A history of the most iconic FA games

Jon Batham 11 April 2022

With the FA Cup final celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, we take a look back at some of the iconic games and characters in its history

1872 Wanderers 1 Royal Engineers0 Kennington Oval

This first final was something of an upset with Wanderers overcoming a Royal Engineers side considered the pioneers of passing football, known then as “The combination game.”

Wanderers won the game with a piece of individual brilliance more typical of football from that era, Morton Betts having the honour of scoring the first FA Cup Final goal, following a brilliant run from Walpole Vidal, known at that time as the ‘prince of dribblers.’

Football Association rules allowed the team who’d scored to restart the game, and this led on one occasion to Walpole scoring three goals without the opposition touching the ball! What carnage would more modern greats like George Best, Pele and Paul Gascoigne have wreaked given such a law.

That first FA Cup tournament was contested by just 15 teams compared to a record 763 in 2011-12.

1900-1 Sheffield United 2 Tottenham 2Replay Sheffield United 1 Tottenham 3

Another shock as Tottenham’s Southern League amateurs beat Sheffield United, an albeit struggling First Division side.

Tottenham may have won at the first attempt but for one of the most controversial goals in FA Cup final history. Referee Arthur Kingscott ruled Tottenham keeper George Clawley had dropped a shot into the net seconds before being charged into by United’s Walter Bennett despite being too far away from the action to make that judgement. Where’s VAR when you need it!

Justice was done when Tottenham came from behind to win the replay, centre-forward Sandy Brown scoring their third to add to his double in the final itself. The Scot became the first man to score in every round of the competition.

"Tottenham may have won at the first attempt but for one of the most controversial goals in FA Cup final history"

Sheffield United’s goalkeeper William ‘Fatty’ Foulke is regarded as something of an FA Cup legend, though not all stories surrounding him are considered reliable. He’s alleged to have been the original butt of the chant ‘Who ate all the pies,’ back in 1894.

However, he was considerably lighter than his eventual 300 pounds back then and the tune to which the chant is sung, ‘Knees up mother Brown’ wasn’t written till 1918.

Legend has it after the first staging of the 1902 final against Southampton, Foulke was so mad at the awarding of Saints’ equaliser he left his dressing room naked to pursue retribution on the referee who was forced to hide in a broom cupboard!

1902-3 Bury 6Derby County 0

Bury’s  margin of victory would stand as a record until 2019 when Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City thrashed Watford by the same score.

Their only other FA Cup win had come three years earlier, yet Derby, beaten finalists twice previously, were favourites having been contenders for the First Division championship that season.

Bury led only 1-0 at half-time but County goalkeeper Jack Fryer aggravated a pre-existing injury in a bid to keep out the second goal. They conceded a third while he was off the field for treatment and after briefly returning to the action he was forced to sit out the remainder of the game. With no substitutes allowed, Derby had to play on with 10 men with an outfield player in goal. 

One of the Bury scorers, Jack Plant, had also been on target in the cup win three years earlier. Yet, the Shakers’ legend spent his post-football years working in a Lancashire cotton mill. Today, in all probability he’d be able to trade such labour for a comfy chair in a TV studio as a pundit.

1952-3 Blackpool 4Bolton Wanderers 3

Sir Stanley Matthews remains the only player to have a final named after him following Blackpool’s epic clash with Bolton in 1953. Matthews was lauded for his wizardry down the right-wing which saw Blackpool come from 3-1 down to win with almost the last kick of the game. The Tangerines, losing finalists in 1948 and 1951, looked destined to lose again when Wanderers built their lead helped by a goal from Nat Lofthouse, who scored in every round that year.

However, Matthews crossed for Stan Mortensen to reduce the arrears with a quarter of the game left. Mortensen then fired home a free-kick with two minutes remaining, before Matthews teed up Bill Perry’s last-gasp winner. Such was the majesty of Matthews’s artistry, even Lofthouse stood to applaud him.

"Sir Stanley Matthews remains the only player to have a final named after him following Blackpool’s epic clash with Bolton in 1953"

Spare a thought though for Mortensen who lives in Matthews’s shadow where this match is concerned despite being the only player ever to score a hat-trick in a Wembley final.

Mortensen later went on to manage Blackpool and auctioned his cup medals to help them through a financial crisis.

He is serenaded in the Indie Band Half Man Half Biscuit’s song “1966 and all that” where he’s hailed “The Tangerine Wizard and “The Jesus Christ of Bloomfield Road.”

1973 Leeds 0Sunderland 1

While I’d doff my cap had I one to Wimbledon and Wigan for beating Liverpool (1988) and Manchester City (2013) respectively, for me Sunderland’s win over Don Revie’s mighty Leeds in 1973 still marks the biggest upset in the showpiece’s history.

Bob Stokoe’s second division outfit without an international cap between them were considered no-hopers against Leeds’ star-studded line-up, who’d lifted the cup 12 months earlier.

That memo though never made it to Wearside, Ian Porterfield firing the underdogs into a first-half lead before one of the FA Cups most iconic moments unfolded after half-time, Sunderland keeper Jim Montgomery first parrying Trevor Cherry’s header before somehow tipping Peter Lorimer’s follow-up rocket onto the underside of the bar.

His heroics are widely labelled as the greatest double-save of all time. The sight of Stokoe, resplendent in his long overcoat and red trousers racing on the pitch at the final whistle to embrace his goalkeeper is part of FA Cup folklore.

A statue of Stokoe, who died in 2004, stands proudly outside the Stadium of Light today, marking the affection in which he is held.

Read more: 6 Iconic England cricket players

Read more: The UK's greatest football grounds

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