Giggs will tear us apart again

So it’s confirmed then, and the surprise is minimal. Ryan Giggs is to leave Manchester United after twenty-nine years, presumably for the crime of being more loyal to Manchester United than he ever could have been to Jose Mourinho.

Others will say, have already begun to say all the things I would say if I were to wax lyrical about Ryan Giggs, the man who played for United more often than anyone else did or ever will. Like all of us who watched those years, we have our indelible store of all the things he did for us, and though each of us would produce a different top 10 of Great Giggsy Moments, we would none of us contradict anyone who said that something not on our personal list was Great.

Two things stand out in my personal lexicon, one obscure, one legendary: legendary from the moment it happened. The first I saw in the flesh, only once, the second on TV, where I have seen it replayed what feels like a million times and yet it thrills me a million and one times as soon as that clip starts with the ball at someone else’s feet.

The first took place on Boxing Day, 1997, in Nottingham, away to Forest. It was a cold, crisp day and I drove down early, had food and drink in the City Centre, walked down to Trent Bridge and took my seat, in which, like the rest of the United fans, I proceeded to stand for ninety minutes.

The pitch was frosty and hard, the bounce high. United scored twice in each half for a comfortable 4-0 win and I drove home content. But in the second half, as United defended the far end, Peter Schmeical launched a clearance so high that,when it came down, it was coming down vertically.

Giggsy was under it. On a pitch that hard, the bounce would have been a good twenty feet in the air. He trapped it under his left foot. Trapped it stone dead, under his control, all kinetic energy drained in an instant. Incredible. I’m sure it happened, sure that I saw it, but if it did happen, it wasn’t deemed worthy of inclusion in the Match of the Day highlights, nor any footage to have escaped onto YouTube.

And the other one was THAT one. You know which one I mean, that one against Arsenal. The last goal ever scored in a semi-final replay, the polled greatest FA Cup goal Ever. Extra-time, United down to ten men, Patrick Viera slides that weak, tired ball across the pitch and Giggsy – on as a substitute and, what everybody forgets, having played utter shite from the moment he stepped onto the turf – runs himself into immortality over the next ten seconds.

I watched the game at my Uncle’s house: he had Sky, I didn’t. A couple of months before, he’d had a heart attack. Loud noises were bad for him. So I’m on my knees in awe and disbelief and shock and roaring triumph and doing all of this in total silence, which is not an easy thing to achieve.

In between those two moments, and before them, and after, there were more moments than I can count. Twenty-nine years is a long time to spend at one employer’s in this era, let alone in football, where ephemerality is the name of the game. What he does, where he goes, the path behind him can never be erased. He walked that for us, indeed he flew along it on feet of genius. I never saw George, but I saw Ryan, and I do not even need to close my eyes to see him again, ‘a young boy running down the wing, with the wind in his hair.’

Up for t’Cup – 1982 – 91

The 96. We will never forget.

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

(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)

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

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

Up for t’Cup: 1952 – 1961

The winning goal of the most famous Final of all time

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.

Up for t’Cup: 1891/2 – 1900/01

A Final at the Crystal Palace

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

(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)

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

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