It came true. It happened after all. For the first time since Nottingham Forest in 1978, thirty-eight years ago, the Championship of England has been won by a team that has never done it before. Leicester City, the nearly men, the never men, the won’t-last-men, are Champions.
To all of you in Leicester, to all of you who support them, to all of you who haven’t piled in like we did, looking over your shoulders, dreaming of seeing the heart of football reborn, no words of congratulations can sum up your feelings now. Just take this to heart, live every minute of it, savour it.
You’re there, in a place none of the rest of us can reach.
You beauties. You absolute, brilliant, fucking wonderful beauties.
I am, as you should by now be well aware, a Manchester United, and one highly delighted at our victory over Everton yesterday to reach the FA Cup Final (what a winning goal by Anthony Martial!)
But it’s not of the Cup that I want to speak now. Everybody will also be aware that United have not played well this season and, with four League games remaining, lie fifth, with an outside chance of pipping Arsenal for the vital fourth place that will see us in the Champions League again next season.
Back in October of last year, the unlikely shape of Leicester City reached the top of the Premier League, and I decided to support them for the League this year. Part of it was a joke: as a United fan of nearly forty years standing, I have been accused on innumerable occasions of being a glory-hunter, so I felt perfectly entitled to actually be one for once.
No-one was taking Leicester seriously back then. They won’t last, they’ll burn out, they haven’t got the squad, these were the mantras. In vain I pointed out that I had heard every single one of these objections spoken about Nottingham Forest in 1977/78. No-one wanted to listen. No-one could believe Leicester could be taken seriously.
Even I didn’t really expect it to last. It would be glorious if it did, an absolutely brilliant demonstration that football wasn’t completely dead yet, that it hadn’t been bought and sold irrecoverably by the Big Four/Five. And it wasn’t really glory-hunting. That glory, that delirium attaches to the real Leicester fans, for whom this is life and death in a way that it can never be for me, who next year will be (hopefully) concentrating upon United.
But it has lasted, not just lasted but become and been deadly serious for far too long now. I’ve followed the results, I’ve even started watching the games. It still doesn’t make me a Foxes, just a mere hanger-on, ready to be thrilled and delighted by the glory that they will rightly savour. If it comes off.
And that’s the thing. As of those moment, I’ve just enjoyed an open, flowing game that Leicester have won 4-0. That places them eight points clear, eight points, nearly three whole wins, at the top. With three games to play.
But in second place, Tottenham Hotspur, the only team that can now overhaul the Foxes, have four games to play. Speaking strictly mathematically, Spurs could end up on 80 points. Leicester are on 76 points: they need five from the last three games to secure the title.
Though if Spurs fail to win their game-in-hand, at home tomorrow night to West Bromwich Albion, which seems unlikely but hey, this is football, the equation will change dramatically. Even if Spurs only draw, Leicester could win the Premier League in their next match, next Sunday.
At Old Trafford. Against Manchester United.
Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I have never, ever gone into a United game wanting us to lose. Expecting to lose, maybe, but never, not for the most tactical of purposes wanting us to do anything other than win. But a win over Leicester might destroy this ridiculous dream of glory, this unimaginably v-signing, nose-thumbing, middle-finger raising claim upon something fundamental to football’s soul, or that part of it that is still not black and charred.
Especially if a win next Sunday might be the thing itself.
Next Sunday could be seriously embarrassing. Come on West Brom!
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.
A Century had passed since the FA Cup began. It had progressed from public schoolboys playing before a crowd of 3,000 at Kensington Oval to professional clubs before 100,000 at the Empire Stadium. The Centenary Cup Final was a grand occasion, celebrated as such with banners and emblems representing each of the Cup’s (then-) thirty-eight Winners. Fittingly, the Cup Final represented the North-South divide that had dominated the ancient trophy’s first two decades, although it would have been a more exact fit if the North had been represented by a team from west of the Pennines. But it was Leeds United who won their first and only Cup, ending Arsenal’s hopes of wining successive Finals, and adding to that tally of Winners.
Had they won or even drawn their last League game, played five days after the Final, Leeds would have secured the Double, twelve months after Arsenal had become the fourth club to achieve that feat. But defeat at Wolverhampton saw the League go to Derby County.
The Final was not a classic, though the Third Place Play-Off achieved a record by becoming the first FA Cup tie to be settled via a penalty shoot-out, twice losers Birmingham City achieving a measure of success by beating Midlands rivals, Stoke City. Penalty shoot-outs would not become a regular feature of the Cup for another two decades.
The longest Cup-tie ever happened this season, in the Fourth Qualifying Round, when Alvechurch needed eleven hours of play to beat Oxford City, the game going to a Fifth Replay before being settled. Ted McDougall of Bournemouth set a Cup record in their First Round 11-0 victory over non-League Margate, by scoring nine of his side’s goals.
But the 1971/72 season, for fans of a certain vintage, will be forever remembered for a delayed Third Round tie. Newcastle United vs Hereford United was postponed twice before the game ended in a draw. The replay was held the day of the Fourth Round and thus appeared on Match of the Day, as a result of which John Motson’s television career was made, and Ronnie Radford’s wonder goal that forced extra-time was seen by the country, and has been available upon mental replay ever since. Radford’s crashing shot from thirty yards was one of the most spectacular goals of all time, and Hereford went on to score again in extra-time, to become the first non-League team to knock out a First Division club.
Their fame led directly to Hereford being voted into the Fourth Division that summer, at the expense of Barrow.
As in 1972, the 1973 Final saw the holders back at Wembley, only to fall at the final hurdle for a second successive season, but this was a minor consideration in the face of one of the greatest ever Cup Final shocks. Leeds, a team consisting of eleven full International players, were faced by Sunderland, a Second Division team containing no (then-) Internationals at all. It was one of the biggest mis-matches in a Cup Final ever, but Sunderland won it, with Ian Porterfield scoring the only goal, midway through the first half. It was the first Cup win by a Second Division team in forty-two years, and it would be the first of five Second Division Finalists in a decade, three of whom, including the Wearsiders, would win the trophy.
Sunderland’s victory was compounded by their having, in the semi-finals, denied Arsenal the chance to become the first team since Blackburn Rovers in 1884-86 to reach three successive Finals.
Vital though Portfield’s goal was, for those of us who watched the Final, the game is most remembered for Jimmy Montgomery’s save, twenty minutes from time. Montgomery, one of the greatest keepers never to play for his country, had dived full-length to his left to parry a diving header from Trevor Cherry, only for the ball to drop to the feet of Peter Lorimer, six yards out. Lorimer, who had been officially recorded as having the hardest shot in football, let fly from point-blank range, an equaliser all the way. But Montgomery got himself off the ground and in front of the ball, deflecting it up against the crossbar and away to safety.
It was one of the greatest saves of all time and, for people of my generation, second only to Banks v Pele in the 1970 World Cup. My instant thought was that if Leeds couldn’t score there, they would never score, and it’s impossible not to think that that was what went through the players’ minds. The Cup is about the underdog, the Giant-Killer. There has been only one Final since where the same magnitude of shock has been felt.
In the Third Place Play-Off, Wolverhampton Wanderers beat Arsenal 3-1, but it is a mark of the complete indifference in which the game was held that, instead of being played on the evening before the Final, it was delayed three months, until the eve of the 1973/74 season.
That year saw Liverpool win their second Cup, comfortably beating Newcastle United 3-0. Steve Heighway, in scoring the second Liverpool goal, became the first player since the Fifties to score in two different Finals, and the result might have been even greater but for the erroneous disallowing of a goal from full-back Alec Lindsay when the game was scoreless. Lindsay was given offside after cracking in a fierce shot from a very tight angle, the officials having been bemused by a Kevin Keegan dummy that saw the ball put into Lindsay’s path by a Newcastle defender instead of a Liverpool player.
The Final is remembered as being the legendary Bill Shankley’s last game as Liverpool manager. As was his custom every year, Shankley tendered his resignation to the Directors, but was stunned when they accepted it, appointing his assistant, Bob Paisley to succeed him. The decision broke Shankley’s heart.
Newcastle’s route to Wembley that year was dogged by controversy in the Sixth Round, when they staged a recovery from 3-1 down, reduced to ten men, to beat Nottingham Forest 4-3. However, the game had been marred by a home pitch invasion after Forest’s third goal. Two Forest defenders were injured in the melee, but the match restarted with the agreement of both captains.
Nevertheless, Forest made an official complaint after the game, demanding that the result be overturned and Newcastle disqualified. It was argued that the Magpies had gotten through on merit, given their circumstances when the gave resumed. The FA’s solution was to declare the result void and order the match replayed. Newcastle won the tie legitimately after a replay.
In the final appearance of the unwanted Third Place Play-Off, Burnley became its last winner, beating the perennially unsuccessful Leicester City.
It had taken ninety-seven years to produce the first London Derby Final, but it took only another eight for the second. West Ham United were paired with First-Time Finalists, Fulham, also of the Second Division. It was Bobby Moore’s second appearance as a Cup Final Captain, ironically in Fulham colours against his old club, but there was to be no romance in 1975. West Ham’s Alan Taylor became the youngest player to score in a Wembley Final, netting twice in five minutes.
Both teams reached the Final via semi-final replays, West Ham defeating Ipswich Town, who had already required three replays to knock out Leeds United in the Sixth Round.
West Ham are the last team to win the Cup with an all-English line-up, including their unused substitute. It is unlikely that this will ever happen again.
The Second Division’s run of success was extended in 1976, with Southampton not only reaching the Final, their first since 1902 as members of the Southern League, but emulating Sunderland in beating First Division Manchester United with a late goal from Bobby Stokes. It also brought a Winners medal to his team-mate, Jim McCalliog, a member of the Sheffield Wednesday team beaten in the Final exactly a decade earlier.
This match is probably also the only Cup Final to be immortalised in a pseudo-folk song by Jasper Carrott.
Manchester United had been horribly embarrassed by their defeat to Southampton, though the 1976 Final came only twelve months after the two clubs had been contemporaries in the Second Division. They got their opportunity to redeem themselves a year later, emulating their local rivals’ twice-performed feat of returning to Wembley to win the Cup on a second successive appearance.
To achieve this, United had to burst the ambitions of the Bob-Paisley led Liverpool, out not only to win the Double but to combine this into a unique Treble that would incorporate the European Cup. Though this feat (and one better) had been accomplished by Glasgow Celtic in 1967, it had not been done in the five major European Leagues (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish). Liverpool were League holders, and would go on to emulate United in bringing the European Cup to England, but United would deny them their Treble.
The Final was settled by a flurry of three goals in five minutes, United striking first, Liverpool equalising, and United scoring a bizarre winner when a shot drifting wide struck striker Jimmy Greenhoff in the chest and floated into the net. Just as McCalliog in the previous Final, Greenhoff became a Cup-Winner twelve years after being on the losing side in his only other appearance.
Ironically, Manchester United would go on to complete the Treble denied to Liverpool, twenty-two years later. Doubly ironically, as with Bill Shankley in 1974, the Final was to be the last match for United Manager Tommy Docherty, fired for abusing his position as manager to conduct an affair with one of his subordinate’s wives.
There was another First-Time Winner the following year, as Ipswich Town overcame the odds to beat the highly-fancied Arsenal. This was the third Final of this decade to be decided by a single goal, scored twelve minutes from time by midfielder Roger Osborne. The Cup-Winner never kicked a ball for Ipswich again. Osborne was substituted before the game re-started, officially due to ‘exhaustion’ (it was later revealed that he had actually fainted and had to be revived on the pitch, though at the time it looked as if the real reason he couldn’t carry on was the way his ten team-mates had jumped on him!)
Osborne was injured during pre-season training and sold without playing for the club again.
Ipswich’s win was the thirteenth consecutive win by different teams, since Tottenham Hotspur had retained the Cup in 1962, equalling the previous Cup record of thirteen wins by different clubs between 1931 and 1949.
Arsenal were back at Wembley the following season, facing Manchester United in their third Final in four seasons. The game is regularly called a classic, but for 85 minutes it was far from that, being a dull, one-sided affair in which Arsenal were cruising to victory until United scored what appeared to be a consolation goal. Within a minute, they forced an equaliser and were on course for extra-time in which it was assumed they would overcome mentally beaten opponents. However, with only a minute left, a seemingly desperate Arsenal rebounded with a dramatic winner, that could hardly be denied as deserved.
For Arsenal, Brian Talbot – a member of the Cup-Winning Ipswich team twelve months previously – set a unique record as the first and so far only player to win successive Winners’ medals with different clubs. And with Alan Sunderland scoring the winner, Talbot received credit for Arsenal’s opening goal, which I have always believed was struck simultaneously by he and Sunderland.
Having failed to reach the 1973 Final, Arsenal had only seven years to wait before becoming the first team in over ninety years to appear in three consecutive Finals, though their win against Manchester United would be their only success. West Ham United, the fourth Second Division Finalist since 1973, would win the Cup by a single goal in the third London Derby Final.
Both Finalists required replays to reach Wembley, Arsenal needing three replays to achieve their goal. West Ham’s Paul Allen replaced Howard Kendall as the youngest ever Finalist, and was denied a near-certain late goal by a cynical professional foul on the edge of the area when clean through. In modern times, it would be a clear red card, but in keeping with the history of the Cup, only a yellow card was shown, reserving the record of never having a sending-off in the Final.
A decade that began with the Cup’s Centenary Final ended with its hundredth Final, as Tottenham Hotspur played Manchester City. For Spurs, it was assumed victory would come, it being a year ending in 1, and the club having won the Cup in 1901, 1921 and 1961 (it may be assumed that if War had not intervened, Spurs would have claimed the 1941 Cup).
Since Wembley had melded itself to Cup Final Day, each year one of the country’s principal stadiums, grounds that expected to hold semi-finals on a regular basis, had been nominated to host any replay, of which there had only been one. In 1981, the FA decided to change this arrangement by stipulating the Empire Stadium itself as the official Replay venue.
As if to honour this, three successive Finals would need replays.
Manchester City’s Tommy Hutchison would emulate Bert Turner’s unwanted record by scoring for both teams in the Final, first by heading a spectacular opening goal, then by deflecting a weak free-kick past his own goalkeeper. Tottenham Hotspur, who had become the first team to reached the Top 10 with an FA Cup Final song (‘Ossie’s Dream’, about which…), included both their Argentine players in the Final, the first of that nationality to do so.
Ricardo Villa had an undistinguished game and was substituted just before the Spurs equaliser, but he was the star of a seesaw replay which saw the lead change hands twice before Villa set off on a mazy dribble that saw him score the winner, a goal hailed as the greatest Cup-Winning goal of all time.
In its second century, the Cup continued to give football in England some of its greatest and most memorable moments. As it moved forward into the Eighties, it would still remain the most dramatic and romantic competition of them all.
(all Finals played at the Empire Stadium, Wembley)
1971/72 Leeds United 1 Arsenal 0
1972/73 Sunderland 1 Leeds United 0
1973/44 Liverpool 3 Newcastle United 0
1974/75 West Ham United 2 Fulham 0
1975/76 Southampton 1 Manchester United 0
1976/77 Manchester United 2 Liverpool 1
1977/78 Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 0
1978/79 Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2
1979/80 West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0
1980/81 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Manchester City 1 (aet)
R: Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 2
The first decade of the FA Cup’s second century featured only eleven clubs, the lowest for a full decade since the Victorian era, and nine winners again, with only Newcastle United and Manchester City failing to win the trophy. This time, only West Ham United won the Cup twice, the second time as representatives of the Second Division. Amazingly, three Second Division clubs won the Cup in this decade (whilst Fulham were beaten finalists), but there has been no winner from the lower tiers since West Ham. Arsenal reached Wembley no less than four times, and Liverpool and Manchester United three, though all three teams only won a single trophy, whilst Leeds United made two appearances, with only one win. Southampton and Ipswich Town were the decade’s only First Time Winners, whilst the decade ended with another draw, but this time and henceforth, Wembley itself would host the replay.
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.
Years of change. The biggest of all was the Great War, causing the FA Cup to be suspended for four seasons, but when Football resumed its place in post-War society, it too would undergo drastic change, moving towards the game as we would know it for most of the rest of the Century.
There was no sign of any of the changes that were to come when the Cup moved into its fifth decade. Barnsley, defeated two years earlier by Newcastle United, reached their second Final and this time won the Cup, although they again needed a Replay, and actually lifted the trophy considerably nearer to home, in Sheffield, at Bramall Lane.
This was the third successive Final to go to a Replay, which led to some Press rumblings, exactly as it did when the same thing occurred in the 1980s. Neither side played well, though you have to feel sympathetic towards West Brom who, due to a series of postponements from early in the League season, had to play seven games in ten days, one of those between the Final and its replay. Even then, Barnsley’s winner came with only two minutes of extra-time remaining, and with it presumably the prospect of a Second Replay. Only one Final has been decided at a later point than this game.
Barnsley also became the third Second Division team to lift the Cup. The gate, at the Crystal Palace, was 54,000. The fluctuating nature of crowds at the Final, which was still on a pay-at-the-gate basis, was re-emphasised the following season, when Aston Villa again attracted a six-figure gate, a new record of just under 122,000. Only one other Final has attracted more.
Villa’s single goal victory over first-time Finalists Sunderland saw them draw level with Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers as five times Cup-winners. This came despite having a penalty saved with the game still goalless. That event would not be repeated for seventy-five years.
There would be one more season where the Cup remained unaffected. There were still two Preliminary Rounds, still five Qualifying Rounds, still four Rounds Proper. There was still the uneven division of byes among the forty League teams, and still the extensive extension of byes into the First Round Proper extended to non-League clubs, in theory inferior of status to the Second Division.
Not all of these byes went to the Southern League. The 1913/14 season saw one such place handed to an amateur club, London Caledonians, a club composed almost exclusively of Scots exiled to the capital. The amateurs played in, had been founders in 1905 of the Isthmian League, senior among a group of similarly Hellenic-titled Leagues based in London and the Home Counties, staunchly defending the amateur principal. London Caledonians would fold in 1939, but the Isthmian League would remain resolutely amateur until the distinction was abolished in 1970, and beyond, and the League persists today, long better known by its sponsors, as the Rymans League.
Burnley won that last pre-war Cup, the last to be played at the Crystal Palace, beating fellow first-time Finalists Liverpool by the only goal. It would take Liverpool over fifty years to finally win the Cup.
On 28 July, 1914, what became known as the Great War and, decades after, the First World War was declared, before either the Football League or FA Cup seasons had begun. That the season was allowed to be started, and was played out in full, demonstrated the relative lack of seriousness with which the War initially taken. By the time of the Final in April, the situation changed. The Final was moved from London to Old Trafford, Manchester, to avoid disruption to travel in and around London. The choice of venue was unfair to the losing Finalists, Chelsea, who had already had to travel to Blackburn for semi-final, but the War had not been over by Xmas and grim years were ahead. The game was won 3-0 by Sheffield United, and has gone down in history as the Khaki Cup Final, reflecting the number of men in battledress among the crowd. That crowd numbered less than 50,000 (travel restrictions, mobilisation). There has never been a Cup Final gate that low since.
Chelsea would finally win the Cup fifty-five years later, ironically at Old Trafford again. The last Cup, before all sport was suspended for the duration, the FA Cup set to one side, and professionalism temporarily banned, had seen entrants rise sufficiently for there again to be need of a Sixth Qualifying Round.
It’s an interesting point to question whether football, and sport should have been suspended as it was. True, local matches still took place, but organised football was shut down completely, unlike during the Second World war, where regionalised War-time Leagues and Cups abounded. Though the war in the trenches had already settled down to the grim torture of four years, there was no realistic threat of the hostilities extending to Britain. It was the ongoing jingoistic attitude to the War that prevailed. White feathers were still being handed out to able-bodied men in the street, mostly by women who were completely ignorant of what they were demanding. To play football was unpatriotic. Whilst men at the Front pleaded for the game to carry on, to give them something to look forward to when home, in England the Press was scathing, public meetings called for the game to cease and Football was branded as the single most powerful reason why yooung men were not signing-up. That it might have been morale-boosting, as was recognised in World War 2, never entered anyone’s heads.
The War ended on 11 November 1918, the forty-seventh anniversary of the Cup’s first ever round, far too late for any organised football that season. Things returned to normal the following year, with the same format in place, in both League and Cup. Sheffield United handed back the trophy after holding it for five years, in time for Aston Villa to beat Huddersfield Town by a single, extra-time goal, at the Cup’s new, short-lived home of Stamford Bridge. It was thus fortunate that Villa had defeated Chelsea in the semi-final.
Villa’s victory meant that they had won the Cup for a sixth time, a new record that saw them move past Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. They would hold, singly and jointly, the record for most wins for sixty-one years, a record unlikely ever to be beaten.
But elsewhere, the Football League had ambitions to expand, and in the summer of 1920, it re-structured itself. It had already expanded itself to two Divisions of twenty-two each the year after the War (with Arsenal securing a First Division place despite having finished the last pre-war season fifth in Division 2: this feat was achieved through bribery, as was later admitted. Arsenal have never left the top level since). Now, however, it added a Third Division, of twenty-two clubs, by simply absorbing the entire Southern League First Division, en masse.
As a consequence, the Cup underwent a change. Its format was retained, but the two Preliminary and Six Qualifying Rounds now produce a total of twelve survivors to join fifty-two of the now sixty-four League Clubs. Nine Third Division sides entered at the First Round Proper, the other thirteen in the Qualifying Rounds. As did Second Division Leeds United, a club a year old, formed from the ashes of the pre-War Leeds City, forcibly disbanded by the FA for illegal war-time payments to players. As the Club had only one year’s existence, in the Midland League, before being elected directly into the Second Division, they had to start from the First Qualifying Round.
The Cup was won by Tottenham Hotspur, by now a League club. It was the first time the Cup had come to London since Spurs’ previous victory, exactly twenty years ago.
The modern structure of the FA Cup was almost in place now. Though the system of byes into later stages was still complex and partial, the Rounds were there. All it would need would be to convert the last two Qualifying Rounds into the first two Proper Rounds, which would happen in the next decade, to reach the present format, and the League’s great expansion, over the last season of its fifth decade and the first of its sixth would create the conditions for the competition we know to finally be attained.
(all Finals prior to the First World War played at Crystal Palace, all post-War at Stamford Bridge, unless otherwise stated)
1911/12 Barnsley 0 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet)
R: Barnsley 1 West Bromwich Albion 0 (aet) (Bramall Lane, Sheffield)
1912/13 Aston Villa 1 Sunderland 0
1913/14 Burnley 1 Liverpool 0
1914/15 Sheffield United 3 Chelsea 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)
1919/20 Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town (aet)
1920/21 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
The fifth decade was reduced to only six Finals, with eleven different finalists. Only Aston Villa appeared twice, setting a new record of six wins, overtaking Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. Five clubs appeared in their first Final, though only Burnley would lift the trophy. The other four clubs would all go on to win the Cup in the future, though Liverpool would have to wait another half-century before they could add their name to the Roll of Honour. Besides Burnley, only Barnsley were first-time winners, the latter the third Second Division club to achieve this: neither team has won the Cup since.
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.