Best FA Cup finals: Reliving the five most memorable Wembley showpieces

It is the oldest competition in the world and to this day, the FA Cup retains a special resonance in football with the iconic, showpiece final producing some of the very best games ever seen.

FA Cup Trophy
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From legends of the distant past to modern-day classics, here are five of the best FA Cup deciders over the years.

1953 – Blackpool 4 Bolton 3

The ‘Matthews Final’ still has a special place in FA Cup folklore and it is easy to understand why. Just over 50 miles separate Blackpool and Bolton in the north-west of England, but back in May 1953 at Wembley, it was just one goal.

The legendary Stanley Matthews, then 38, finally secured a much sought-after winners’ medal and as good as he was that day, it wasn’t the only story.

Blackpool came from behind to defeat Bolton 4-3, with Matthews’ teammate Stan Mortensen netting a hat-trick, including two goals in the dying minutes to win it for the Tangerines. Nat Lofthouse, Willie Moir and Eric Bell combined to give Bolton a 3-1 lead but this would not be their day.

Matthews had other ideas and his inspired performance went a long way to winning the final, including his jinking run and assist for Bill Perry to score the winner in added-on time.

1988 – Liverpool 0 Wimbledon 1

It what was a very unlikely story, the inimitable John Motson, BBC commentator, exclaimed at the final whistle: ‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club.’

The Dons had been given no chance, but they would have the last laugh. An intense team spirit bonded with a never-say-die attitude provided Bobby Gould’s side with their dream success.

Future Northern Ireland and Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez was the man to score the only goal of the game, between the newly-crowned champions and the seventh-placed side in Division One.

Lawrie Sanchez Wimbledon
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To emphasise the difference, Wimbledon had been playing part-time football just eleven years earlier. In the 37th minute of the final, Sanchez got his head on a Dennis Wise free-kick, as the ball made its way past Bruce Grobbelaar between the posts for the Reds. The underdogs took their chance and things would get better.

Liverpool had a chance to equalise but John Aldridge saw his second-half penalty saved by Dave Beasant. Wimbledon went on to celebrate in style, this was one of the biggest-ever FA Cup shocks.

1989 – Liverpool 3 Everton 2

This may have been a Merseyside derby, but it was more like Liverpool United. Just weeks after the Hillsborough disaster, a city, a region and a common identity came together on the pilgrimage to Wembley.

This final was just another chapter in the context of the social and political history of the UK against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister, as set out in the ‘Two Tribes’ book by Tony Evans. There was a trophy to be won on 20th May 1989, but football was firmly put into perspective on that day.

John Aldridge scored the opener after just four minutes, which looked to have won it for Liverpool but Stuart McCall equalised in the last minute. Ian Rush put the Reds ahead in extra time, only for McCall to score again. Rush had the final say with the winner for 3-2, as Liverpool prevailed.

1990 – Crystal Palace 3 Manchester United 3 (Man United 1-0 in the replay)

What do you mean a replay? Up until the 1998/99 season, it was commonplace for the final to be played again, if the game ended in a draw, after extra time. Another event, occasion, twice or three times the cost for tickets and travel. It is hard to imagine nowadays.

In the third consecutive final of this feature, we can take a look at one of those fixtures that ended in a stalemate. Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace produced a thriller against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

A highly entertaining 3-3 draw was the outcome with a young Ian Wright coming on as a substitute to grab a brace for Palace. 1-0 Palace. 1-1. 1-2 United. Wright, 2-2. This one was a classic. 3-2 early on in extra-time looked set to give the Eagles the trophy, but Mark Hughes scored his second of the game, with seven minutes to go. 3-3. That was the final score, to send the final to a replay, seven days later, which United won 1-0 thanks to Lee Martin.

2006 – Liverpool 3 West Ham 3 (Liverpool 3-1 on penalties)

Due to the reconstruction of Wembley, this game took place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, with the Welsh capital hosting English football’s flagship final from 2001 to 2006.

What a game this was, with that man Steven Gerrard stealing the show and dragging his team to glory. What a performance, just go and watch the highlights. Gerrard had already scored a cracking equaliser for 2-2, prior to West Ham putting themselves ahead, again. The Liverpool captain had other ideas.

Photo : Sbi / Icon Sport
Photo : Sbi / Icon Sport

Deep into injury time, he produced a 30-yard piledriver to send the tie into extra time, breaking West Ham hearts in the process. Earlier on, an own goal from Jamie Carragher was followed by a Dean Ashton strike to give the Hammers a 2-0 lead. Djibril Cisse scored before Gerrard made it 2-2 then the drama unfolded.

Future Rangers title-winning manager Gerrard would go on to score a penalty in the shootout as the Reds triumphed, to bring the trophy back to Anfield for the seventh time.