When Everton’s Louis Saha knocked home the opening goal in the 2009 FA Cup Final at Wembley TV pundits rushed to the record books after it was officially timed at just 25 seconds. They knew that it was the quickest goal in a Wembley Final, beating Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo’s effort in 1997 against Middlesbrough timed at 41 seconds. But when it came to whether it was the quickest ever scored in the cup final it was necessary to consult the records books where they discovered the previous fastest was recorded as Bob Chatt’s for Aston Villa against West Bromwich Albion in 1895, which depending upon reports from the time took place between 30 and 39 seconds.
Saha thus entered the record books, consolation perhaps for his side’s eventual defeat against Chelsea by two goals to one. Chatt may have lost his record but at least in his case he ended up with a winner’s medal, Villa triumphing 1-0 on the day.
Yet there is evidence to show that the actual record holder is in fact a cup winner. Fred Spikesley, in 1896, lined up for The [Sheffield] Wednesday against Wolverhampton Wanderers. This was Wednesday’s chance to ease the embarrassment of suffering a record cup final defeat six years earlier, thrashed 6-1 six years cup kings Blackburn Rovers. Spikesley hadn’t played that fateful day when William Townley became the first man to hammer home a cup-final hat trick, but like the rest of his teammates he was determined to help make amends. With Wolves having previously captured what was then the world’s most famous trophy, beating Everton 1-0 in 1893, the Wednesday were slight outsiders to take the FA Cup home. A good start would be essential.
Afterwards it was reported that a crowd of 48,836 - another record at the time - had assembled at the Crystal Palace but with many arriving close to kick-off time just how many saw Wednesday, after Wolves won the toss, kick off promptly at 4.00pm is uncertain. And for those who missed Laurie Bell taking the first touch there was little chance of them seeing the opening goal, as it is clear from every match report that it occurred within less than a minute.
For example the following is taken from the Cricket and Football Field that was published in Bolton and sold across the northwest from 7.30pm on the day of the game.
‘The ground was in excellent order, and with an almost entire absence of wind, the conditions were in every way favourable to a fast game. Wolverhampton gained the choice of goal, but there was little in it, as the wind has almost dropped, and punctually at four o’clock Bell kicked off for Sheffield. The left wing got away and then the ball was passed across to the right. Brash centred in capital style, and Bell passed to Davis [it was in fact Spikesley] who with a quick shot kicked the first goal for Sheffield within a minute of the start.’
Or the following Monday’s Sportsman which reported that “Few will forget the dash with which the Wednesday went off, and the lightning goal credited to Spikesley in the first minute had a great deal to do with their ultimate victory.”
Exactly how many seconds had elapsed within that minute when Spikesley scored therefore appears to remain uncertain. No one appears to have asked the referee afterwards if he had taken an exact timing, and it was unlikely that Lieutenant Simpson would have bothered to note it anyway. For example, when Chatt scored it is known that his shot was fumbled towards goal by West Brom keeper Joe Reader where as it moved to cross the line John Devey, the Villa centre-forward and the West Brom defender Jack Horton both appeared to get a touch. The goal was still credited to Chatt. Statistics in the late 19th century might have been important, but they aren’t what they are today with each blade of grass covered by individual players even totalled up
As such the Historian at the FA David Barber has confirmed that the organisation does not possess the referee’s notebook from 1896 and has no idea if it still exists.
Yet hidden for over a century has been a report that did attempt to give a time to the 1896 FA Cup Final opening goal.
It is taken from the Manchester Guardian and states:-
Scarcely 20 seconds had passed before the Wednesday scored the first point. Brash on the outside right passed across and Spikesley on the outside left put in a shot which Tennant failed to reach.
This makes Spikesley’s goal the quickest ever goal in an FA Cup Final and not Chatt’s or even Saha’s. His effort, allied to a second, was to be vital in helping his side win a fine match by two goals to one thus taking the cup back to Yorkshire for the first time ever.
Spikesley was to go on to become one of the Wednesday early greats scoring more than a hundred goals in over 300 first team appearances. He also played seven times for England scoring five times and helped his country to two Home International Championships in 1893 and 1896. When he retired in 1906 he became famous as a coach/manager taking up posts with, amongst others, AIK Stockholm [helping them to the Swedish Championship], TSV 1860 Munchen in Germany [where he was interned when World War 1 broke out and found himself spending time playing football with other famous ex-pros in Steve Bloomer, Fred Pentland and Sam Wolstenholme] and Real Club Espana.