1988 FA Cup Final: How Wimbledon beat the giants of football

BY Gary Jordan

17th May 2023 Sport

1988 FA Cup Final: How Wimbledon beat the giants of football

When Wimbledon took on Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup, they made history as the little team that could. Gary Jordon recounts the pre-match buzz in this extract from his book

More than just tennis

For years, decades even, a worldwide television audience would tune in to Wimbledon. Each summer the fabled strawberries and cream would be devoured. The finely cut grass on the lawns of the All England Club would take centre stage on the aptly named Centre Court, as well as the surrounding ones.

The name "Wimbledon" in sport is synonymous with tennis. It is that simple. Even those in London know it as the home of the racket sport, and to be fair the town centre does pride itself on that fact.

And why not? A year-round tourist attraction that for two weeks every year transforms itself into a hub of sporting excellence still regarded by most players as the one major tournament they would most like to win. In short, Wimbledon means tennis.

"Tennis now had an annoying little sibling that it had to tolerate"

But on May 14, 1988 there was a shift. It wasn’t one that ripped apart the fabric of the town, but it certainly made people realise that there was more than just players wearing all white who would flash their brilliance for a fortnight and move on.

There were streams of blue and yellow, and shouts from fans who could be more vocal than those sitting calmly, heads swaying side to side watching a game. Another corner of Wimbledon had its own heroes, and they played practically all year round.

Tennis now had an annoying little sibling that it had to tolerate, but one that the town could show off and be proud of.

Football in the spotlight

The football club had been around for just about as long as the tennis had been, and those who followed the football may not have had a care for those who followed tennis.

There was always room for both, and there had to be, as now the world knew about the football team, not just the locals. Those in British football also had to learn to live with the little sibling that had grown up into a loud and brash young adult.

It was fine to be in the shadow of the behemoth that visited once a year, like an overbearing reminder of who was biggest and trying to put you in your place, because once that had gone, football was still there. It would carry on reminding you that it wasn’t going to go away.

Leading the way

When Bobby Gould walked out at Wembley, leading his line of tracksuited players out into the bright sunshine just before 3pm, the landscape changed for him and his players, staff, fans and the town.

He couldn’t have been any prouder. The fans couldn’t have been louder, and in contrast, the doubters couldn’t have been any quieter.

This was it. The season had been long, the FA Cup run full of fun and tense moments, and the build-up finally over. There was a game to play. Gould and coach Don Howe had done all they could to get the players ready, both in body and mind. They just had to apply themselves, and not let the occasion get the better of them.

The hottest of days

It’s always guaranteed that on FA Cup Final day the sun will shine, almost an unwritten rule in football, and this day in particular proved that to be true. The sun was high and would be at its hottest at the start of the game, and temperatures did not cool down, creating the hottest day of the year.

Whether tempers would stay cool was a question that was answered in the opening ten minutes as Vinnie Jones clattered into Steve McMahon. It was a statement that simply said, "We’re here, and we’ll be here all afternoon."

"Wimbledon were a different breed and snarled their way up the tunnel"

It’s hard to tell if this had an impact across the whole Liverpool team. The sabre rattling had already started in the tunnel before the teams began the long walk out into the arena, Jones leading a chorus of tribalistic chanting that was part to hype themselves up, as well as to get into the heads of their opponents.

It was going to be hard to rattle Liverpool in this way though. They had been into many hostile stadiums abroad in the past, whether it be for club or country, so they had pretty much been there and done that.

This was a domestic final though, where decorum was usually at play. Wimbledon were a different breed and snarled their way up the tunnel. Not with a disrespect for where they were, but more keeping in tune with who they were.

When Dave Went Up book cover

When Dave Went Up: The Inside Story of Wimbledon's 1988 FA Cup Win by Gary Jordan is out now on Pitch Publishing

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