Video of the Day: FA Cup – Oldham Athletic vs Manchester United, April 1990
There is a case for saying that the eighth of April 1990 is one of the most significant afternoons in the history of English football. With English clubs still banned from European competitions, the FA Cup still held a significance that it doesn’t have today and will never have again, and both FA Cup semi-finals were being shown on the BBC. Most significantly of all, of course, these were the first FA Cup semi-finals since ninety-six people lost their lives on the decrepit terraces of Hillsborough just under a year earlier. Few wanted to admit it, but there was a hint of nervousness in the air.
In the lunchtime match, Crystal Palace, a team in fifteenth place in the First Division table, beat Liverpool, who were three points clear at the top of the table, by four goals to three at Villa Park. In the second match, Oldham Athletic played Manchester United at Maine Road. Oldham went into the match in ninth place in the Second Division, whilst Manchester United went into the match in sixteenth place in the First Division table, just above the relegation places and with suggestions that Mark Robins’ goal against Nottingham Forest had saved Alex Ferguson’s job.
Liverpool’s defeat against Crystal Palace was a small sign of a chink in the club’s formidable armour. 1990 remains the last time the club was the champion of England. Manchester United, meanwhile, would get a bit of swagger back with their 1990 FA Cup win. They went on to win the European Cup Winners Cup the following year, as English clubs were readmitted, into European competition, and the question of when they would again become the champions of England started to feel like a “when” rather than an “if” in a way that it hadn’t done for many years.
There was a broader significance too. That day felt cathartic for a lot of people, two outstanding matches which felt, even if unintended, like a fitting tribute to those that had died a year before, in their own small way. The 1990 FA Cup semi-finals didn’t draw a line under the outrage of Hillsborough – that may take a giant step forward in the next few days – but our game was starting to learn to love itself again and this was an appropriate lust hurrah before the Premier League swept in and changed everything, forever. Commentary at Maine Road comes from Barry Davies.