seven games in ten days, one of those between the Final and its replay. Even then, Barnsley’s winner came with only two minutes of extra-time remaining, and with it presumably the prospect of a Second Replay. Only one Final has been decided at a later point than this game.
Barnsley also became the third Second Division team to lift the Cup. The gate, at the Crystal Palace, was 54,000. The fluctuating nature of crowds at the Final, which was still on a pay-at-the-gate basis, was re-emphasised the following season, when Aston Villa again attracted a six-figure gate, a new record of just under 122,000. Only one other Final has attracted more.
Villa’s single goal victory over first-time Finalists Sunderland saw them draw level with Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers as five times Cup-winners. This came despite having a penalty saved with the game still goalless. That event would not be repeated for seventy-five years.
There would be one more season where the Cup remained unaffected. There were still two Preliminary Rounds, still five Qualifying Rounds, still four Rounds Proper. There was still the uneven division of byes among the forty League teams, and still the extensive extension of byes into the First Round Proper extended to non-League clubs, in theory inferior of status to the Second Division.
Not all of these byes went to the Southern League. The 1913/14 season saw one such place handed to an amateur club, London Caledonians, a club composed almost exclusively of Scots exiled to the capital. The amateurs played in, had been founders in 1905 of the Isthmian League, senior among a group of similarly Hellenic-titled Leagues based in London and the Home Counties, staunchly defending the amateur principal. London Caledonians would fold in 1939, but the Isthmian League would remain resolutely amateur until the distinction was abolished in 1970, and beyond, and the League persists today, long better known by its sponsors, as the Rymans League.
Burnley won that last pre-war Cup, the last to be played at the Crystal Palace, beating fellow first-time Finalists Liverpool by the only goal. It would take Liverpool over fifty years to finally win the Cup.
On 28 July, 1914, what became known as the Great War and, decades after, the First World War was declared, before either the Football League or FA Cup seasons had begun. That the season was allowed to be started, and was played out in full, demonstrated the relative lack of seriousness with which the War initially taken. By the time of the Final in April, the situation changed. The Final was moved from London to Old Trafford, Manchester, to avoid disruption to travel in and around London. The choice of venue was unfair to the losing Finalists, Chelsea, who had already had to travel to Blackburn for semi-final, but the War had not been over by Xmas and grim years were ahead. The game was won 3-0 by Sheffield United, and has gone down in history as the Khaki Cup Final, reflecting the number of men in battledress among the crowd. That crowd numbered less than 50,000 (travel restrictions, mobilisation). There has never been a Cup Final gate that low since.
Chelsea would finally win the Cup fifty-five years later, ironically at Old Trafford again. The last Cup, before all sport was suspended for the duration, the FA Cup set to one side, and professionalism temporarily banned, had seen entrants rise sufficiently for there again to be need of a Sixth Qualifying Round.
It’s an interesting point to question whether football, and sport should have been suspended as it was. True, local matches still took place, but organised football was shut down completely, unlike during the Second World war, where regionalised War-time Leagues and Cups abounded. Though the war in the trenches had already settled down to the grim torture of four years, there was no realistic threat of the hostilities extending to Britain. It was the ongoing jingoistic attitude to the War that prevailed. White feathers were still being handed out to able-bodied men in the street, mostly by women who were completely ignorant of what they were demanding. To play football was unpatriotic. Whilst men at the Front pleaded for the game to carry on, to give them something to look forward to when home, in England the Press was scathing, public meetings called for the game to cease and Football was branded as the single most powerful reason why yooung men were not signing-up. That it might have been morale-boosting, as was recognised in World War 2, never entered anyone’s heads.
The War ended on 11 November 1918, the forty-seventh anniversary of the Cup’s first ever round, far too late for any organised football that season. Things returned to normal the following year, with the same format in place, in both League and Cup. Sheffield United handed back the trophy after holding it for five years, in time for Aston Villa to beat Huddersfield Town by a single, extra-time goal, at the Cup’s new, short-lived home of Stamford Bridge. It was thus fortunate that Villa had defeated Chelsea in the semi-final.
Villa’s victory meant that they had won the Cup for a sixth time, a new record that saw them move past Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. They would hold, singly and jointly, the record for most wins for sixty-one years, a record unlikely ever to be beaten.
But elsewhere, the Football League had ambitions to expand, and in the summer of 1920, it re-structured itself. It had already expanded itself to two Divisions of twenty-two each the year after the War (with Arsenal securing a First Division place despite having finished the last pre-war season fifth in Division 2: this feat was achieved through bribery, as was later admitted. Arsenal have never left the top level since). Now, however, it added a Third Division, of twenty-two clubs, by simply absorbing the entire Southern League First Division, en masse.
As a consequence, the Cup underwent a change. Its format was retained, but the two Preliminary and Six Qualifying Rounds now produce a total of twelve survivors to join fifty-two of the now sixty-four League Clubs. Nine Third Division sides entered at the First Round Proper, the other thirteen in the Qualifying Rounds. As did Second Division Leeds United, a club a year old, formed from the ashes of the pre-War Leeds City, forcibly disbanded by the FA for illegal war-time payments to players. As the Club had only one year’s existence, in the Midland League, before being elected directly into the Second Division, they had to start from the First Qualifying Round.
The Cup was won by Tottenham Hotspur, by now a League club. It was the first time the Cup had come to London since Spurs’ previous victory, exactly twenty years ago.
The modern structure of the FA Cup was almost in place now. Though the system of byes into later stages was still complex and partial, the Rounds were there. All it would need would be to convert the last two Qualifying Rounds into the first two Proper Rounds, which would happen in the next decade, to reach the present format, and the League’s great expansion, over the last season of its fifth decade and the first of its sixth would create the conditions for the competition we know to finally be attained.
(all Finals prior to the First World War played at Crystal Palace, all post-War at Stamford Bridge, unless otherwise stated)
1911/12 Barnsley 0 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet)
R: Barnsley 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet) (Bramall Lane, Sheffield)
1912/13 Aston Villa 1 Sunderland 0
1913/14 Burnley 1 Liverpool 0
1914/15 Sheffield United 3 Chelsea 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)
1919/20 Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town (aet)
1920/21 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
The fifth decade was reduced to only six Finals, with eleven different finalists. Only Aston Villa appeared twice, setting a new record of six wins, overtaking Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. Five clubs appeared in their first Final, though only Burnley would lift the trophy. The other four clubs would all go on to win the Cup in the future, though Liverpool would have to wait another half-century before they could add their name to the Roll of Honour. Besides Burnley, only Barnsley were first-time winners, the latter the third Second Division club to achieve this: neither team has won the Cup since.
It’s FA Cup Semi-final weekend coming up and, since Manchester United have chosen yet again not to future-proof their station as most prolific Cup Winners (stuck on 11 since 2004), I’ve an unenviable weekend ahead.
On Saturday, I’ll be cheering on my temporary allegiances to their first Cup Final appearance, and on Sunday I will reluctantly be cheering on a team that I loathe and despise to beat a team that I loathe and despise even more, in the sure and certain knowledge that whichever of these loathsome and despicable clubs actually do win, they’re odds on favourites to nail down the Cup against my short-term soft-spot.
But, as a lifelong Cup enthusiast and a collector of Cup statistics, not to mention a Mancunian with a perpetual liking for Wigan Athletic – whom I recall playing in Non-League football – I’ll be singing them on to be number 56, with no real hope that they will also be number 43.
What do these numbers mean? Given that Wigan are the only team in the semi-finals not to have reached the Cup Final, the first of these numbers becomes self-explanatory: a win for Wigan over Millwall (who, themselves are number 54) will make the ‘Latics the 56th team to reach the FA Cup Final since those long-lost days of amateur and public school clubs and the meeting of Wanderers and Royal Engineers in 1872/3.
And with that definition, it should be simple to work out that if they were to actually prevail over either Chelsea or Manchester City, Wigan will become the 43rd team to win the oldest Football competition in the world.
First Time Finalists seem to have come along on a semi-regular basis in recent years. I remember that, when I first started studying such statistics, the relevant figures were 52 and 42: 52 different finalists and only ten in all that time who had never won the Cup. But since then there has been Middlesbrough (1997), Millwall (2004) and Stoke City (2011) to extend the list, altering the balance back towards the scenario I’d have envisaged.
New winners are a rarer breed, the last one having come along in 1988, when Wimbledon became the second First Time Winners in successive seasons (after Coventry City). If Wigan do reach the Final, it’s Lawrie Sanchez who holds the door of hope open for them: everybody but everybody expected an absolute slating by Liverpool, and a second Double, but the Dons won, and became the first Wembley Finalists to save a penalty kick on the way.
Wimbledon’s win upset an awful lot of apple-carts. For one thing, they became the fastest League-entrants-to-Cup-Winners in over a century, their victory coming in only the Club’s eleventh season in League football, and no-one had won the Cup faster than that since the Football League ended its eleventh season!
But then Wimbledon set their own record too, when the Football League allowed them to sell up and decamp to Milton Keynes: up till that point, only the first eight Cup Winners, the amateurs and gentlemen of the Victorian Age, and the unlikely northern upstarts, Blackburn Olympia, had ceased to exist and to no longer participate in the FA Cup, and here were Wimbledon, going that same route. The improbability of this in the modern era is further delineated by the recent revival of Wanderers as an amateur club: first winners, and the first team to win 2, 3 4 and 5 FA Cups are back with us whilst the last team to do it a first time no longer exist.
Discounting them for the moment, there are 46 professional clubs that can claim an FA Cup Final in their history, and 33 who record wins on their Roll of Honour.
Let’s not forget that, on Saturday, Millwall will be out to deny Wigan’s addition to the rolls. If they do, then they too will affect FA Cup History. They, like Wigan, would be bidding to be Winners number 43, but if they lose they would be diverted into a smaller and much more exclusive group, which currently numbers three, and which has been confined to that set of three since 1972: Clubs who have lost more than just a single Cup Final and never won the trophy.
When Leeds United won the Cup for the only time in 1972 they left behind Queens Park, Glasgow, Birmingham City (two apiece) and Leicester City, unwilling holders of the unwanted record of four FA Cup Finals and four defeats. A Millwall final and defeat would join them to Birmingham and Queens Park.
But there’s more fun, as well as County pride, to be had from Wigan Athletic increasing the ranks of those teams to have reached The Cup Final and, as Wimbledon once demonstrated, maybe another unlikely winner can break that 25 year barren spell.