The FA Cup final has always been the showpiece of the English game and, down the years, has given us memories that will last with us forever. We all have our own final memories and depending on who you support and when you grew up it’s unlikely we’ll ever all agree on what was the greatest final in history; but what is certain, we’ll give it a good try.
Whether it was an epic comeback, a shock giant killing or even a thrilling stalemate we all have our favourites and there have been a number of classics that we still talk about even today. So here are just some of those finals that still live in the memory and have helped make the FA Cup the greatest domestic knockout competition in the world.
Bolton Wanderers 2-0 West Ham United 1923
Few FA Cup finals will be known for the exploits of an animal rather than the outcome of the actual match, but that’s just what happened at Wembley 1923. Back then Wembley was the new jewel of the British Empire. Built in just 300 days its inaugural event was to be on April 28, 1923 as Bolton played West Ham in the 47th FA Cup final.
The gates opened at 11.30 in the morning and by 1pm the stadium was almost full, with the gates finally being closed some 45 minutes later. The authorities were hopelessly overstretched by the horde of fans that descended upon them and even resulted in the entire Bolton team having to ditch their bus a mile from the stadium and walk the remainder of their journey. It’s estimated around 300,000 people were in attendance that day but by the time kick off came around there was no way the game could go ahead.
Mounted police units were eventually called-upon to push the crowds, who were now all over the pitch, back beyond the touchline, one such being a white horse called Billie, for which the “White Horse final” of 1923 got its name. With just a 46 minute delay the game finally got underway with Bolton eventually winning 2-0 through goals from David Jack and Jack Smith.
Blackpool 4-3 Bolton 1953
Though many of us won’t remember this one, the “Matthews” final, as it’s become known, is something we’ve all heard of and still talk about. It’s actually testament to Stanley Matthews that this final has been immortalised for his exploits despite the fact his team-mate Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick.
It was Footballer of the Year Nat Lofthouse who gave Bolton the lead after just two minutes when his under-hit shot deceived Blackpool keeper George Farm and trickled in; but the Seasiders equalised through a Mortensen effort that deflected in off Harold Hassall.
Bolton regained the lead shortly before half-time when Farm was again at fault, misjudging Willie Moir’s attempt to connect with a Bobby Langton chip. 10 minutes into the second half, Eric Bell, who was playing with a torn hamstring, defied the pain he was in to head home a cross from Doug Holden to put the Trotters 3-1 ahead.
With 30 minutes remaining, Matthews came into his own and from one of his high crosses to the far post, Mortensen made it 3-2.
Just four minutes were on the clock when Mortensen completed his treble by firing a free-kick emphatically into the net and deep into injury-time, Matthews jinked his way once more past a couple of opponents before slipping the ball inside for Perry to find the corner of the net and win and win an absolute thriller.
Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United 1973
Nobody gave Second Division Sunderland a hope when they faced Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds United side in 1973.
Leeds, the holders, were strong favourites to retain the trophy they won when they beat Arsenal the year before, but an incredible performance from Sunderland’s Jim Montgomery in goal, which included a fantastic save that has since been called one of the greatest FA Cup moments of all-time, lead to many thinking an upset might just be on the cards.
And that’s just what happened when a goal from Ian Porterfield confirmed the biggest shock in the history of the competition’s showpiece event. The strike also brought about one of the most iconic celebrations the twin-towers had ever witnessed as Rokerites manager Bob Stokoe, a Geordie and great rival of Leeds Manager Reevie, staged a delirious run across the Wembley pitch in celebration – complete with his trademark trilby hat.
Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United 1979
Known as the “five minute final” this game took some time to come to life, but when it did it produced one of the most memorable climaxes in FA cup history.
Arsenal looked to be cruising after goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton had given them a 2-0 lead. United had other ideas though and with four minutes remaining Steve Coppell’s free-kick fell for Gordon McQueen who swept home.
And just two minutes later United looked to have achieved the unthinkable as Coppell played the ball to Sammy McIlroy and the Ulsterman skipped past David O’Leary and Walford before slotting the ball past Pat Jennings in the Arsenal goal. Straight from kick-off though Liam Brady forged into the United half, racing between Lou Macari and Mickey Thomas before finding Graham Rix on the left wing. His first time cross looped over the reach of United ‘keeper Gary Bailey and the ball was met by Alan Sunderland at the far post to knock the ball over the line and win the cup for Arsenal as United players sunk to their knees.
Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Manchester City 1981
Like 1953 the ‘81 final is synonymous with one man, this time Ricky Villa. It was the first final in 11 years to go to a replay and the first FA Cup final replay ever staged at Wembley following a 1-1 draw five days previously. Though they didn’t know it at the time it was to be City’s last final for 30 years but they would be downed by one of the most popular foreign imports ever to grace the English game.
The Argentina World Cup star Ricky Villa scored first for Spurs only for Steve Mackenzie to fire city level. City then took the lead in the 50th minute thanks to a penalty from Kevin Reeves but Garth Crooks levelled for Spurs before Villa scored one of the most memorable goals in cup final history. Setting off on a snaking run deep into the City penalty area, he calmly slotted home past Joe Corrigan as he fell to the ground but was soon back to his feet to lead a riotous run of celebration that is about as famous as the goal itself.
Coventry City 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur 1987
Coventry were in the FA Cup final for the first time in their 104-year history while Tottenham were in their eighth, having won all of the previous seven and things started well enough for Spurs as top scorer Clive Allen powered home a near-post header for goal Number 49 of the season with only two minutes gone in the game.
But seven minutes later Coventry were level after Dave Bennett was at the right place at the right time to score. However, just five minutes before the break Glenn Hoddle’s free-kick fell between City captain Brian Kilcline and Tottenham’s Gary Mabbutt and the ball rebounded off Mabbutt into the net to give Spurs the lead once more. On 63 minutes Coventry got back on terms again when Keith Houchen met Dave Bennett’s right-wing cross with a sensational diving header.
The game went to extra-time and, on 96 minutes, Lloyd McGrath crossed from inside the Spurs area and the ball struck the hapless Gary Mabbutt’s knee and looped over Clemence for one of the most famous own goals in FA Cup final history to give Coventry a historic win.
Crystal Palace 3-3 Manchester United 1990
One of the few draws to go down in FA Cup final folklore this game had it all. Both teams had struggled that season and had only just secured their First Division safety a few weeks earlier; but what fans were treated to that day was something of a classic. Gary O’Reilly headed the Eagles in front from a corner but United pulled themselves together to equalise ten minutes before the break when Bryan Robson headed home Brian McClair’s cross.
Just after the hour mark United took the lead through Mark Hughes and this is when Palace boss Steve Coppell decided to take a chance on Ian Wright, who was sent on as a second-half substitute despite not long recovering from a broken leg. His impact was almost immediate as he brought Palace level with almost his first touch and the game went to extra-time.
After just two minutes Wright volleyed home to put the Eagles ahead; but with seven minutes left Danny Wallace set up Hughes to equalise. United would win a reply that was far from memorable, but many believe this cup win for United was the springboard for the many trophies which were soon to follow.
Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United (Liverpool win on penalties) 2006
Having been moved to the Welsh capital while Wembley stadium was being developed the Hammers took the lead in Cardiff when Lionel Scaloni’s low right-wing cross was met by Jamie Carragher, who could only divert the ball into his own goal. Seven minutes later, West Ham’s Matthew Etherington fired in a shot that was too hot for Reina to handle and Ashton was first on the scene to squeeze the loose ball home – the London club looked comfortable at 2-0.
Liverpool were back in it though when Djibril Cissé volleyed home after 32 minutes and 10 minutes into the second-half they equalised when Gerrard fired an unstoppable shot past Shaka Hislop. West Ham took the lead once again though with 25 minutes left when Paul Konchesky’s cross deceived everyone and sailed into the Liverpool net; but as West Ham fans planned to celebrate their first cup triumph for 26 years the ball fell to Gerrard some 35 yards from goal, and despite suffering from cramp, the Liverpool skipper cracked a rocket of a shot that flew into the net.
After a period of extra time which featured plenty of tired limbs riddled with, knocks, bruises and cramp, the FA Cup would be settled by penalties and Anton Ferdinand’s miss ensured Liverpool would take the cup back to Merseyside for the seventh time in their history.