The FA Cup is the oldest football competition still in existence throughout the world today. It may have been superseded by the Premier League and Champions League in terms of importance by some clubs across the country but for many its romance and history reigns supreme still to this day.
The ‘magic’ of the cup may be diminished in comparison to its former standing as the greatest knockout competition in the world but in what other competition can you witness the likes of non-league Hereford Town, Ronnie Radford et al beating the mighty Newcastle United (1972), minnows Sutton United knocking out 1987 Cup winners Coventry City (1989), and lowly Wrexham dumping reigning league champions Arsenal out of the cup at the Racecourse (1992)? Nowhere.
More recently we’ve witnessed relegated Wigan Athletic beating mega-wealthy Manchester City against all the odds in the 2013 final, League One outfit Bradford City recovering from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Premier League leaders Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in 2015 and just last February Lincoln City shocking Premier League Burnley to become the first non-league club since 1914 to reach the cup quarter-finals.
Here we take a moment to remind ourselves of five of the greatest FA Cup finals in the competition’s long and illustrious 137-year history.
Blackpool 4 Bolton Wanderers 3 – 1953
Nicknamed the ‘Matthews final’ after the great Blackpool and England winger Stanley Matthews match-of-the-match performance, this was the first great Cup Final captured live on television. And what a final it was, pitching 38-year-old Matthews and Stan Mortensen up against the great Bolton and England forward Nat Lofthouse.
And it was Lofthouse who would draw first blood, firing home through Blackpool keeper George Farm’s hands from the edge of the area after barely a minute’s play to continue his run of scoring a goal in every round of the cup. The Seasiders drew level courtesy of a cross-shot from Mortensen before another error from Farm allowed Willie Moir to put the Trotters back in front before the interval. And 10 minutes after the restart, Bolton increased their advantage courtesy of the hobbling Eric Bell.
3-1 down and with just 22 minutes left to play, Matthews came into his own, first crossing for Mortensen to reduce the arrears before the Tangerines centre-forward equalised direct from a free-kick to complete his hat-trick with less than two minutes to play. And with seconds remaining on the clock an amazing turnaround was completed when Bill Perry fired home another Matthews cross to win the cup for Blackpool and atone for their previous losses in 1948 and 1951.
Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2 – 1979
Having waved a fond farewell to legendary manager Bertie Mee the previous summer, Arsenal entered the 1979 final against cup holders Manchester United under the tutelage of former player Terry Neill. The 3-2 victory over their northern rivals would prove to be Neill’s only trophy at the helm of the Gunners, but what a dramatic way it was to win their first cup since 1971.
Midfielder Brian Talbot from close range and a Frank Stapleton header from a Liam Brady cross put Arsenal two-up and coasting towards cup glory before half-time. But following a less than entertaining second half, with four minutes of the final remaining, United’s giant Scot Gordon McQueen restored some hope for the travelling Mancunian supporters with a left-footed shot from inside the area. And incredibly just two minutes later Northern Ireland international Sammy McIlroy, after evading two challenges, scuffed home past Pat Jennings to bring the Red Devils level to keep their hopes of retaining the trophy they won 12 months earlier against Liverpool firmly alive.
But with the match seemingly set to enter 30 minutes of extra time, Neill’s men made one last attack through Brady and latching onto a superb Graham Rix cross, Alan Sunderland stretched to volley home the winning goal in a match that would later be affectionately dubbed ‘the five minute final.’
Coventry City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1987
What a match this proved to be, one of the best FA Cup finals ever according to many experts. It pitted seven-time Cup winners Tottenham against first-time finalists Coventry with the North Londoner’s having never lost a final previously and going for a record eighth triumph.
With just two minutes on the clock, David Pleat’s Lilywhites were already living up to their tag as overwhelming favourites, Clive Allen heading home Chris Waddle’s delicious right wing cross to put Spurs one up, his 49th goal of a stellar season. However, with just eight minutes of the final played, John Sillett’s Sky Blues were level, winger Dave Bennett rounding Spurs goalkeeper Ray Clemence to fire home.
Spurs regained their lead before the interval, captain Gary Mabbutt deflecting home after Coventry’s Cyrille Regis had seen a header disallowed at the opposite end. With just over an hour played however, Sillett’s stubborn charges were back on level terms when forward Keith Houchen scored an iconic equaliser, a diving header from Bennett’s tantalising centre. The scores remained level for the rest of normal time but just six minutes into extra time the unfortunate Mabbutt deflected a Lloyd McGrath cross up and over a stranded Clemence for the match-winning goal. The Sky Blues had broken their duck, ending Tottenham’s unbeaten run in finals and with it spoiled Glenn Hoddle’s last appearance for the North London giants.
Liverpool 3 Everton 2 – 1989
Played just five weeks after the devastating Hillsborough disaster, the red and blue sides of Merseyside descended upon the English capital determined to produce a final worthy of dedicating to the memory of all those affected by the tragic events in Sheffield.
Following a moving rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ led by Gerry Marsden, the match kicked off and within four minutes Liverpool were one ahead, John Aldridge confidently dispatching Steve McMahon’s pass into the top corner of the net. The game remained 1-0 with the full time whistle imminent, only for Everton substitute Stuart McCall to snatch an equaliser from close range with the last kick of the game to prompt a mini pitch invasion from delighted Everton supporters.
Five minutes into extra time Liverpool striker Ian Rush, on as a replacement having returned from a brief season-long sojourn to Italy with Juventus, swivelled to volley Kenny Dalglish’s men back in front. However, within five minutes, McCall had dragged the Colin Harvey’s men level once more with a superb volley from the edge of the area to leave Bruce Grobbelaar helpless in the Reds goal. Yet Liverpool were not to be denied and Rush, so often the nemesis of Everton over the years including in the 1986 Cup final, would once again be the one to break Evertonian hearts as he stooped low to flick home John Barnes’ cross past an exposed Neville Southall and seal Liverpool’s fourth and most emotional cup final victory.
Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3 (3-1 on penalties) – 2006
Better known as ‘the Gerrard final,’ Liverpool emerged victorious from the 2006 FA Cup final following a 3-3 draw and a penalty shoot out win over Alan Pardew’s West Ham. On a gloriously sunny afternoon at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, the venue for all cup finals during Wembley’s rebuild, the Reds skipper just as he had done 12 months earlier in Istanbul, inspired his teammate’s recovery after falling behind.
West Ham took a two-goal first half lead thanks to an own goal from Jamie Carragher and a poacher’s goal from Dean Ashton, but before half-time a sumptuous lofted pass from Gerrard enabled Djibril Cisse to halve the deficit. Gerrard himself slammed home an equaliser from a Peter Crouch knockdown with nine minutes of the second half played, but just past the hour mark future Liverpool left-back Paul Konchesky watched his lofted cross sail over Pepe Reina and into the Reds goal to put the Irons back in the lead.
And the score remained the same right up until the last seconds of the match when Gerrard with a thunderbolt of a half-volley from fully 35 yards scored one of the best FA Cup final goals ever seen to draw his boyhood club level at the death. Reina would prove the hero in the resulting shoot out following two goalless periods of extra time saving from Konchesky, Bobby Zamora and Anton Ferdinand. But the real hero of the hour, not for the first time in the club’s history would be captain fantastic Gerrard who would lift Liverpool’s seventh FA Cup trophy.
The Magic Of The Cup
The magic of the FA Cup is well and truly alive as Wigan’s victory over West Ham and Newport County’s heroic efforts against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday proved. The Cup has produced some truly wonderful moments over the last 137 years but what new memories will this year’s competition inspire? You can find all the best fourth round replay, fifth round match and overall competition odds at Sun Bets.