As I post this, Manchester City are entertaining Burton Albion in the semi-final, first leg of the League Cup. There is something truly weird about this for me. Just over a decade ago, when Burton carpet-bagged themselves into the Northern Premier League in order to win it at the first attempt and progress into the Football Conference, I saw them play at Droylsden.
They won 7-0. In my match report, I gave our goalkeeper 10 out of 10 (you have to imagine the score without him) and refused to rate anybody else because it would have been meaningless.
Now they’re playing Manchester City. At the Etihad Stadium. In a serious Cup semi-final. It feels seriously weird to imagine that. It also gives me a problem. I don’t which of the two bastards I most want to see tonked!
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 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.
As it entered its ninth decade, the Cup had now established itself in its most simple format, that of a purely random, simple knock-out in which any team, no matter how low, might find itself drawn to play – frequently at home – any other team, no matter how high. That was a primal part of the FA Cup’s appeal, that it was the most egalitarian competition. All that mattered was the performance on the field. Giants most often triumphed, but there was something about the anarchy of the Cup that made Giants vulnerable to being killed.
A look at the Qualifying Round results in 1951/52 reveals some intriguing, long lost club names, such as Liverpool Police, Bournemouth Gasworks Athletic, Parliament Street Methodists and half a dozen Colliery Welfare clubs in differing coal pit towns. And whilst the First Qualifying Round tie between Southwick and Worthing didn’t produce the highest goal tally of the day (that distinction went to King’s Lynn’s 14-1 home win over Chatteris Town), it must have been the most exhilarating, with the visitors winners by the odd goal in thirteen.
By now, enough teams were entering the Cup annually for the Final to move into May. The first Saturday in May, the weekend after the (official) end of the Football League season, was now Cup Final Day.
Holders Newcastle United became only the third club, after Wanderers and Blackburn Rover, to retain the Cup, thanks to a late winner from their Chilean forward, George Robledo, the first out-and-out foreigner to play in a Final. Robledo was a forerunner of modern times, where no English team is without its complement of foreign players. He was also an ironic reversal of the situation whereby several English players were plying their trade in Chile, whose Football Association was not affiliated to FIFA, and thus were free to attract players to their nascent League by offering salaries far above those allowed elsewhere in the world. Of course, any player taking the Chilean peso was promptly banned world-wide, but when set against England’s maximum wage, this was not enough of a deterrence.
The 1952 Final also saw the runners-up, Arsenal, play with ten men for most of the game, after full-back Wally Barnes was carried off with a twisted knee. This was to be a harbinger for a decade that saw four other Finalists reduced to ten men by injuries, feeding the growing clamour to introduce substitutes.
For the moment, it was only the first of Arsenal’s troubles: three other players would be injured during the game, leaving Arsenal with only seven fit men by the time Robledo scored.
Newcastle did not, however, go on to emulate Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers by winning a third consecutive Cup: as of 2016, no-one has. The 1953 Final was probably the most famous Final of all time, the legendary Stanley Matthews Final. This was Blackpool and Matthews’ third appearance in six years, and the great winger was now 37 years old, and still seeking a Cup Winners’ Medal (incredibly, he would go on to play in the First Division at the age of 51, so time was still on his side, but no-one knew that then). On Cup Final day, every neutral in the country was backing Blackpool.
But Bolton scored first and, with only 22 minutes remaining, were 3-1 ahead. Blackpool and England centre forward Stan Mortenson, scorer of the Blackpool goal, turned the ball in to halve the deficit and then, with less than three minutes left, banged home a goal direct from a free-kick – and that was extremely unusual in 1953, with the heavy, leather balls still in use – to draw level, and become only the third, and last to date, player to score a Cup Final hat-trick, and the only one at Wembley.
Then, with extra-time seemingly a certainty, Matthews turned on the wing wizardry again, bamboozled the Bolton defence on the right, and slid across a pass that Bill Perry converted from six yards, winning the Tangerines – and Matthews – the Cup, and in the process becoming the second foreigner in successive seasons to score the winning goal: Perry was South African.
With typical modesty, Stanley Matthews ever after said that the Final should have been named after Stan Mortenson, not himself, for that hat-trick. The country disagreed, and why not? The 1953 Cup Final was the first major sporting event to be seen by large parts of the country, thanks to the upsurge in the purchase of television sets that accompanied Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, and the popularity of the game ensured that thereafter, the Cup Final would get its own slot on TV and Radio at the BBC, and ITV, and subsequent organisations.
Blackpool never reached the Cup Final again. It took them six games to reach Round Five in the 1953/54 campaign, where they were put out by lowly Port Vale, the eventual Third Division North Champions. That year’s Final, in which West Bromwich Albion beat Preston North End 3-2, was a repeat of the 1888 Final, also won by West Brom. Though overlooked nowadays, it was and exciting match, in which the lead changed hands three times and the winner came three minutes from full-time. This was West Brom’s greatest ever season, as they had also campaigned strongly in the League, only to end up second by four points.
The following year, the Third Round match between Bury and Stoke City set a new record by becoming the first Cup-tie to go to five games before being resolved in favour of Stoke in the record Fourth Replay, which took place sixteen days after the original game. At Wembley, Newcastle United reached, and won, their third Cup in five seasons. This was their sixth overall, equalling the record of Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers. The opening goal, scored by Jackie Milburn, came after only 45 seconds, the fastest at Wembley, a record held until 1997, though it has since been beaten again, in 2009.
Manchester City suffered the same fate as Arsenal in 1952, being reduced to ten men after 22 minutes by the loss of full-back Jimmy Meadows. Uncannily, Meadows’ injury was suffered on the same spot as Wally Barnes, three years previously.
But City were to repeat their Thirties performance by returning to Wembley the following season, and winning the Cup. This was the first Cup season of my lifetime, as I was born between the Fourth Qualifying Round and the First Round Proper. For a second successive season, the Cup threw up another five game marathon, in the Fourth Round between Burnley and the eventually successful Chelsea.
The Final was to be another of those legendary games, thanks to City’s German goalkeeper, ex-Prisoner of war, Bert Trautman. City had established a commanding 3-1 lead over Birmingham City when, with twenty minutes remaining, Trautman dived at the feet of winger Peter Murphy to claim the ball, and took a kick on the head.
Despite suffering considerable neck-pains, Trautman saw the match out and collected his medal. In the dressing room, he called for a neck massage which, if administered, might easily have paralysed him for life. Instead, he was taken to hospital, where x-rays revealed he had fractured a vertebra in his neck. The injury would effectively end his career.
For Birmingham, it was a second defeat in two Finals, repeating Queen’s Park’s unwanted feat, but they did at least achieve a record in being the first team to reach the Final without playing a home tie, and Bobby Johnstone, scorer of Manchester City’s third goal, became the first player to score in consecutive Wembley Finals.
In 1956/57, it was the turn of Manchester United to reach the Cup Final, playing record-holders Aston Villa. This was the ‘Busby Babes’, League Champions for a second successive season, this time by an incredible eleven points: the equivalent of five and a half games. They were also Europeann Cup semi-finalists. United were the hottest prospects for a Twentieth Century Double, but like Arsenal and City before them, they effectively had to play five-sixths of the game with ten men.
This time it was goalkeeper Ray Wood, knocked out in the sixth minute through a clash of heads when shoulder-charged by Villa’s Peter McParland that resulted in a broken cheek-bone. Defender Jackie Blanchflower replaced him in goal and kept a clean sheet until half-time, by which time Wood was back on the field, but only to make the numbers up, running up and down the left wing.
Two goals early in the second half from, inevitably, McParland were conclusive, though when Tommy Taylor pulled a goal back seven minutes from time, United pushed Wood back into goal whilst they searched for an equaliser, but none came. Villa set a new record of seven Cup wins, one that would not be equalled for a further twenty-five years, but it would be forty-three years until they themselves returned to the Final.
For the Babes, the team of talents that were destined to dominate football like no other team before them, this was to be their only Cup Final. Nine months later, six of their team would die at Munich Airport, as would two other players not in the Final Eleven. Two others of the Final team would be so badly injured they would never play again. United would, miraculously, reach the Final again in 1958. Only Billy Foulkes of the team that nearly won the Double would play the following season’s Final.
The Munich Air Disaster would dominate the story of the Cup in 1957/58. The Babes’ last tie was a 2-0 victory over Ipswich Town in the Fourth Round, but it was an unrecognisable eleven, represented by blank names in that programme that beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in the delayed Fifth Round tie. United swept to Wembley on a wave of popular sympathy. It was the second time in the decade that Bolton Wanderers walked out at Wembley knowing everyone in the country except their own support wanted them to be beaten, but United could only go so far.
It’s impossible to know how things might have gone otherwise, but United’s defeat was perhaps sealed by the most well-meant of gestures. Assistant Manager Jimmy Murphy had guided his makeshift team to the Final, whilst Matt Busby slowly recovered in Munich Hospital. Now he was back in England, still very frail, dependent upon a walking stick. Busby visited the dressing room to give a pep talk, but once there, the absence of the faces he’d nurtured overwhelmed him and he could only sob. After that, what hope did the players have?
Ironically, there was a second successive goal-keeping controversy, with Bolton’s second goal coming from Nat Lofthouse bundling Harry Gregg into the net, and probably getting no contact with the ball. I’ve heard the radio commentary on the incident, and it’s astonishing just how defensive the commentator sounds and how desperately he defends Lofthouse and the goal’s validity, as if he’s trying to convince the Stretford End.
As for Lofthouse, he freely admitted after the game that he expected the goal to be ruled out as a foul.
Outside the Cup, but not affecting it in practice, the summer of 1958 saw another shift in the Football League structure. The growing prosperity of the country, the increasing facility for travel saw the League end the regionalisation of its third tier by merging the North and South Divisions into a straightforward Third and Fourth. The cut was a simple top-slicing, with the top half of each Division constituting the Third Division and the bottom half the Fourth.
The major story of the 1958/59 Cup season was the dramatic run of Third Division Norwich City to the semi-finals. After defeating Manchester United in the Third Round, Norwich went on to put out Cardiff City, Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield United – Cup winners all – before finally succumbing to Luton Town, and then only after a Replay.
It was the closest a side from beneath the second tier had ever come to reaching the Final, and Norwich’s surge would go unrepeated for nearly forty years, until replicated by Second Division (and third tier) Chesterfield in 1997. Extraordinarily, Chesterfield would also take their conquerors to a semi-final replay, and would go out to the beaten Finalists, playing in their first Cup Final.
Luton’s opponents at Wembley were Nottingham Forest, in an uneventful game of no great significance outside the Finalists’ home towns. Forest became the fourth Club of this decade to be reduced to ten men, when winger Roy Dwight, scorer of their opening goal, was stretchered off with a broken leg, though on this occasion only, the loss of a player did not prevent the Midlanders taking the trophy.
There is a curious connection between the unfortunate Dwight and another Cup Final featuring first -time Finalists, which I’ll explain when we reach the relevant decade.
The following season, as the Cup moved on into the eventually Swinging Sixties, was not a significant year either, despite featuring the largest win in decades, as Tottenham Hotspur thrashed Crewe Alexandra 13-2 in a Fourth Round Replay at home. The Final, in which Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0, is regarded as one of the dullest on record, in part due to being played in excessive heat that had spectators fainting and the game played at almost walking space, but also by the excessive employment of the offside trap by both teams.
As well as scoring three legitimate goals, Wolves had two other efforts ruled out for offside, whilst Blackburn were reduced to ten men by the loss of full-back Dave Whelan with a broken leg. Bizarrely, the almost identical connection enjoyed by Roy Dwight to a later Cup Final also applies to Whelan and another Final featuring first-time Finalists, though in this case over fifty years had to lapse for this connection to come about.
The success of the European Cup – which up to this point had only ever been won by Real Madrid – had led to the creation of a second pan-European trophy, the Cup-Winners Cup. This came into being, with only ten participants, for the 1960/61 season, albeit on a semi-official basis, and with several countries represented by teams who were not Cup-winners in countries with no significant Cup competition.
As holders, Wolverhampton Wanderers became the first English club to be invited to play, getting a bye into the quarter-finals, but being knocked out in the semi-finals by Glasgow Rangers, who would, in turn, be beaten in the competition’s only two-legged Final.
The time would come, and before very long, when English clubs would have their day in the Cup-Winners Cup.
The last Final of this decade would be a memorable event indeed, but first let us record that the Second Round tie between Darlington and Hull City became the third this decade to require four replays before Hull went through, and that the Leicester City/Sheffield United semi-final was the first in twenty-eight years to go to a Second Replay, and the first semi-final to still be goalless after 210 minutes.
And let us also record Denis Law’s incredible feat of scoring seven goals in a cup-tie only to finish on the losing side. Law was playing for Manchester City at home to Luton Town in the Fourth Round and had scored all six of City’s goals when, with the Blues leading 6-2, the game had to be abandoned due to a water-logged pitch.
When it was replayed, at Luton, City were knocked out 3-1, with Law scoring their only goal…
But the story of the Cup this year was of the Double, the first since Aston Villa in 1896, and the first Twentieth Century Double, won by Tottenham Hotspurs’ great push-and-run team under Bill Nicholson, and led by the great Danny Blanchflower. By the time Spurs achieved the Double, it was a feat that had long been regarded as impossible. Preston and Villa’s Doubles belonged to a bygone age, in which the League programme was less severe. It was generally thought that the qualities required to maintain consistent performances throughout a nine-month, 42 game League season were the antithesis of the ability to lift your game for a separate sequence of one-off matches.
Spurs proved that wrong, scoring twice against one of the greatest keepers ever to play, the future World Cup Winner Gordon Banks. His team, Leicester City, joined the ranks of Queens Park and Birmingham City as two-time losers, but for them worse was to come as the Cup moved smoothly towards its centenary.
Incredibly, for the third successive Final, and the sixth in this decade, Leicester were reduced to ten men when full back Len Chalmers suffered a broken leg after 20 minutes. Unbelievably, he only left the field after 80 minutes, by which time the game was irretrievable.
The cry for substitutes to be introduced would not be answered until more than half way through the next decade, but this series of injuries, in Football’s spotlight match, watched live on TV by the majority of the country, was fuel to the fire, and all but ensured that the day would come.
Ironically, in light of their Cup Final record, Leicester City would go on to represent England in the European Cup-Winners Cup. Spurs, by virtue of being League Champions, entered the European Cup. But the time was rapidly approaching…
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)
1951/52 Newcastle United 1 Arsenal 0
1952/53 Blackpool 4 Bolton Wanderers 3
1953/54 West Bromwich Albion 3 Preston North End 2
1954/55 Newcastle United 3 Manchester City 1
1955/6 Manchester City 3 Birmingham City 1
1956/47 Aston Villa 2 Manchester United 1
1957/58 Bolton Wanderers 2 Manchester United 0
1958/59 Nottingham Forest 2 Luton Town 1
1959/60 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Blackburn Rovers 0
1960/61 Tottenham Hotspur 2 Leicester City 0
The ninth decade was the first for thirty years to feature a full ten Finals. Sixteen teams – the highest number ever – would contest the Final, with four clubs – Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers and the two Manchester clubs each reaching two Finals, with United the only Club to lose both times. Newcastle United, briefly equalising the Cup Winners Record, were the only two-time Winners in this decade, Blackpool were the only first-time winners, and Luton the only first-time finalists. The decade’s most popular location was Manchester, with City and United appearing in four successive Finals, though between them only taking the Cup home once. But the true mark of this decade would be the fact that in five Finals a team would be reduced to ten men through a broken leg, leading to increasingly powerful demands to permit substitutes.
The FA Cup was now entering its seventh decade. A lifetime had passed, and few, if any, of the players who had represented those original fifteen teams were left to witness the way the competition had grown, grown and changed. There was an organised League of professional teams, eighty-eight of them, more than any other country before or since, supplemented by the fragmented, regionalised, but nevertheless lively and enthusiastic collection of semi-professional and amateur clubs all across England.
The Cup had changed its format multiple times to take account of an entry that had climbed from fifteen to over five hundred, to allow for the stratification of football. In it’s sixtieth year, it had finally reached the perfect, logical, inevitable system whereby the non-League clubs competed throughe the Qualifying Rounds, the two lower League Divisions entered at the First Round Proper, and the two higher Divisions at the Third Round Proper.
Then the FA promptly threw this idea away in 1931 and for the rest of the decade, a decade that would be ended prematurely by the resumption of War.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see a calm and orderly process once again thrown into illogical confusion, but it’s no less ridiculous for all that. The FA simply decided that 44 byes into the Third Round, for the First and Second Divisions were insufficient, and extended the number to forty-seven. For 1931/32, the three extra places went to two Third Division clubs, one from each region, and the last, nostalgically, to the amateurs, Corinthian, not that they did any better than in the previous ten years.
This at least was a one-off, as from 1932/33 onwards, the three bonus byes went to the Third Division. As a result, with only forty-one Third Division clubs entering at Round One, further byes to non-League clubs (including Corinthian on a few occasions) brought them directly into the Rounds Proper.
But though the ongoing efforts of the FA to make the structure of the Cup look shambolic, there were far more important things to worry about in the Thirties. The Cup, and Football in general, was played out against the background of the Great Depression, of unemployment, poverty and misery. And as the economic fortunes of the era began to improve, such concerns were replaced about the growing spectre of Fascism, and an even more overt anti-Semitism than had already been the case. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, even the would-be English dictator Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts: these were the things that the Saturday afternoon game were the truest and best escape from.
The first tournament of the decade had, in addition to the reversion to messing around with the structure, a couple of oddities to itself. Non-League Bath City reached the Fourth Qualifying Round only to be given a bye through it, whilst in the First Round Burton Town were awarded the first walk-over in decades, when their opponents Wigan Borough went out of business and resigned from the League.
But it was the Final that was notable, for Newcastle United becoming the first team to come from behind to win a Wembley Final (and only the third ever to win the Cup after conceding the first goal in the Final). The Geordies beat Arsenal 2-1 but it was their equalising goal which gave its name to the ‘Over the Line’ Final. Arsenal protested that the ball had gone out of play behind the goalline before being crossed for Jack Allen to convert. The referee refused the protests, but photographic evidence after the game proved him wrong. One of television’s future roles was set.
The following season, Brighton and Hove Albion made the elementary mistake of forgetting to apply for their exemption, as a Third Division South Club, into the First Round and so had to work their way up through the Qualifying Rounds. This they did to great effect, eventually reaching the Fifth Round on one of the longest Cup runs played by a League team. This year’s Final was the first in which the players wore numbered shirts, with Everton wearing numbers 1 – 11, representing the traditional positioning from goalkeeper to left-winger. Unusually, Manchester City’s team was kitted out as nos 12 – 22, reversing the order from left-winger to goalkeeper.
Everton were the winners by 3-0, but twelve months later, not for the last time, City bounced back to win, defeating Portsmouth 2-1. Both teams wore 1 – 11 that year, and thereafter until squad numbers were accepted by the Cup. City’s team included right-half Matt Busby, who would go on to make a bit of a name for himself away from Maine Road, and keeper Frank Swift, one of the finest keepers England ever had, who was so wound up by the tension of defending a single goal lead that he fainted on hearing the final whistle!
The Final was next won by Sheffield Wednesday, defeating West Bromwich Albion 4-2 after the Midlanders had twice equalised. It was Wednesday’s third Cup win, one less than their neighbours, but their only one under the banner of their home-town, having only adopted the Sheffield name in 1929. Though Sheffield United, as a Second Division club) would follow their footsteps to Wembley twelve months later, this was to be the last occasion when the Cup went to the Steel City.
The 1935 Final was the third successive Final in which a clash of colours had seen both teams adopted their away strip but the 1935/36 Final saw Arsenal and Sheffield United both utilise their home colours, despite both playing in combinations of red and white. The game was significant for the failure of the newsreel companies to reach an agreement with the Wembley Stadium authorities over rights to cover the game. As a result, all media were banned except for the official Stadium cameraman. In order to cover the game, journalists resorted to hiring autogyros (an early form of helicopter) to overfly the Stadium!
Sunderland became the only first-time winners in 1937, coming from behind to defeat Preston North End 3-1, but Proud Preston, like Manchester City, were back in 1938, thus time to win the Cup. This Final, a repeat of the 1922 Final, was the first to be televised by the BBC. First time round, Huddersfield had won by the only goal, a penalty, but this time it was Preston who won, by the same score and same means. The penalty was awarded in the penultimate minute of extra-time, the only 120 minute Final of this period, and was converted off the underside of the bar.
Seconds before the penalty was awarded, BBC commentator Thomas Woodruffe, convinced the game would be goalless, said he would eat his hat if anyone scored now. And he did. It’s something I’d have loved to see repeated many times with other commentators…
For Preston, it was their second, and last FA Cup win: the other had been the year of the Double, and the Invincibles.
And so we come to the last Final of the seventh decade. It was the first year that the Third Round was played on the first Saturday in January, Football’s New Year. Before then, in the Second Round, the Halifax Town/Mansfield Town tie became the first to go to a Third Replay before being settled in Halifax’s favour. And Portsmouth, after two failures, at last won the Cup, defeating Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1.
On 3 September 1939, two days after the German invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared War. The Football League had gone through three rounds of game: the season was suspended. The FA Cup had not even held its Extra Preliminary Round. Unlike during the First World War, the Government recognised the importance of football to the country’s morale. There would be war-time games, Leagues and Cups, played in regions to avoid unnecessary travelling, with players appearing for clubs nearest to where they might be stationed.
Many players would lose their lives in combat. Many more would see their careers destroyed, their best years, their peak reached and passed during the years of War. Portsmouth would hold the Cup for seven years, the longest reign of any, and a record that hopefully will be unrepeatable, unless a club comes along to dominate the FA Cup to an extent hitherto impossible.
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)
1931/32 Newcastle United 2 Arsenal 1
1932/33 Everton 3 Manchester City 0
1933/34 Manchester City 2 Portsmouth 1
1934/35 Sheffield Wednesday 4 West Bromwich Albion 2
1935/36 Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 0
1936/37 Sunderland 3 Preston North End 1
1937/38 Preston North End 1 Huddersfield Town 0 (aet)
1938/39 Portsmouth 4 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1
The seventh decade, once again truncated by War, enjoyed eight Finals, featuring twelve different Finalists, with Arsenal, Manchester City, Portsmouth and Preston North End each appearing twice. All four clubs would win one and lose one. Sunderland were to be the only first-time winners of the decade, and Sheffield United the only Second Division team to reach the Final. Of the eight winners, only two, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End, would not have future Cup wins ahead of them, on the other side of a War that would be an even greater clash of history and great forces.
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.
A year ago, just before the semi-finals of the FA Cup, I posted a blog with reference to Wigan Athletic’s potential first ever Final appearance – a tremendous feat for a club that I remember actually winning election to the football League, and bucking a trend in doing so (Wigan were the only Northern club to be elected between 1958 when the Fourth Division was founded and the advent of promotion from the Conference: every other case was a Southern club elected to replace a Northern team).
The point of the piece was that a Wigan would make them no. 56, but it was highly unlikely that they would be no. 43 as well.
The meaning of those numbers was simple: Wigan would indeed set a landmark by becoming the 56th team to reach an FA Cup Final since the world’s oldest trophy was inaugurated in the 1871-72 season, and as we all so thrillingly know, they beat the odds to become only the 43rd team to lift the Cup.
It’s a hell of a coincidence, but the same situation has arisen in 2014.
This year’s FA Cup Finalists are Arsenal, long-standing Premiership giants, with ten FA Cup wins under their belt, just one short of the record held by Manchester United, and Hull City, first-time finalists, the fifty-seventh team to reach the Cup Final, and the potential 44th Winners.
How likely is that? For a start, I reckon that whilst Arsenal are obvious favourites in the same way that Manchester City seemed nailed on last year, they’re not as strong or as evidently superior as the Blues.
For one thing, it is nine years since Arsenal last secured silverware, a period during which they have consistently fallen away when faced with the opportunity to end that increasingly embarrassing run. After all, whilst they reached the Final at the expense of the holders, who are now a Championship side, they did it by coming from behind and even then only securing victory via a penalty shoot-out.
And on the other hand, where Wigan came to Wembley last season distracted by the threat of relegation (which duly came after the stunning conclusion to the Final), Hull, whilst not out of danger yet, look increasingly likely to be secure by the time the game is played.
So: will it happen again?
No-one will know the answer until the day of the game itself, though you can easily imagine which way my sympathies will be swinging, even before we take into account that Hull’s manager is good old Captain Courageous, the ex-Manchester United centre-back, Steve Bruce.
If history has any influence on the matter, Hull may well be in luck. Before Wigan, the last first-time winners were Wimbledon (who are now one of nine FA Cup Winners who no longer exist), but Wimbledon’s improbable win over Liverpool was exactly one year after Coventry City shocked Tottenham Hotspur by winning their first and only Cup.
Two First Time Finalists and Winners in a row has been done before. The Hand of History beckons…
Despite everything the Football Association have done to fuck over the World’s oldest competition, the most romantic and the most memory-filled Cup of all, the years have just been transcended, and Wigan Athletic – Wigan Athletic! – have won the Cup. The 56th team to have played in the Final, and now the 43rd to have lifted the trophy, the first First Time Winners in a quarter century and every bit as unlikely as the last ones – and bloody hell, but didn’t they deserve it!
I had to be on their side. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wigan. I always shout for the underdog. I always hang in for a First Time Winner. And I’ll support anybody against the Bitters. I thought about punting a fiver on the Latics, and I should have done.
But that flying header, sailing into the net. Biggest cheer of the season for me (well, since van Perfect popped in that late winner at the Etihad).
Oh glory Wigan! It’s like the Cup was still alive. Long may it stay so.