So, we now know the teams that will be competing in the FA Cup Final at a partially filled Wembley Stadium at 5.30pm on Saturday 15th May 2021. They will be Leicester City and Chelsea. What? The FA Cup Final starting at 5.30pm? No! The FA Cup Final should begin at 3pm – no other time should even be considered. Unfortunately, the last time that happened was actually a full ten years ago now when a late Yaya Toure goal earned Manchester City a narrow 1-0 win over Stoke City for their first major trophy since the League Cup in 1976 (Dennis Tueart’s overhead kick, remember?). Since then the Final has suffered a ‘tea time’ kick off ranging from 5pm to 5.30pm. That’s the time at which the players of the winning team should be standing around with their shirts off, drinking pints of milk, holding the Cup, being interviewed by Des Lynam.
Leicester will be hoping not to extend their record of most Final appearances without a win by losing a fifth final out of five. Yes, four defeats in four Finals to date. Having lost to Wolves in the 1949 Final, they then reached the Final three times in the sixties without success as first Spurs (1961) and then Manchester United (1963) and Manchester City (1969) lifted the trophy in their presence. So, will a fifty-two year wait bring a change of fortune? We’ll see.
The record of Chelsea is somewhat better. Having reached only three Finals in their first 91 years, from 1997 onwards their record has been quite amazing. That 1997 Final against Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough featured the fastest Wembley Cup Final goal at the time (Roberto Di Matteo, 43 seconds) and was the first of seven successes in the competition for the Blues between 1997 and 2018. To that, you can add three Final defeats (strangely, all to Arsenal). That means that this year’s Final against Leicester will be their eleventh Final appearance in 25 years. That is good going by anybody’s standards. Di Matteo’s quickest goal record was broken by Louis Saha of Everton in 2009, who scored, ironically against Chelsea, in an official time of 27.9 seconds. Let’s say 28.
Another record held by Chelsea, well a Chelsea player, is that held by Peter Osgood, who was the last player to score in every round from the third round up to and including the Final. During their successful Cup run in 1970 he scored against Birmingham, Burnley and Crystal Palace in rounds three to five, a hat trick against QPR in the quarter-final, one against Watford in the semi-final and that brilliant diving header from Charlie Cooke’s pass to level the scores in the Final replay. The closest anyone has come since was Sunderland’s John Byrne in 1992 who scored up to and including the semi-final before his team lost to Liverpool 2-0 at Wembley. Byrne revealed in an interview after the Final that he had mistakenly been given a winner’s medal. I’m sure that was soon corrected.
From 1950 to 1985 all Wembley Finals (kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday) were listed with an official attendance of 100,000. I have always wondered whether there really were exactly 100,000 people in the ground each time - probably not. The only occasions that a Final did not have that exact attendance were the times that it went to a replay. Chelsea’s replay win against Leeds at Old Trafford in 1970 was witnessed by 62,078 and Tottenham’s consecutive Wembley replays in 1981 (the 100th Final) and 1982 drew crowds of 92,000 and 90,000 for their wins over Manchester City (that classic 3-2, Steve MacKenzie, Ricky Villa etc. . . ) and QPR. Since then, safety considerations have gradually reduced the attendance from that magical round 100,000 figure.
Looking back at the attendances for the early Finals, it is interesting to see that it was not until the fourteenth Final in 1885 that the attendance even exceeded 10,000. The 1897 Final was the first to draw in excess of 50,000 and it was just a further four years until 100,000 people attended the Final, but it was not at Wembley. That 1901 Final drew 110,820 to Crystal Palace for the 2-2 draw between Spurs and Sheffield United (also the first Cup Final to be filmed). However, only 20-odd thousand were at Burnden Park, Bolton to see Spurs become the only ever non-League team to the win the FA Cup. They were in the Southern League at the time. We all know that then in 1923 when the Final was first played at Wembley Stadium, Bolton beat West Ham in front of an official attendance of 126,047 but it could have been anything up to double that amount. So, the first goalscorer in a Wembley Final? Bolton’s David Jack in that 2-0 win over the Hammers. The last goalscorer in a Final at the old Wembley? Yes, that man Di Matteo again, in the 2000 Final against Aston Villa. And the first at the new Wembley? Sorry, non-Chelsea fans, Didier Drogba against Manchester United in the 2007 Final. By then going on to score in the Finals of 2009, 2010 and 2012, Drogba became the first player to score in four Finals. An incredible record. The quiz question used to be: name a player to have scored in two FA Cup Finals? You could have had, amongst others: Ian Rush, who scored in three, Frank Stapleton, for two different clubs, and Norman Whiteside (also the youngest scorer in a Final). Drogba has totally blown them out of the water.
Two non-English teams have appeared in the Final. Queen’s Park from Glasgow appeared in the Finals of 1884 and 1885, losing both, and Cardiff City have appeared in three finals, losing in 1925 and 2008, but famously taking the FA Cup out of England for the only time in 1927 following their 1-0 win over Arsenal. They also won the Welsh Cup that year, which must also be some sort of record: to win the national Cup in two different countries in the same year, or in any year for that matter!
So, to what question is ‘John Kaye of West Bromwich Albion in 1968’ the answer? Well, he was the first person to be substituted in a Final, the first Final in which substitutes had been allowed. Many Finals in the previous fifteen years or so had become imbalanced due to injured players having to the leave the field. Indeed, there were broken bones suffered by players in the Finals of 1956 (Bert Trautmann’s broken neck), 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1965. Allowing substitutions at least kept the number of players on each side even, well until the first sending off in a Cup Final (Kevin Moran, Manchester United, 1985).
So, with the first ever FA Cup matches being held on 11th November 1871, we are coming up to the 150th anniversary of the competition. Watching the two teams walking out onto the Wembley turf in brilliant May sunshine is a sight that is hard to beat. It is one of the finest spectacles in the game. For football fans, naming a year invariably brings the Cup Final to mind. 1953 – The Matthews Final. 1971 - Charlie George laying on his back with his arms outstretched, having beaten Ray Clemence from 20 yards. 1976 – Bobby Stokes, Southampton. 1979 – Alan Sunderland and the five-minute Final. 1987 – Keith Houchen. 1988 – The Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club. Long may it continue.