Rodney McCain – Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool, 1977
In May 1976, then Manchester United boss Tommy Docherty watched on forlornly from the Wembley bench as one of his former players (Jim McCalliog) grabbed the assist with a clinical pass that allowed Southampton striker Bobby Stokes to score the only goal of that seasonâ€™s FA Cup final. It would be one of the most controversial goals ever scored in a Cup final, United fans convinced to this day that Stokes was marginally offside as the pass was played.
Afterwards, a bullish Docherty had somewhat brazenly announced that his demoralised players would again battle through to the following seasonâ€™s FA Cup showdown and make amends for the fansâ€™ despair that evening.
I would be surprised if anyone had taken him seriouslyâ€¦Fast-forward 12 months to 21 May 1977: Docherty and United ARE back at Wembley. The Scot had fulfilled his promise to the United faithful, and to spice things up even further, the Red Devils were facing their bitter rivals Liverpool in the Cup decider. As if that werenâ€™t exciting enough, the Merseysiders were on course to become the first English club to complete the fabled â€œTrebleâ€ of League Championship, FA Cup and European Cup.
What followed became known as the â€œfive-minute finalâ€. After a cagey, boring opening half, United opened the scoring after 50 minutes when Stuart Pearson thundered a drive past Ray Clemence at his near post. Two minutes later Liverpool were level, Jimmy Case collecting a great ball over the top from left-back Joey Jones before superbly volleying past Alex Stepney from the edge of the box.
The goalscoring was completed before the Liverpool fans could finish serenading Case. A ball forward by right-back Jimmy Nicholl eventually fell to Lou Macari in the area; his shot may have been going wide, but struck United striker Jimmy Greenhoff on the chest and diverted past Clemence for 2-1. United held on against fierce late Liverpool pressure, to not only deny their rivals a chance at the Treble, but make good on the Docâ€™s bullish promise of 12 months earlier- what a fairytale!
Dominic Hougham – Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United, 1979
In the summer of 1979, I was just starting my gawky teenage years as I turned on with a slight bias towards Manchester United as they took on Arsenal. As the sun beat down, Arsenal in unusual yellow looked to be cruising to victory as first Talbot and then Stapleton took them into half-time 2-0 ahead with Liam Brady on fire.
Frankly I was losing interest but luckily I held in there for the second half. With four minutes to go, the yellow ribbons were being tied to the trophy. And then it all happened! A free-kick for Man Utd ran across the area before being returned back for Gordon McQueen of all people to slide it home. Ok, interesting.
Suddenly United were buzzing and a hopeful ball from Coppell just two minutes later saw Sammy McIlroy weave past a couple of tackles before poking the ball past the keeper. Cue pandemonium! Arsenal heads dropped and it looked like there was only going to be one winner now in extra time.
As John Motson summarized the score, Arsenal kicked off and Liam Brady picked up the ball just within the Man Utd half. Off he went again, before flicking it out in a tired manner to Rix. His cross went all the way to the far post â€“ where Alan Sunderland suddenly came sliding into view. The permed wonder had done it. Arsenal had won the cup. Three goals in the last four minutes. The FA Cup has certainly produced much drama over the years, but it will take a lot to beat that. Football, bloody hellâ€¦
David Nesbit – Manchester City 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur, 1981
The 1981 FA Cup Final played between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur was the one-hundredth in the tournament’s history and it kicked off at 3pm (kids, ask your parents!) on a rainy and gloomy North London day.
Despite overcoming highly-fancied Ipswich Town in the semi-final, City, managed by John Bond,Â were still the slight underdogs against Keith Burkinshaw’s star-studded White Hart Lane side containing the Argentine talents of Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa as well as the mercurial Glenn Hoddle.
Settling the quicker of the two sides, City took the lead through the oldest man on the field, Tommy Hutchison, in the thirtieth minute courtesy of a superb diving header that gave Tottenham ‘keeper Milija Aleksic no chance.Â Despite Hoddle having a magnificent game in the centre of the park, and Tottenham enjoying long spells of domination, an equaliser was not forthcoming and with just ten minutes remaining the cup was heading for Maine Road.
Then Spurs were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box and Hoddle made sufficient space to get a shot away. Unfortunately for Tottenham, the ball was heading wide until Hutchison made an inexplicable run across the six-yard box and deflected the ball past Joe Corrigan in goal for a desperately unlucky equaliser.Â Extra time could not separate the sides and so they returned to the same venue five days later for the replay (again, kids should ask their parents for clarification at this point) in which Tottenham finally prevailed by a 3-2 scoreline.
James Edginton – Coventry City 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur, 1987
Described by John Motson as the finest cup final he had the pleasure of commentating on, the 1987 FA Cup final between Tottenham and Coventry is an all-time classic.
Tottenham, managed by David Pleat, were strong favourites and were aiming to win a record-breaking 8th FA Cup against unfancied Coventry City who were playing in their first ever final.
Both sides had released FA Cup songs in the build up to the final with Chas and Dave releasing â€˜Hot shot Tottenhamâ€™ and Coventry releasing their single â€˜Go for itâ€™.However, the football was far better than the singing and, in front of 96,000 fans at the old Wembley Stadium, the match got off to a thrilling start, with Clive Allen scoring after two minutes to give the favourites the lead. Within just seven minutes, though, Coventry replied through Dave Bennett who drew the Sky Blues level.
In a pulsating game that swung from end to end, Tottenham retook the lead five minutes before halftime through Gary Mabbutt.Coventry, co-managed by John Sillett and George Curtis, came back again in the second half and levelled the scores once more, with Keith Houchen netting a memorable diving header.
Neither side could find a breakthrough in the remainder of the match, so the game went into extra-time where the winning goal came courtesy of the unfortunate Gary Mabbutâ€™s knee to win the match for Coventry.With two fantastic footballing sides, lots of goals and a famous underdog victory, this match epitomised all that we love about the FA Cup.
Liam Togher – Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United, 2006
Rafael Benitez may have been renowned as a conservative tactician during his time at Liverpool, but whenever he took the Reds to a tournament final, it was never dull. Istanbul 2005 was the epitome of that. Twelve months on, they partook in an FA Cup final which was similarly dramatic.
Liverpool won the first Millennium Stadium FA Cup final in 2001 and were hoping to win the last one in Cardiff five years later, but found themselves 2-0 down to underdogs West Ham inside half an hour. Unflustered, the Reds drew level by the 54th minute through Steven Gerrard, coincidentally the same point that he scored to begin their epic Istanbul comeback, only to fall behind again to a howitzer from the future Anfield flop Paul Konchesky.
Just as the stadium PA announced the length of stoppage time, with Alan Pardew’s Irons closing in on an upset, the ball was cleared from West Ham’s penalty area and out towards Liverpool’s inspirational captain Gerrard. From all of 35 yards, he let fly with an unstoppable bullet into the bottom corner of Shaka Hislop’s goal. Just as in the previous year’s FA Cup final, we were heading for extra time, and subsequently penalties.
Both teams missed one and scored one of their first two kicks before Gerrard edged Liverpool in front, Konchesky’s was saved and John Arne Riise netted. Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina saved for a third time in the shoot-out from Anton Ferdinand and the cup was Liverpool’s. It was tough on West Ham, joyous for Kopites and utterly thrilling for the neutral
Eliott Brennan – Wigan Athletic 1-0 Manchester City, 2013
The FA Cup final in 2013 was not a usual classic where two heavy-weights went toe-to-toe at the Wembley Stadium. It was far from it. The performers were fabulously rich Manchester City in one corner and major underdogs Wigan Athletic in the other.
To put it into context, City lined up with global stars like David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Meanwhile, Roberto Martinezâ€™s wide were on the brink of Premier League and were dwarfed by on-paper quality.
Both managers were also reportedly leaving their clubs. Roberto Mancini was expected to be sacked while Martinez was the favourite to fill David Moyesâ€™ void at Everton. Nonetheless, this did not change peopleâ€™s expectations. City were going to win comfortably, or even thrash their opponents, while Wigan would sit back, attack on the counter and hope luck is on their side.
As the match progressed, spectators waited for City to kick into rhythm. Wigan, on the other hand, focused on getting through every landmark in the match. They passed the 10th minute unscathed. Then the 20th minute. Then the 35th minute. Eventually Wigan succeeded in getting to half-time with the scores level. The clock ticked by in the second half and Manchester City were not any closer to breaking the deadlock. Anxiety swirled around Wembley.
In the dying embers of the game, Wigan pushed forward and secured a corner. Shaun Maloney put the ball in to the box. Ben Watson ran to the near post. As the substitute glanced behind him, he saw Joe Hart in mid-air, looking behind him, with the ball in the net.
Wigan erupted into jubilation. City were left stunned.
The triumph was Wiganâ€™s first major trophy in 81-years, and it came in a scenario where circumstances were pitted against them.The match remains a reminder to every side fighting against the elite that it is possible to provide an upset. And it is possible to harvest from the wonders of the FA Cup.
Jack Wills – Chelsea 0-1 Leicester City, 2021
Silence and solitude can be quite lovely, blissful, even. Sitting down in a comfy chair after a hard day at work and reading a good book is so peaceful. Getting onto an aeroplane and realising that there is nobody in your section â€“ get in! Both â€˜A Quiet Placeâ€™ movies, yes please. Football, however, is not a place for silence and solitude.
2020 was shit. The bulk of a year without fans, without noise, bar the high-pitched scream of a player getting fouled, or the cringeworthy artificial sound pumped into the stadiums and our televisions, trying to convince us, to no avail, that fans were present during a population-decimating pandemic, there was no other way to describe it. 2020 was just really shit.
The 2021 FA Cup final wasnâ€™t one for the ages. Youri Tielemans scored a screamer, and the Ben Chillwell drama was quite something. The last hurrah of Wes Morgan was a lovely touch for a team who had enjoyed cataclysmic success a few years earlier in the form of a Premier League title.
For me though, the Leicester v Chelsea final has very little to do with Leicester and Chelsea. It was to do with the noise. The celebration of football. Fans back in the stadium, Wembley full. Organic chants, real moments, football being enjoyed the way it should be. This game wonâ€™t and shouldnâ€™t be remembered for the football.
They say silence is golden, but so too is that feeling you get hearing the roar of the crown as the players walk down the tunnel, the ironic â€˜waysâ€™ as a goalkeeper lumps the ball straight out of play, and the rush of euphoria as the ball hits the back of the net.
The 2021 FA Cup final felt like finally, after the most torrid spell in recent human history, a little bit of normality was restored.