Tomorrow at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal will face Aston Villa in the final of the FA Cup, the oldest and most-revered competition on the football calendar. Dave Thompson took a long look at “The Cup” in Soccer FAQ and recalled some of its more memorable finals.
Legendary FA Cup finals dot the history books. Prior to 1923, the Cup final had never had a home; rather, it wandered around different grounds and even different cities. The 1923 eventwas the first to be staged at the newly built, suitably grandiose Wembley Stadium, and such was the anticipation surrounding the event that no fewer than 126,000 people attended that game—and possibly more; some reports claim up to
200,000 were present, once the barriers broke and the crowds surged in.
The game itself, Bolton Wanderers vs. West Ham United, may or may not have been memorable. But history has never forgotten the image of the police officer riding a white horse around the perimeter of the field, keeping the crowds in order.
There was the 1953 final, when the entire British Isles, it was said, was willing Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool team to victory, simply out of love and admiration for one of the finest players ever seen on an English field. They were rewarded with a seven-goal thriller, and Blackpool triumphing over (again) Bolton Wanderers.
Sometimes it is not entire games, but mere incidents within them, or anecdotes around them, that consign a Final to legendary status. The passage of play, in the dying moments of the 1983 clash between Manchester United and Brighton, which culminated with an excited television commentator insisting “and Smith must score…”—only for Brighton striker Smith not to score, and his side’s chance of victory reduced to a replay instead.
The 1987 final when Coventry City not only shocked much-fancied Spurs to take the trophy home with them, they also finally removed themselves from the punchline to one of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s most venerable routines, that moment in the Communist Quiz when Che Guevara is asked the fateful question, “In what year did Coventry City last win the FA Cup?” The answer—which neither Che, nor fellow competitors Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, and Karl Marx could supply—was “Coventry City have never won the FA Cup. It was a trick question.” Not any longer. Although there was certainly a Pythonesque surrealism to the side’s defense of the trophy the following season. They were bundled out in the third round by non-league Sutton United.
We remember the 1988 game, when all-conquering Liverpool faced unfancied Wimbledon, and not only lost 1–0, but also earned the ignominious title of becoming the first team ever to have a penalty saved in a Wembley final. Moments like these, and a hundred more besides, are what long ago established the FA Cup final among the most fondly remembered, and hungrily anticipated dates in the entire soccer calendar, in countries all over the world.