The FA Cup is one of the oldest sports tournaments in the world and is credited with giving birth to football in England and, subsequently, the world.
It was first played during the 1871–72 season and saw Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1-0 at Kennington Oval in front of 2,000 people. In 1895, it moved to Crystal Palace before settling at Wembley in 1923, where it has been ever since, bar a brief hiatus in Cardiff during construction of the new Wembley.
Its value has sadly diminished in the Premier League era, with big clubs often fielding weakened sides in early rounds. Despite this, very few teams outside the big five have lifted the trophy in recent years; Chelsea has appeared in five of the last six finals, and Arsenal has won four of the last nine. Those two sides are likely to be among the favorites in the Coral FA Cup betting odds for the competition this season, alongside Manchester City, whose 6-0 victory against Watford in 2019 was the biggest winning margin in more than 100 years.
Despite the one-sided nature of the competition and the relatively boring finals in recent years, there have been some truly amazing showcase events. The FA Cup was once a national treasure, dominating television for a whole day ahead of a 3pm kick-off on the final Saturday of the season. These four games all fit that pattern, and all have a special place in the hearts of English football fans.
1953: Blackpool 4-3 Bolton
Football BH reports that the 1953 final is known as the Matthews final, after 38-year-old Stanley Matthews, known as the Wizard of Dribble, finally got a medal. In those days, the FA Cup was prestigious, and Matthews was winding down his career with Blackpool, who faced Bolton Wanderers. The Trotters took a 3-1 lead before Matthews kicked into action. His ball provided a chance for Stan Mortensen to make it 3-2, and the same player then netted a free-kick in the last minute to level proceedings. Deep into injury time, Matthews pulled the ball back for Mortensen to complete his hattrick, the only three-goal haul in a cup final to date.
1979: Arsenal 3-2 Man Utd
Heading into the final ten minutes of the 1979 FA Cup Final, there was no hint it would ever be included on a list of classics. Arsenal led 2-0, with Liam Brady scoring and setting up Frank Stapleton for first-half goals. With four minutes left, Gordon McQueen poked home before Sammy McIlroy weaved through the defense to level. It seemed the Wembley crowd was going to get extra time in the late spring sunshine, but in a remarkable turn of events, Arsenal broke forward, and a Graham Rix cross was slotted home by Alan Sunderland.
1987: Coventry City 3-2 Spurs
Coventry City were the underdogs in this engrossing encounter, despite having been a top-flight side since 1955. Often, they struggled to stay in Division One, and few gave them a chance against a Spurs side with Clive Allen, who went into the game on 48 goals in all competitions. The talented Chris Waddle provided a ball for Allen to score form as early as the second minute, and Coventry looked destined for a thrashing. Dave Bennett quickly restored parity before Gary Mabbutt reinstated Spurs’ lead. In the second half, Keith Houchen scored a diving header, an iconic final moment, before Mabbutt’s own goal condemned Spurs to defeat in extra time.
1988 – Wimbledon 1-0 Liverpool
There was no late drama in 1988, no comeback to speak of, but a David and Goliath encounter that became the latest chapter in a rag-to-riches rise. Wimbledon had only been promoted from the non-league scene in 1977, and they arrived in Division One in 1986 as a rabble-rousing group called the Crazy Gang. Liverpool were the kings of English football, masters of Europe and England.
After an even first half, Dennis Wise’s free-kick was headed past Bruce Grobbelaar by Lawrie Sanchez to give the Dons an improbable lead. Weeks earlier, Andy Dibble had saved the first penalty in a domestic final for Luton in the League Cup, and it was Dave Beasant’s turn in the FA Cup. Clive Goodyear was wrongly adjudged to have fouled John Aldridge, but the striker’s shot was palmed away by Beasant to give Bobby Gould’s team a memorable victory.