This afternoon at the mildly absurd time of 5.15, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic will kick off in the one hundred and thirty-second FA Cup final and, much as the old trophy has frequently been debased in recent years, it still has a rich history upon which we can draw. What follows is listed chronologically (partly out of a mild degree of Saturday morning laziness, and partly because, well, how do you compare a middle-aged man running onto a football pitch and evading his would-be captors with a penalty save or a match that would prove pivotal in the entire history of the game?), and we should also take a moment anybody with any complaints about this list should bear in mind that this list was plucked almost at random, with a hangover, at ten o’clock on Saturday morning.
1. The Rise Of The Professionals: There have been many watershed moments in the history of football, from Hungary quite literally dumping the England captain Billy Wright on his arse at Wembley in 1953 to Sergio Aguero marking the grand entrance of the new Empire with a last minute goal on the last day of the 2011/12 Premier League season, but few have had longer lasting ramifications than the 1883 FA Cup Final. Football, as any student of the game worthy of the name knows, was codified into something approaching the game that we recognise today by the louche middle and upper classes of the 1860s. However, the appeal of the game was such that it had spread to the industrial towns of the north by the following decade, and in attracting a spectators it started to attract at first a will, and then a need, to win.
To say that the Football Association were suspicious of professionalism would like saying that Alex Ferguson is suspicious of the accuracy of referees watches, but by the start of the 1880s the notion of paying players to play for football clubs was effectively an open secret. The two worlds of the amateurs, who had dominated the game since its inception, and the arrivistes of professional football had been previewed in 1882, but Blackburn Rovers were beaten in the final of that year’s FA Cup by the Old Etonians. A year later, however, came that watershed moment, when Blackburn Olympic beat the same team by two goals to one at the Kennington Oval in London. Two years later, the FA introduced new rules, “in the interests of Association Football, to legalise the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions.” No traditionally amateur club reached the FA Cup Final again.
2. Come White Horses, Let Me Ride Away: By the beginning of the 1920s, football was big business and the decision was taken to build a new national stadium. The site chosen was in north-west London, where the Chairman of London’s Metropolitan Railway, Sir Edward Watkin MP had at the end of the previous century proposed the building of a huge tower at Wembley to rival that of the Eiffel Tower, only for the money to run out with the tower having reached a height of only one hundred and fifty-five feet, plagued by unstable foundations. The Empire Stadium at Wembley had been due to open in 1924 for that year’s Empire Exhibition, but opened a year early with that year’s FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United being its opening attraction.
With a capacity of 125,000 people and the three previous FA Cup Finals, which had all been held at Stamford Bridge, not having even capacity, there had been concern that the unveiling of the new stadium would be a flop, but if anything it all proved rather too successful. The official attendance for the the day was given as 126,047, but unofficial estimates, which were probably more accurate, guessed at the crowd being anything up to 300,000 people. The gates opened at 11.30 in the morning, and by the time they were closed at 1.45 the stadium was described as being “seething with people.” Mounted police moved in to try and restore some sort of order, and one officer, PC George Scorey, riding a light grey horse called Billie, became particularly celebrated for his role in clearing the pitch. The match kicked off forty-five minutes late and Bolton Wanderers won by two goals to nil, but the next day’s newspaper headlines were largely consumed by the chaos prior to the match, which ended in 1,000 people being treated for injuries. Miraculously, however, nobody was killed.
3. The Over The Line Final: The introduction of goal-line technology at the top end of the game is imminent, but controversies over whether footballs did or didn’t cross goal-lines is nothing new. The 1932 FA Cup Final was played at Wembley between Arsenal and Newcastle United. In theory, Arsenal were the favourites to win. They ended the 1931/32 season as runners-up behind champions Everton, while Newcastle United were a mid-table side, and everything seemed to be going according to the form book when Bob John gave Arsenal the lead after fifteen minutes of play. Controversy, however, was to follow. With seven minutes of the first half left to play, Newcastle winger Jimmy Richardson pull the ball back from the right-hand touchline for Jack Allen to bring Newcastle level, but there were protests as the ball seemed to have crossed the line before Richardson played his crucial cross.
Photographic evidence would later vindicate the Arsenal protests, but referee WP Harper of Stourbridge – who would go on to earn the pleasingly literal nickname of “the man who made the big mistake” – awarded the goal and Newcastle went on to win the game by two goals to one with a second goal which was also scored by Jack Allen, with eighteen minutes left to play. Harper’s god-daughter would later say that, “He wouldn’t change his mind even when they showed him the TV news picture. He said he’d made his mind up and that was it.” It wouldn’t, of course, be the last time that the goal-lines at Wembley Stadium would be involved in such controversy.
4. The Mortensen Final: There have, perhaps, never been two players more hard done by as a result of the media’s gaze being fixed elsewhere than Stan Mortensen and Bill Perry. These two Blackpool players were the goalscorers in perhaps the greatest FA Cup Fina of all, the 1953 match against Bolton Wanderers, but their names have been obscured by the match being what was assumed at the time to be the last chance for the Blackpool winger Stanley Matthews, who was thirty-eight years old at the time, to win an FA Cup winners medal. Perry scored the winning goal for Blackpool with two minutes of the match left to play, but Mortenson, (who had his own story to tell, having been involved in the Second World War as a wireless operator, overcoming an injury sustained when his bomber plane crashed and left him as the only survivor) had by this time already become the first – and still only – player to score a hat-trick in an FA Cup Final.
Of course, it would be unfair to suggest that Matthews himself wasn’t a deserving recipient of the lavish praise that he received. The Times’ football correspondent could only say that, ‘Matthews is a superb artist, a football genius beyond compare. He paints, as it were, in water-colours and not oils. His work always has had that beautiful bloom that oils cannot give.’ The idea that this was Matthews’ last chance to win an FA Cup winners medal was, however, a little discredited by the fact that the winger would go on to play until 1965 (he only missed out on playing for Stoke City in the 1964 League Cup final because of injury), before retiring from playing at the scarcely believable age of fifty. Perhaps the press could have come up with a nickname for this match that recognised the achievements of both players.
5. Dwight’s Unlucky Break: The 1959 FA Cup final was unusual to start with, in that it featured two clubs that were hardly regulars attendees at Wembley at the time, Nottingham Forest and Luton Town. For Roy Dwight (and let’s get this quickly out of the way now – yes, he was a cousin of Elton John), it turned out to be both the highpoint and low point of a sadly short career. Dwight built his reputation as a goal-scoring winger playing for Fulham, for whom he scored fifty-four goals in seventy-two games between 1954 and 1958, whilst he also played for the London representative XI that played in the semi-finals of the 1957/58 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – the precursor to the UEFA Cup – against Lausanne. Dwight was signed by Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1958.
His team started the match as favourites to win, and they raced into an early two goal lead, with Dwight giving them the lead after just ten minutes. With twelve minutes of the half left to play, however, disaster struck for Dwight when he had to be carried off the pitch after breaking his leg under the weight of a tackle from Luton’s Brendan McNally. Forest were later reduced to nine fit men – this being, of course, an age prior to substitutes being allowed – but still hung on to win by two goals to one. Dwight’s career, however, would never be quite the same again. He returned from injury the following March, but was later transferred to play for Gravesend & Northfleet, before returning to the Football League to play briefly for Millwall and Coventry City before retiring as a player in 1965 at the age of thirty-two.
6. There’s A Person On The Pitch. He Thinks It’s All Over: In the spring of 1966, Wembley was gearing up for the for the forthcoming World Cup finals, but that year’s FA Cup final turned out to be perhaps the most entertaining match of the decade, with Everton coming from two goals behind to beat Sheffield Wednesday by three goals to two – they were only the second club to manage this in an FA Cup final after Blackpool thirteen years earlier, and it hasn’t been repeated since – with the Cornish striker Mike Trebilcock scoring twice in six second half minutes to haul his team back onto level terms after Wednesday had looked comfortable with a two goal lead.
Perhaps for Everton supporters, though, the real hero of the day was Huyton-born Eddie Kavanagh, but he wasn’t named in the team. Kavanagh was an Everton supporter who, overcome by the emotion of the moment, invaded the pitch on a one man mission to celebrate with a group of players, some of whom he knew as a result of having been on the club’s books as a youth player. His celebration, which saw him evade one challenge and lose his jacket before being brought down on the edge of the penalty area, has subsequently become a piece of the folklore of Everton Football Club. These days, of course, something like this happening during such a high profile match would probably be heralded as the end of western civilisation.
7. In The Middle Of A Fight, A Football Match Broke Out: When contemporary referee David Elleray reviewed the 1970 FA Cup Final in 1997, he concluded that the teams of Leeds United and Chelsea would have received six red cards and twenty yellow cards between them, but still the 1970 FA Cup final, for all that we hear about the dominance of football in modern culture, remains the high water mark in terms of television audiences, with 28.5m people tuning in to watch the first FA Cup final replay for fifty-eight years. The first match had been played out on a Wembley pitch that had been ruined by the Horse Of The Year Show, and it had looked as if Leeds would lift the trophy when Mick Jones put them two-one up with six minutes to play, only for Ian Hutchinson to bring Chelsea level two minutes later.
The state of the pitch meant that the replay was played at Old Trafford, and this match was as tight as the first, with Chelsea eventually winning thanks to an extra-time goal from David Webb. For Leeds United, though, 1970 was a year of intense disappointment. After losing in the FA Cup final, the club was knocked out of the European Cup at the semi-final stage by Celtic, and then lost out on the league championship to that year’s surprise winners, Everton. For all that Don Revie’s Leeds team did manage throughout that era, they remain as much remembered for what they didn’t achieve as for what they did.
8. Montgomery’s Double: At the time of the 1973 FA Cup final, no Second Division club had won the tournament in the previous four decades, and Sunderland’s less than inspiring performance in the league had belied a run to the FA Cup final to play a Leeds United side which had again been pipped to the First Division championship, this time by Liverpool. It was a day that has lived long in the memory, with the images, of diminutive captain Bobby Kerr lifting the cup, of manager Bob Stokoe gambolling across the pitch wearing the most unlikely of Cup Final clothing combinations of a trilby, raincoat and red tracksuit trousers, and Ian Porterfield hoofing the ball into the roof of the net have proved to be highly enduring mental images.
The one moment for which this match is best remembered, though, came thanks to the Sunderland goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery. Midway through the second half and with Sunderland clinging onto their lead with increasing desperation, Montgomery dived to his left to palm away a close range header from Trevor Cherry. The ball, however, fell into the path of Peter Lorimer. Lorimer was renowned for having one of the strongest shots in football at the time, and he blasted towards the goal from ten yards out, only to see Montgomery flick the ball on to the underside of the crossbar, from whence it was cleared to safety. Equal parts luck and brilliance, it was a save that won the cup for Sunderland.
9. Villa’s Moment Of Glory: With sixty-eight minutes of the 1981 FA Cup final – the one hundredth one – Tottenham Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw’s game-plan was not working out. Tommy Hutchinson’s first half goal had given Manchester City the lead, and Spurs, replete with their two Argentian internationals and other star players, were stalling. It was time for a change, and Ricardo Villa, the elegant midfielder, was withdrawn to make way for Garry Brooke and left the field in tears. With eleven minutes left to play, though, Hutchinson’s over-exuberance brought about an own goal which forced a replay.
Burkinshaw himself later explained that he had spoken to Villa in the changing room after the match, told him, “Don’t worry, you’ll get another chance on Thursday”, and immediately noted the player’s mood lift, and eight minutes into the second match Villa repaid his manager’s faith with a goal from close range. Again, though, Spurs stuttered and with three-quarters of the match played, City led by two goals to one before Garth Crooks brought Spurs level. With fourteen minutes left to play, though, Villa’s moment came, cutting in from the left hand side, slaloming through a Manchester City defence that opened up in front of him, and rolled the ball under the onrushing goalkeeper Joe Corrigan to win the Cup for Spurs for the first time in nineteen years.
10. Beasant Saves The Cup For Wimbledon: Wimbledon’s win against Liverpool wasn’t quite the surprise that it has since been portrayed as being. They were indeed an unfashionable club at that time, but they had finished the 1987/88 season in seventh place in the First Division table and, regardless of the imperiousness of the Liverpool team of that era – Match Of The Day famously had a separate section on its annual Goal Of The Season awards just for Liverpool goals, Wimbledon were hardly a bunch of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers – they were capable of giving them a game, although the Merseyside giants were clear favourites. Wimbledon, however, had taken the lead eight minutes from half-time from Lawrie Sanchez.
They had been clinging on a little anyway, but the moment upon which the game really turned came in the second half, when defender Clive Goodyear was harshly adjudged to have tripped John Aldridge for a penalty kick. This, most would have assumed, would be the moment at which the tables turned, but Beasant had been doing his homework, and had spotted that Aldridge would try and force the goalkeeper to dive early and go the other way, but also that if the goalkeeper didn’t move he would normally put the ball to the goalkeeper’s left. He stood up, Aldridge did go to his left, and Beasant pulled off the first save from a penalty kick ever in an FA Cup Final at Wembley. Wimbledon Football Club, in many different respects, would never be the same again.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.