Up for t’Cup: 2011 – 2016

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.

Up for t’Cup – 1982 – 91

The 96. We will never forget.

In the second decade of its second century, the FA Cup moved on, serene and unmoved, the nation’s showcase, the only live televised match in every season. But things were beginning to change, slowly, subtly. In this decade, the Cup would lose that unique feature, as the BBC and ITV, working in concert for a short time, negotiated for live televised League football: the BBC on Friday evenings, ITV on Sunday afternoons.
The competitions were different in style and content. But now that the viewer didn’t have to wait twelve months, and was more likely to see his and her own team, more than once, a little bit of the gloss began to wear off.
For a second year in a row, the Cup Final required a replay to be resolved, once again in favour of Tottenham Hotspur who, exactly twenty-five years after Aston Villa had set a new record, won their seventh Cup, out of seven Finals. No other team had appeared in so many Finals without ever losing. Queen’s Park Rangers were first time Finalists, the first of three in successive seasons, all of whom would go down to defeat. They were also the fifth Second Division team to reach the Final in the span of a decade, but this unusual period of opportunity for the lower tier ended here, and Second tier teams have only made occasional, well-spaced appearances, forever on the losing side. It should also be noted that this was the fourth London Derby Final.
On a personal level, this was the first Final I had missed since becoming a Cup fan in 1968: I was undergoing a revulsion against football and refusing to watch it at all. It was a political revulsion: the country was in the throes of desperate recession, yet football slung its money around heedlessly, and I was too disgusted to want to participate. So I went out for the day on Cup Final day and resolutely ignored the Thursday night replay (though I did crack at half-time and watch the last 45 minutes, which were as dull and sterile as the match reports suggested the two games were overall). My revulsion didn’t last – I am, after all, a football fan – and I would never boycott the cup Final again, at least not for that reason.
If Manchester United hadn’t reached the Cup Final the following season, maybe my disgust about football would have lasted longer. But Ron Atkinson’s United made it all the way for the fourth time in eight seasons, and Jimmy Melia’s Brighton, appearing for the first time, made it a total media circus.
There was so much to get pissed off about. Melia, a 48-year-old, near-bald disco-frequenter, got all over the press, even to the extent of Brighton forgoing the traditional coach ride to Wembley in favour of flying the players in by helicopter (this form of travel has not been repeated – the road to Wembley means exactly that).
Worst of all was the Brighton media frenzy over their captain and central defender Steve Foster. Foster was already walking a tightrope when Brighton reached Wembley, being only one booking away from a suspension that would cause him to miss the Final. Needless to say, in the last match that would count towards suspensions, Foster picked up a booking – for arguing with the referee. Allegedly, he spent the remaining fifteen minutes of the game trying to provoke the referee into a sending-off that would invoke a longer suspension, but one that would be served immediately, except the referee wouldn’t play ball.
So Foster was out of the Final. United were similarly affected, with Micky Thomas serving a one-match ban, but Brighton resorted to going to law to try to get Foster’ suspension lifted, claiming it was against natural justice for League bookings to affect Cup games. They lost, and Foster missed the game.
For much of the Final, it looked like they wouldn’t miss him. Brighton opened the scoring but fell behind in the second half. The equaliser was scored by Frank Stapleton, scorer of Arsenals second goal against United in 1979, the first player to score goals for two different Clubs in Cup Finals.
I was watching the Final in Nottingham, staying with a mate down there: we visited his sister on the Saturday because she had a TV: when Ray Wilkins curled in the second, I went up shouting and her 10-year old daughter came in, eagerly asking ‘Who’s scored? Who’s scored?’, whilst her amused mother called, ‘Who do you think has scored?’
But a late equaliser sent the game into extra-time, and Brighton should have won the Cup in the last minute of extra-time. ‘And Smith must score!’ shouted the commentator, as Gordon Smith, scorer of the opening Brighton goal, shot straight at United keeper Gary Bailey. The line was later adopted as title to the Brighton fanzine.
So for a third year in a row, a Replay was required, again at Wembley, and the press made noises about Finals not being decided on the day, exactly as they had in 1910-12, when this has previously happened (although probably in less elegant language). Brighton restored Foster to their line-up, only to concede three first-half goals, two of which involved very strange decisions by Foster (dropping to one knee instead of contesting the header by which Norman Whiteside scored United’s second, and making no attempt to clear the loose ball that Bryan Robson knocked in for the third).
For the third season in a row, the Replay featured a penalty, put away easily by Arnold Muhren, the first Dutchman to score in a Cup Final. United’s 4-0 victory was the highest victory margin at Wembley, and the third highest victory margin in a final of all time. It has since been equalled twice, the first time by United themselves.
In 1984, for the first time in four years, to great press relief, the Final was concluded on the day, with not even extra-time required. Watford, the third successive first-time Finalists, became the third in a row to lose their only Final to date (though as I write, they are semi-finalists this year, and might even end up facing Everton again). Goals in each half secured the Cup, although the second was controversial, with scorer Andy Grey later admitting he had not made contact with the ball but headed keeper Steve Sherwood’s hands, bouncing the ball out of them into the net. Sherwood arrived at Wembley with a reputation as a ‘dodgy keeper’ and the BBC commentary immediately followed that line, blaming him for what should have been given as a foul.
Everton went on to win the European Cup-Winners Cup the following season, the fifth English club to do so, and the first for fourteen years after the early English successes. The Cup was their first major trophy since winning the League in 1970, and the first in a series of eight trophies in four seasons, the club’s most successful period in their history.
Notoriously, the Cup-holders, Manchester United, were knocked out in the Third Round, at AFC Bournemouth, then of the Third Division.
In a previous entry in this series, I mentioned an unusual link between this Final and that twenty-five years earlier, when Nottingham Forest beat Luton Town. Forest’s opening goal had been scored by winger Roy Dwight before he was carried off with a broken leg. His nephew Reg showed no aptitude for the game though, like the vast majority of us, that didn’t stop him from becoming a keen supporter, in his case of Watford. By the 1984 Cup Final, Reg Dwight was Chairman of Watford FC, though under his professional name, which we all know is Elton John.
The following season was to end in a momentous and tragic event that had long-term implications for the Cup. Perhaps prophetically, there was a shock in the Third Round when Leicester City began their Cup campaign by beating non-League Burton Albion 6-1 away. The shock was not the result, but the FA’s decision to declare the game void, and order it to be replayed, behind closed doors, after the Burton goalkeeper had been hit by a bottle thrown by the away fans. Leicester regained their Fourth Round place by a much less impressive margin of victory, a 1-0 win, only to be knocked out by Millwall in the Fifth Round.
On paper, the meeting of two aggressive, entertaining, attacking teams was certain to make for a superb Final. On grass, neither Everton nor Manchester United shone, and though the winning goal was fit to grace any Final, it was really the only footballing moment of the game to recall. The 1985 Final would be memorable for different things.
For Everton, the chance was there not only to win successive Cups, a thing only achieved by four teams before them, but to complete not merely the Double – they were the new League Champions – but also a unique Treble: on the Wednesday before the Final, the Merseysiders won the Cup-Winners Cup.
This put United into almost the same position as they had been in 1977, when they had faced Liverpool, aiming to be the spoilers in this arrangement. Indeed, they had put out Liverpool in the semi-final, after a replay, thus postponing the never achieved Merseyside Derby Final, albeit by only one year.
Now, as then, they would succeed, Norman Whiteside breaking the deadlock in extra-time goal with a beautifully created looping shot that curled around Neville Southall. But by then United had played over forty minutes with ten men, the first team in the era of substitutes to be thus reduced, not through injury, but through the first ever Cup Final sending-off.
As a United fan, I have always had mixed feelings about Kevin Moran’s dismissal. Under current interpretations, and for many years, it would be inarguable. But this was still 1985, and to be frank, worse challenges had been excused by Cup Final referees, and worse ones would follow without punishment (e.g., Paul Gascoigne in 1991).
But I had been warned to watch out for the referee before the game by a Manchester City-supporting mate who, after a recent game at Maine Road, described the ref as a ‘showboater’, wanting to be front and centre, wanting to get his name in the Press (which is why, whenever I refer to this game, I refuse to give him that credit). The moment Moran brought down Reid with a clumsy challenge, I knew the ref could not resist becoming the official who sent off the first player in a Final.
United’s team included eight of the players who had won the Cup two years previously, and one survivor from the 1977 Cup-Winning side. They were also the first Cup-Winning team to consist entirely of full Internationals, including substitute Mike Duxbury, who came on to play extra-time.
This was the last Final at the Empire Stadium to have a full-capacity official attendance of 100,000. An increasing concern with Safety Regulations would henceforth reduce capacity to a maximum of 98,000 fans.
Because of Everton’s success, both teams should have gone into the Cup-Winners Cup the following season, but on the Wednesday after the Final, the European Cup Final was played at the Heysel Stadium. Disaster struck, and English clubs were banned from European competition. Quite rightly so: irrespective of which club was directly involved, we had become killers, and we needed to be quarantined.
Several qualifying clubs disagreed, and sued to overturn the ban, United shamefully among them. Their claims were dismissed. Five Cup Winners would be denied entry to Europe. By then, the English game would have been affected by a far greater disaster.
For now, the Cup proved it could maintain interest even without the prize of European competition at the end of it. Wembley sufficed, and flourished.
Given that, for most of not all of the century, London had averaged five First Division teams every year, it was something of a surprise that it was 95 years after the cup was established before there was a London Derby Final. Given that Sod’s Law invariably applied every time both teams in a two-club city reached the semi-finals, it’s not at all surprising that it took 114 years to produce a Merseyside Derby Final (after 145 years, Manchester still hasn’t managed it). Everton were appearing in their third successive Final, the first team since Blackburn Rovers in the 1880s to achieve this, and Liverpool, who had succeeded them as League Champions, were looking to win the Double.
Indeed, up until the final game of the League season, a week earlier, both sides were in for the Double, as Everton were challenging their neighbours for the title, finishing second by only two points.
Despite Everton taking the lead with a goal from Gary Lineker, the season’s leading goalscorer, Liverpool came back in the second half with two goals from Ian Rush and a third from the Australian Craig Johnson to become the fifth Club to do the Double, fifteen years after Arsenal’s success which, in respect of the Cup, had come at Liverpool’s expense.
Liverpool’s Cup Final Squad included only one English player, Steve McMahon, who was relegated to the bench and was not required during the game. Liverpool thus became the first club to win the Cup without a single English player.
This was the first Final since 1949 (excluding replays) to have an official gate under six figures, the Empire Stadium’s capacity having been reduced to 98,000 on safety grounds. That it should be a Final featuring these two sides is a deep and bitter irony, in light of what was so soon to transpire at Hillsborough, in Sheffield.
In 1987, for the fourth time in six years, a First-Time Finalist graced Wembley’s lush grass, in the shape of Coventry City: not merely First-Time Finalists but a club that had never before (nor since) passed the quarter-finals.
Few Finalists have been bigger favourites than Tottenham Hotspur. They were the Cup specialists, seven wins and no defeats, and looking to end Aston Villa’s long record as the record holders. Spurs also boasted the season’s leading scorer, Clive Allen, who had been the first player for 27 years to pass 40 goals in the season, and his record of 49 goals, though inferior to Dixie Dean (who scored 60 in the League alone), has not been troubled since.
For the second successive Final, the season’s leading scorer would open the scoring, only two minutes into the game, but for the second successive Final he would end up on the losing side. Coventry equalised within five minutes, with a goal from Dave Bennett, a member of the Manchester City side beaten in 1981 by Spurs, though Gary Mabbutt restored their lead before half-time.
Coventry equalised again with one of the most spectacular Cup Final goals of all-time, Keith Houchen’s horizontal diving header, but it would be Mabbutt who decided the fate of the Cup in extra-time, diverting a cross into his own net, to join Bert Turner and Tommy Hutchison in scoring for both sides in the Final. All three ended on the losing side.
This was also the first Final for which two substitutes were permitted for each side, although Coventry only used one of their allotment. Both Spurs subs entered the field of play, with Gary Stevens becoming the first Cup Final player to wear a no. 14 shirt since the 1-22 numbering introduced in the 1933 Final.
But if Coventry’s win had been a shock, it was nothing to that of Wimbledon the following year. Indeed, Wimbledon’s triumph over Liverpool – League Champions and bidding to become the first team to win a second Double – was a shock unmatched in modern times except by Sunderland’s win over Leeds in 1973, and perhaps only by Preston North End’s defeat by West Bromwich Albion in the 1887 Final in the whole of Cup history. BBC commentator John Motson, in a not-at-all-contrived-in-advance comment, described it as ‘the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club’.
For a second time in a decade, I missed much, though not all of this Final, not out of any political expression, but rather out of a more personal distraction: by the time I got back downstairs, Lawrie Sanchez had already scored the goal that would make Wimbledon the 42nd Cup-Winners, though I was just in time to see Dave Beasant – the first goalkeeper to captain a Cup-Winning team – save John Aldridge’s penalty, the first Cup Final penalty ever to be saved.
Wimbledon’s wholly unexpected victory was achieved in only their eleventh season as a Football League club, a run that had seen them secure four promotions and one relegation. Not since the eleventh year after the creation of the Football League had a club won the Cup after so short a time, Wimbledon being in only their second season in the First Division. They were also only the third team to win both the FA Cup and the FA Amateur Cup.
Sadly, Wimbledon also hold a much less enviable record. As of 2015, fifty-four clubs have reached the Cup Final, among whom forty-three have won the Cup. The first seven Cup Winners have ceased to exist: in 2002, Wimbledon, after years of ground shares and decreasing crowds, were transferred to Milton Keynes, and re-named accordingly. The new MK Dons did not acquire Wimbledon’s trophy record, though they have since laid a claim to it, and the current AFC Wimbledon is a separate club in all but support, making Wimbledon the Cup-Winners the only team since the Nineteen Century to go out of existence.
In the tournament as a whole, after several years without multiple replays, there were four-game marathon ties in the Second and Third Rounds, whilst this Final was the last to be broadcast simultaneously by both BBC and ITV, with the former purchasing exclusive rights to the competition, to open the era of competitive bidding that has done so much to both enhance and damage the game and, sadly, the Cup itself.
Ironically, on the back of successive First-Time Winners, there would be only two instances in the next twenty years – both by multiple-Cup Winners – that the trophy would not be shared amongst Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.
After taking 114 years to produce a Merseyside Derby Final, bizarrely it took only three more to produce a second. But that’s not what the Cup will be remembered for in 1989. No matter how enjoyable the Final, how great a game, played in an atmosphere of warmth and togetherness, even between bitter rivals, the only thing the 1989 Cup will be remembered for is Hillsborough: the greatest tragedy in English football.
What happened in Sheffield that day is so great a matter that it can only be fleetingly addressed in a series of this nature. It is a condemnation of this country, and especially of the Police, that it has taken twenty-seven years before a genuine and honest examination of the tragedy can have taken place, and for the unwarranted stigma placed on Liverpool fans for that day, fed primarily by the Sun and the still-unrepentant piece of filth known as Kelvin McKenzie to be officially lifted.
Liverpool had played Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough, in their 1988 semi-final, a match controlled by an officer experienced in managing big football matches, who put in place a well-thought-out, highly effective series of plans that ensured the day passed without anything more than the usual minor arrests. In 1989, a completely inexperienced officer junked his predecessor’s proven plans and went in with no plans for crowd control whatsoever. Hillsborough was always a disaster waiting to happen, needing only an arrogant, clueless idiot to engineer disaster, and then lie through his teeth to avoid blame.
For some days after the Disaster, it was mooted that the Cup should be abandoned, but the FA decided – correctly – that as a mark of respect to those who had died following their club in pursuit of glory, the semi-final should be replayed, this time at Old Trafford (where Forest had knocked out Manchester United in the Sixth Round).
Ironically, once Liverpool confirmed their place at Wembley, it was for a Cup Final that saw a massive, dramatic reduction in capacity, from 98,000 to 82,500.
For the second time in successive seasons, Liverpool were seeking the Double Double. In previous seasons, all hopefuls came to Wembley with the League title in their bag, but on this occasion the aftermath of Hillsborough left Liverpool with one outstanding game, played on the Friday after the Final, against Arsenal, the only team who might, with a very specific win, pip them to the post. In a finale more appropriate to the cut and thrust of the Cup, Arsenal seized that title with almost the last kick of the League season, a dramatic moment previously unheard of, and unequalled until the end of the 2013 Premier League season.
The Final itself saw Liverpool, fittingly, beat their neighbours a second time, though in this case extra-time was necessary, with three goals in the first period enough to see Liverpool home as 3-2 winners. Ian Rush for Liverpool, and Stewart McCall for Everton both scored two goals as substitutes, the first ever to do so, McCall reaching this record two minutes before Rush..
Hillsborough marked the Cup, marked English football forever. The first, and most immediate change was that the FA, after years of insistence that both semi-finals be played the same day, with the same kick-off time, to ensure that no team should have the advantage of knowing who their Final opponents should be (except when replays were required, and what advantage could possibly accrue from that knowledge anyway), agreed to allow both matches to be televised live, with staggered kick-offs. This would prove very memorable.
There was a unique aspect to the Fifth Round this season, with four of the eight ties being drawn, and all four ties requiring second (but no third) replays to decide them.
Aston Villa, Liverpool’s main challengers in the League, had eyes on the Double but were heavily beaten in the Sixth Round by promotion-challenging Second Division Oldham Athletic, already that year’s beaten League Cup finalists, whilst the same Round saw the end of Cambridge United’s aspirations to become the first Fourth Division team to reach the FA Cup semi-finals.
Ron Atkinson had taken Manchester United to two Cup wins in the mid-Eighties, but his failure to make them challengers in the League cost him his job, and he was replaced by the former Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson. But the job looked like being too big for him, as it had been for all managers since Matt Busby. As in 1962/63, United spent most of the season fending off the possibility of relegation, and just as in that season, they would escape, and win the Cup.
United’s Cup campaign was unique, not in playing every tie away from home but, more implausibly, playing no ties on a Saturday until the Final itself. Between the demands of live TV coverage and Police security requirements, United’s path to Wembley was a Sabbath occasion, with every tie played on Sunday, until their midweek semi-final replay against Oldham Athletic.
Liverpool, en route to their last League title to date, were yet again looking to achieve the Double Double, a third time in four seasons. They were drawn against Crystal Palace at Villa Park, in the 12.00 , and were expected to win easily against a side that, on its first season back in the First Division, they had already beaten twice – the first by an astounding 9-0 margin. After all, Liverpool had already put eight past Swansea City in the Third Round.
But things did not go according to plan. Liverpool had been the dominant team of the Eighties but here, at the dawn of a new decade, their dominance came to an unexpected end, in front of the whole country. Despite two goals in three minutes to take the lead with seven minutes remaining, Liverpool suddenly lost all ability to deal with set-pieces. Palace made it 3-3, might have scored a winner in normal time and did do in extra-time, to reach their first Final.
Almost immediately, United kicked-off their semi-final at Maine Road. The two teams served up six goals, shared equally, to follow the seven at Villa Park, resulting in a replay in which it took United until extra-time to secure their trip to Wembley. Even then, Oldham were denied when a first half shot off the crossbar bounced behind the goalline, unseen by any of the officials.
Goals remained at a plenty in the Final, long stretches of which were dull and sterile. United and Palace shared three apiece, the leading changing hands three times. Ian Wright emulated Rush and McCall the previous season by scoring two goals for Palace as a substitute (this has never been emulated since) and United needed an equaliser seven minutes from the end of extra-time to secure a Replay.
United goalkeeper Jim Leighton, whose performances had been growing more and more nervous throughout the season, was at fault for two of the Palace goals, but United’s reserve keeper was out with long-term injury, and their only cover was on-loan Luton Town keeper, Les Sealey, whose loan-period expired the day after the Final. The news that United had extended the loan on Monday aroused excited speculation, but it was only twenty minutes before kick-off on the Thursday night when it was confirmed that Leighton was dropped and Sealey would play.
The replay was a disappointing game, with Palace adopting a thuggish approach, trying to batter and provoke United out of the game. It was decided by a goal from the unexpected source of full-back Lee Martin, whose only previous goal for United had been the accidental deflection of a clearance into the opposition net. Martin’s only other goal in a United shirt was an own goal in the Cup-Winners Cup the following season.
After the immaculate performance by English fans at the Italia ’90 World Cup in the summer, the ban on English teams playing in Europe was lifted. Manchester United, who’d been denied entry in 1985, would become the sixth and last English club to win the Cup-Winners Cup (there was one other English winner, in 1998, the only English club to win the trophy twice). Bryan Robson became the first player to captain three Cup-Winning teams, whilst Crystal Palace were the last team to date (and probably forever) to field an all-English line-up, in both games: even manager Steve Coppell (a Cup-Winner in 1977 with United) was English.
United’s win was their seventh, bringing them level with Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur as record Cup-winners. This first claim on the record would only last twelve months. Their win came in the first Final in an all-seater Empire Stadium, the post-Hillsborough consensus on eliminating standing areas at senior football grounds coming into effect. Though I speak from experience in saying that Wembley’s facilities were inadequate and more dangerous in their way: all that was done was the bolting of backless plastic seats onto terraces whose camber was suited to standing crowds and thus too gentle for seated fans. In consequence of this, in order to get a half-decent view, the fans had to resort to standing after all, and on the seats themselves.
The last Cup of this decade saw the same outcome as the first, a Tottenham Hotspur Final, and a win: after all, the year ended in a 1, didn’t it?
The Fourth Round of the 110th campaign saw another four game marathon before Arsenal overcame Leeds United, but it was the Fifth Round’s Second Replay, which saw Everton defeat a Liverpool side that had just lost manager Kenny Dalglish to the long-term stress of Hillsborough, which ended a long era in Cup History. Changes were coming to Football, massive changes that would turn the course of the game in this country, changes that belong to the next decade of this history, but this would be the last time any FA Cup game would go beyond a single Replay.
At the time, this went unnoticed, but there was a storm of controversy when North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were paired in the semi-final and the FA broke the long tradition of neutral grounds by instructing the game to be held at Wembley.
Their excuse was safety: no other ground had the capacity to host the crowd that would want to see this game, but there were many who suspected that it was the ticket selling opportunity that dominate the organisers’ thinking. As matters would develop, that suspicion would become increasingly more concrete in the following decade.
Thanks to an astonishing goal scored directly from a free-kick, thirty-five yards out, by Paul Gascoigne, Spurs reached their ninth Final, the fifth such to be played in a year ending in a 1.
Aston Villa had held, either individually or jointly, the record for Cup wins since 1920. Spur’s victory would bring that long reign to an unrecoverable end.
The game was the first and only Final reached by Nottingham Forest’s legendary manager Brian Clough, who’d come close in 1988 and 1989, foiled by Liverpool on each occasion. In mythical terms, the Final was meant to be contested between him and England star Gascoigne, who’d become the hero of the country for his tears the previous summer, during the World Cup semi-final, at his realisation that his booking would keep him out of the Final if England reached it.
Both were to be disappointed.
Gascoigne’s was the first and most obvious failure. Clearly wildly over-excited, the midfielder launched into an atrocious, scything, waist-high tackle that nearly cut a Forest defender in two as early as the second minute. Even in 1991, that should have been an immediate red card but, in keeping with the traditional lenience extended to the game’s showpiece occasion, the referee didn’t even book Gascoigne. With hindsight, that leniency was life-changing. For Gascoigne did it again after fifteen minutes, another, launching, dangerous, and utterly stupid foul, the work of a kid out of control with excitement, equally deserving of a sending-off. From the free-kick, Stuart Pierce put Forest ahead.
But Gascoigne’s second challenge had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligaments and he had to be stretchered off before the game restarted. He would be out of the game for twelve months and never be the same player again. A red card in the second minute, harsh though it would have seemed at the time, would have spared him that, and maybe with a more fulfilling career, have changed the trajectory of his entire life. We can only speculate, and wish that it was so.
Clough’s failure was passive, as Gascoigne’s had been active. Paul Stewart’s second half equaliser meant the Final went into extra-time for the third year in a row, but inexplicably, Clough remained in his seat on the Wembley bench, stiff and mute, abandoning his team to their own devices. No doubt Spurs seized on this abdication of duty as a concession of defeat, though it would be an own goal from defender Des Walker – attempting to clear a corner and heading it into the corner of his own net – that gave them the Cup for a record eighth time, ending Villa’s long record and Manchester United’s extremely short one. Given that Gary Lineker had a first half goal incorrectly ruled out through offside, it was clearly fitting.
Mark Crossley, the Forest goalkeeper, became the second man to save a Cup Final penalty, turning away Lineker’s first half effort, though the former-Everton striker would go on to claim the Winners medal denied him five years earlier.
After ninety-four years, the FA Cup had a new leader.

(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)

1981/82   Tottenham Hotspur 1 Queen’s Park Rangers 1 (aet)
R: Tottenham Hotspur 1  Queen’s Park Rangers 0
1982/23     Manchester United 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2 (aet)
R:  Manchester United 4 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
1983/84   Everton 2 Watford 0
1984/85   Manchester United 1 Everton 0 (aet)
1985/86  Liverpool 3 Everton 1
1986/87    Coventry City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2 (aet)
1987/88   Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0
1988/89  Liverpool 3 Everton 2 (aet)
1989/90 Manchester United 3 Crystal Palace 3 (aet)
R:  Manchester United 1 Crystal Palace 0
1980/81  Tottenham Hotspur 2 Nottingham Forest 1 (aet)

The second decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured only twelve clubs, and only five winners, the lowest in any decade thus far. This record would be equalled in the decade next following, an example of the massive changes coming to the game, and the dominance of the Big Four clubs. Manchester United with three, and Tottenham Hotspur with two were the only multiple Winners, with Everton, Coventry and Wimbledon sharing one apiece. The latter two were both First-Time Winners, appearing in their only Final to date – Wimbledon’s only Final ever, following their sale to Milton Keynes, whilst Brighton, Watford and Crystal Palace made this an unusually prolific decade for First-Time Finalists. It would be twenty-five years before the next – and only other – First-Time Winner to date would succeed Wimbledon. Of the Cup-Winners in this decade, ironically only Spurs, the new record holders, would not have future victories to anticipate.

Cup History in the making

Well, something’s going to change after this year’s FA Cup Final on May 21. A new Cup record will be established.

This is guaranteed by the pairing of Watford and Crystal Palace in the first semi-final drawn yesterday. Neither team has won the Cup to date: both have appeared in and lost a single Final, Watford in 1984 to Everton, Palace in 1990, after a replay, to Manchester United, who may yet be meeting on the other semi.

So that’s two possible repeat Finals in prospect, but the one certainty is that one of the Cup Finalists will be going for their first ever win.

So, if the Winner comes from that half of the draw, we have a new Winner, the 44th such in Cup history. But, if not, then there will, for the first time since 1961, be a new addition to the short list of clubs who have had multiple appearances in the Final without ever winning the Cup.

Defeat in the Final for either Palace or Watford will bring them level with two-time losers Queen’s Park and Birmingham City, although they’ll still be behind the unwilling champs in that score, Leicester City.

Though they’re hoping not to care this season, for obvious reasons.

Wembley, here we come!

Up for t’Cup: 1912 – 1921

The Khaki Cup Final

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.

Up for t’Cup: 1901-1911

The Third Cup

So we move on, into the Edwardian era, that last golden afternoon as so many have described it, before the world it represented was destroyed in the mud and blood of Flanders fields. It was a decade of slow development, of a Cup that, halfway through the decade, took a half-hearted step towards the format we recognise today.
It was still a tournament dominated by the professional clubs of the North and Midlands. Tottenham Hotspurs’ success in the last Final of the third decade might have brought the Cup back to London after nearly twenty years, but it was an isolated success: the Final might have taken place in London, but the Cup would not rest there for another twenty years.
The Intermediate Round introduced in 1900/01 was retained for another four seasons, involving a complex combination, each year, of byes at various stages into different rounds, with not even the entire First Division getting byes into the First Round Proper, and clubs from the powerful Southern League getting preferential treatment ahead of Second Division teams.
Sheffield United were the first Cup-winners of the decade, though they made a heavy fist of it in the end, requiring three games to win the semi-final and two to win the actual Cup. Unusually, the Replay was held at the Crystal Palace, like the first match, a situation that would not recur for seventy-nine years.
Although the competition was now becoming a well-regulated, almost staid tournament, there was a flashback to the illogic of the Cup’s formative years. Second Division club, New Brighton Tower, were given a bye into the Intermediate Round, where they were drawn to play non-League qualifiers, Oxford City, and this arrangement stood, despite the fact that New Brighton Tower had folded in the summer of 1901 and been replaced in Division 2 before a single ball had been kicked in the 1901/02 Cup!
As a result, Oxford City enjoyed a nostalgic walkover into the First Round Proper. Even more bizarrely, New Brighton’s replacements, Doncaster Rovers, had to enter the Cup at the Third Qualifying Round.
If I may be allowed a personal point, the 1902/03 Cup was the first to be competed for by Manchester United, as opposed to Newton Heath. The Reds didn’t get very far, unlike their Lancashire neighbours, Bury, who reached their second Final in four seasons. They were very much the underdogs against Derby County, despite the latter losing their leading scorer, Steve Bloomer, to injury. But to everybody’s surprise, Bury not only won the Cup but recorded the record victory margin, 6-0. Derby apparently played so badly, the Bury keeper had nothing to do, and the club’s nick-name of ‘The Shakers’ derives from this game and result.
Bury – whose aggregate score in Cup Finals is 10-0 – are the only club after Wanderers to have won the Cup more than once whilst remaining undefeated in Finals.
The number of Cup entrants was still expanding, and each year the FA’s resistance to increasing the number of Proper Rounds grew more puzzling. A second preliminary Round was added in 1903/04, and a Sixth Qualifying Round the following season. Manchester City took the Cup to Manchester for the first time, beating Bolton Wanderers in what, surprisingly given the base of operations of the Football League, was the first all-Lancashire final, and Aston Villa secured their fourth win the following year.
Villa’s Final reversed an unexpected trend in Cup Final attendances. After Spurs had drawn 110,000 to the Crystal Palace in 1901, attendances had declined dramatically over the following three seasons, with Manchester City’s victory taking place before a gate of just over 61,000, but figures bounced back in 1905, with 101,000 filling the ground.
By this time, the Cup had reached a seriously imbalanced state, with nine Qualifying Rounds under various names, and a rigidly maintained three Rounds Proper. It was overdue time for a reorganisation that would better suit the number and status of the entrants. The Football League had, this season, expanded to 40 clubs, in two Divisions of 20, which needed to be taken into account.
So the Cup reduced itself to five qualifying Rounds (one Preliminary, four Qualifying) and restored the Cup Proper to four rounds. But it was not a case of the forty League clubs entering the Cup at Round One, with twenty-four survivors from the Qualifying Rounds, oh no. Twenty-nine League teams enjoyed that status,, with the rest coming in at various Qualifying Round stages. And, in order to provide sixty-four clubs at this stage, eleven non-League clubs were also given byes to the First Round.
Though the structure of the Cup was growing ever more familiar, it was still an indication of the nature of the game in the Edwardian era that 11 non-Leaguers were given preference to the equivalent number of League clubs in terms of when they entered the Cup.
One Third Qualifying Round tie provides an odd foretaste of the Cup’s future, and led to a rule change. In the Third Qualifying Round, Chelsea were drawn to play Crystal Palace. The same day, however, they were required to play Burnley in the Second Division. That neither game was to be postponed, that Chelsea were seriously required to play two matches simultaneously, foreshadowed the long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over control of the game.
And, foreshadowing today’s sad reality, Chelsea opted to prioritise their promotion battle, choosing the first team to meet Burnley and sending out the Reserves to be humiliated 7-1 by Palace. As a consequence, the FA introduced a new Law, requiring clubs to field their strongest teams in the Cup. A rule far more honoured in the breach than the observance in the Twenty-First Century.
The eventual winners were Everton, their first victory after two previous defeats.
The Cup’s new format only lasted one season, with a Fifth Qualifying Round being reintroduced the following season. The number of non-League teams given byes into Round One was increased to sixteen, and the Round required no less than thirteen replays (four going to second replays). The Wednesday joined their Sheffield rivals, United, in winning a second Cup.
The 1907/08 season set a record that stands to the present day, with thirteen First Division teams going out to lover level clubs. Unsurprisingly, three of the semi-final places were occupied by Second Division clubs, a situation not repeated until exactly a century later, in 2008. The only First Division survivors, Newcastle United (who finished fourth), won their semi-final against Fulham 6-0, still a record at this stage, but were comfortably beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers, only the second Second Division winners.
By this time, Newcastle United had reached three Finals in four years and lost them all. They were spared further potential embarrassment the following season by Manchester United in the semi-final, with the Reds going on to claim their first Cup win. But neither Manchester club would feature prominently in the Cup’s history for many years, and decades, yet.
United’s opponents, Bristol City, have not returned to the Cup Final, placing them alongside Queen’s Park among clubs who have never won the Cup. It would be forty years before another team would reach the Final yet never, to date, lift the Cup.
Newcastle’s time would come in 1910, though not at Crystal Palace but at Goodison Park in a replay, winning the Cup at the fourth time of asking. It’s an odd quirk of the FA Cup’s history that only one club has failed to win the Cup after losing on its first three appearances in the Final.
This was the last year for the second FA Cup.  When Newcastle returned the trophy, it was retired and presented, as a retirement gift, to the FA President Lord Kinnaird. The trophy is still in existence today. It was bought at auction in 2005 by then-Birmingham City, now West Ham United co-Chairman, David Gold, and is on permanent display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
To replace it, the FA ordered a new, larger, re-designed trophy, the F.A. Cup as we recognise it today, though the 1911 trophy is no longer in use itself. It was designed by Fattorini’s of Bradford and, fittingly, was won in its first season by Bradford City, beating Newcastle United (again!) in a replay at Old Trafford. The replay was by far the most successful in terms of attendance to date, with 69,000 at the Crystal Palace, and an impressive 58,000 coming to Manchester.
The Edwardian decade, when football, and the Cup, was still played in an atmosphere of innocence. The Cup was now forty years old, yet it was still developing. Another decade would see it achieve its half-century. No-one could foresee how the middle years of that approaching decade would be ripped out.

(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)

1901/02 Sheffield United 1 Southampton 1
R: Sheffield United 2 Southampton 1
1902/03 Bury 6 Derby County 0
1903/04 Manchester City 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
1904/05 Aston Villa 2 Newcastle United 0
1905/6 Everton 1 Newcastle United 0
1906/07 The Wednesday 2  Everton 1
1907/08 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Newcastle United 1
1908/09 Manchester United 1 Bristol City 0
1909/10 Newcastle United 1 Barnsley 1
R: Newcastle United 2 Barnsley 0 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1910/11 Bradford City 0 Newcastle United 0 (aet)
R  Bradford City 1 Newcastle United 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)

The fourth decade saw another new record of fifteen different finalists, with Newcastle United the most prolific, appearing in five Finals, albeit losing four of them. Everton were the only other club to  appear in two Finals. There were ten different winners in the fourth decade, a different holder every year, with five clubs winning their first Cup, including both Manchester clubs. Of the losers, only Bristol City did not have Cup success ahead or behind them. Three Finals required replays, as many as the three decades prior to that, one of which took place at the same venue as the Final itself, an anomaly that would take eighty years to become the rule.

Up for t’Cup: 1891/2 – 1900/01

A Final at the Crystal Palace

The Cup’s third decade was a decade of consolidation. The Qualifying Rounds, three Rounds Proper, semi-finals and Final format was maintained throughout the next ten years with only minimal adjustment to reflect the ever-increasing number of entrants, which soon passed 200.
Curiously, the Cup Proper was unchanged throughout the decade, and the extra entrants were absorbed into an expanded Qualifying Round set-up. First, a Preliminary Round was added in 1892, and then, in 1896, a Fifth Qualifying Round. The refusal to increase the number of Proper Rounds hit its peak in the 1900/01 season, in the introduction of an Intermediate Round, with the ten survivors of the Qualifying Rounds drawn against ten clubs given byes to this level.
That it would have been simpler to increase the number of Proper Rounds, especially with regard to the expansion of the Football League, and the immediate impact of the Southern League, was apparently not in the FA’s mind.
The Football League, that had started with twelve clubs and quickly expanded to fourteen, had been almost doubled in size in 1892 when it absorbed the failing Football Alliance as a Second Division. But League status on its own did not automatically command a bye into the Cup Proper. For the sixteen First Division clubs, that was the case, and six Second Division clubs to make up numbers.
Though I don’t have access to any interim tables to prove it, based on final Second Division positions, I would strongly believe these half dozen clubs to be the top six in the Division at the relevant cut-off date.
The rest of the Second Division clubs would enter the Cup during the Qualifying rounds, as far back at the Third Qualifier, even when there were five such rounds!
I mentioned above the Southern League. As is well known, the Football League was launched in the North West, and the Alliance itself established a catchment area that went little further than the Midlands. The Southern League was established in 1894 for, as its name made obvious, football clubs in the south of England. As these were separated from the Football League mainly on the grounds of geography, it became the home of strong clubs such as Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Both of these clubs would reach the Cup Final as ‘non-League’ teams, (though that term had yet to grow into its full meaning), with Southampton defeated finalists in 1900, beaten 4-0 by Bury, whilst Spurs ended the third decade by lifting the Cup after beating Sheffield United in a replay. In doing so, they became the only ‘non-League’ club to win the trophy after the Football League was formed.
And at this point a special mention should be made of Notts County, Cup-winners in 1894 as members of the Second Division, the first club to win the Cup from outside the top flight of English football. Notts County’s feat would be repeated half a dozen times down the decades, but none of their second tier successors, not even Spurs, would win the Cup from a position in the Qualifying Rounds.
The Cup’s first decade had belonged to the Southern amateurs, the old boys and gentlemen. Its second had belonged to the North, the North-West in particular. So it’s entirely appropriate that the Cup’s third decade should be dominated by the Midlands. Their clubs would appear in the first eight Finals of this era, and would come away as Cup Winners on six of those occasions.
Just as the second decade had begun with one final flourish from the past, so too the third: the 1891 Final was played at the familiar Kennington Oval, but that was to be the last Final to take place at the Cup’s original home. It had hosted twenty of the twenty-one Finals to date, two of which had gone to Replays elsewhere, but after West Bromwich Albion secured the Cup, at the third time of asking, the Cup went elsewhere.
Its first two venues were far removed from the Oval, indeed from London. Wolverhampton Wanderers would break their duck in Manchester, at the Fallowfield Stadium in 1893, and Notts County win their only Cup a year later, at Goodison Park, in Liverpool. The following season, the Cup would return to London, with the Crystal Palace taking over the duty of hosting the competition for the next twenty years.
Notts County’s win in 1894 provided the Cup with a second Final Hat Trick, three goals from Jimmy Logan to match William Townley’s feat for Blackburn Rovers. Only one other player in the 121 years that followed has achieved the same feat.
Back at Crystal Palace, Aston Villa won the first of their Cups. It was the last season in which the first trophy was presented. As related before, ‘the little tin pot’ was stolen, in September 1895, whilst on display in a Birmingham shop, fulfilling Albert Warburton’s prediction, in 1893. Villa were fined £25 towards the cost of making an exact replica.
Decades later, the self-professed thief revealed that it had been melted down to make forged half crowns, but his description of the theft did not align with the known facts, so the romantic possibility exists, however faintly, that one day the trophy may be re-discovered.
Aston Villa won the Cup that year by a single goal, scored after only thirty seconds (pity anyone not in their place at kick-off). This record for fastest goal stood for 114 years, until beaten by Louis Saha for Everton, in 2009.
The growing number of entrants to the Cup had seen the 1895 Final pushed back in April for the first time. The following year, the FA introduced the Fifth Qualifying Round to cope with the numbers. Ten Second Division teams entered the Cup at the First Qualifying Round, given no great advantage than clubs in the Southern League, The Combination, or any other of the growing number of regional Leagues that are the history of today’s English League System (still better known as the Pyramid).
But the gap between Division 2 and non-League was evidently not very great in that era. Only four Second Division teams survived to reach the First Round Proper, with no fewer than six non-League survivors.
As for the Cup, that went to Yorkshire for the first time, won by Sheffield’s The Wednesday.
Aston Villa regained the trophy the following season, emulating Preston in winning the Double, something that would not occur again for 66 years. Indeed, Villa were unique in being the only team to win both Cup and League the same day. Though the Cup was growing in popularity every year, it had yet to reach its traditional status as the last domestic match of the season, played in isolation. Whilst Villa were beating Everton 3-2 (all goals coming in the first half), their final League contenders, Derby County, lost to leave the Birmingham side uncatchable.
For the 1898/99 season, the last Nineteenth Century Cup, the Football League expanded its two Divisions to eighteen clubs each. With the First Division still favoured by a bye into the First Round Proper, this left four additional places. Three of these went to leasing Second Division clubs, but the FA chose to recognise the stature of the Southern League by giving a bye to one of its leading clubs, Southampton. This was a sign of things to come.
The Cup would make a return visit to Sheffield, with United beating Derby County in the Final. Derby would be the last Midlands team to reach Crystal Palace in this decade.
Though the Cup’s format of Preliminary Round, five Qualifying Rounds, three Rounds Proper seemed set in stone, the situation regarding byes into various stages of the competition began to become more complex each year. For the 1899/1900 competition, only seventeen of the eighteen Division 1 clubs received byes into the First Round Proper, with Glossop North End, two Second Division teams and three Southern League teams receiving byes into the Third Qualifying Round.
And the strength of the Southern League was demonstrated by Southampton becoming the first ‘non-League’ finalists, although they were roundly beaten, 4-0, by Bury.
Things grew even more complicated in the first FA Cup to take place wholly in the Twentieth Century. The ever-increasing number of entrants led the FA to create an Intermediate Round, between the Qualifying and Proper Round. Two First Division teams, six second Division teams and two Southern League teams entered the Cup at the Intermediate Round, to face the ten Qualifying Rounds survivors, and the remaining sixteen First Division teams, three further Second Division teams and one Southern League team entered at Round One Proper.
That highest ranked Southern League team were Tottenham Hotspur. They would go on to become the only ‘non-League’ club to win the Cup, and to start the great Spurs tradition (currently suspended) of winning in years ending with ‘1’.
It was the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and much that we now know of the Cup came to life in that season. The Final, at Crystal Palace against Sheffield United, was the first to be filmed, for Pathe Newsreel. It was the first Final to attract a crowd of over 100,000, although the irony was that a Replay would be required, at Bolton Wanderers’ ground, Burnden Park, before a crowd of just over 20,000.  And Spurs would be the first to tie ribbons in their club colours, to the handles of the Cup.
What’s more, Spurs striker Sandy Brown set a record by becoming the first player to score in every round of the Cup, including both Final and Replay, something only seven men after him have equaled, and none in the last 45 years. Technically, he wasn’t the first, Aston Villa’s Archie Hunter having scored in every game in 1886/87, but as Villa’s run included a bye through the Fourth Round, I feel justified in crediting Sandy Brown as the first.
And the Final was not without controversy, for Sheffield United’s equaliser at Crystal Palace, the goal that necessitated a Replay (extra time was not played) never crossed the line. The Pathe film later established that the ball had never gone closer than a foot from the line, making that the first ever example of goal-line technology. Over a century later, we have only just begun to make use of the technologies during games!

(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)

1891/92 West Bromwich Albion 3 Aston Villa 0 (Kennington Oval)
1892/93 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Everton 0 (Fallowfield Stadium, Manchester)
1893/94 Notts County 4 Bolton Wanderers 1 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1894/95 Aston Villa 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
1895/96 The Wednesday 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
1896/97 Aston Villa 3  Everton 2
1897/98 Nottingham Forest 3 Derby County 1
1898/99 Sheffield United 4 Derby County 1
1899/1900 Bury 4 Southampton 0
1900/01 Tottenham Hotspur 2 Sheffield United 2 (no et)
R  Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sheffield United 1 (Burnden Park, Bolton)

The third decade saw a new record of thirteen different finalists, with Aston Villa the most prolific, appearing in three Finals. Everton and Derby County both appeared in two Finals and lost both. Aston Villa were also the only club to win more than a single Final in this decade. Bolton Wanderers and Southampton make up the list of losing Finalists in this decade, but all four cubs would go on to win the Cup in the future. Aston Villa and West Brom were the only previous winners this decade, with eight new names being added to the Roll of Honour.