Manchester United currently hold the record for the most FA Cup successes, with eleven in all. It’s a great achievement, especially after starting out as Newton Heath in 1878 they captured the cup just once in the first 69 years.
In fact it wasn’t until January 1894 before a first round proper match was won, Middlesbrough suffering a 4-0 defeat in the first tie to be held at Bank Street, Newton Heath having moved there from North Road in the previous summer. Any hopes this was to be the start of a glorious tradition quickly floundered, although in 1896-97 and, as Manchester United in 1905-06, the club did reach the last eight.
Hopes were high therefore in 1907-08 when, en route to capturing the First Division title for the first time, a quarter-final tie away to second Division Fulham offered an opportunity to move towards capturing the League and cup ‘double.’ A surprise defeat was forgotten when the following season, helped by some terrible weather in the quarter final, that caused the game at Turf Moor to be abandoned with just 18 minutes left with Burnley one-nil to the good, Ernest Mangnall’s men progressed to the final.
Bristol City had pipped Manchester United for the Second Division title three seasons earlier when both sides had been promoted, but it was the large United following at the Crystal Palace that left the happier, Sandy Turnbull knocking home the only goal. Returning with what was then the most sought after cup in the world the players and staff enjoyed a glorious reception before thousands of Mancunians.
When a second League title followed in 1910-11, United fans appetite for more success was high. It was not to be, and only once did their side seem set for another final appearance. This was in 1926 and standing in their way of a first ever Wembley appearance were City, who two years previously had won the second final at the new ground, beating Newcastle 2-0. United were ably led by Frank Barson, a blacksmith by trade and not a man to be tangled with. Despite his best efforts City won comfortably, although Bolton stopped them winning the cup again a few short weeks later.
Not once after that did United even make it to the last sixteen before football as a serious contest was ended for the more important struggle that was World War Two. When it did resume United were pitted over two legs against Accrington Stanley in the 1945-46 third round. It had been Stanley who United had faced first in the FA Cup after changing their name from Newton Heath in 1902. Then it had been 7-0, now United again scored seven in going through 7-3 on aggregate.
With bombed out Old Trafford years away from being ready, City had agreed to let United play their home games at Maine Road. As the more successful, better supported side they might have thought they were simply doing their lesser rivals a favour. United repaid them by using Maine Road as a base to begin their rise above them and back to the very summit of English football. It’s a climb that City are still trying to catch up with.
Preston put paid to United in 1946 but two years later no-one was going to do so and arguably the manner in which Matt Busby’s side won the FA Cup has never been bettered. Certainly what hasn’t is the numbers that turned up to see them doing it! All the more appropriate therefore that this success spawned some great mementoes of the six games, all away from home, culminating in a 4-2 first ever Wembley victory against Stanley Matthews Blackpool.
59,000 had packed out Villa Park for the third round, and they witnessed a sensational match in which despite scoring four Aston Villa ran off beaten 6-4. More than 74,000 were present for the fourth round ‘home’ game played at Goodison Park due to City also being at home in the cup. Liverpool had no chance and were swept aside 3-0. Charlton, Preston North End and Derby County, all First Division teams at the time, were all then beaten by at least a couple of goals before United headed to Wembley. Losing 2-1 at half time it wasn’t until the 70th minute when Jack Rowley forced the equaliser. Twelve minutes later Blackpool were in with no chance after Stan Pearson and John Anderson had doubled the United total. The best final ever said the papers.
With few people able to afford the primitive televisions then on the market it was the cinema’s that profited, doing a roaring trade by showing the final live on the large screen. For those unable to gain entry there was a chance to catch some of the highlights before the evening film showings courtesy of Pathe News. It wasn’t to be long though before most people could enjoy the comfort of watching the cup final at home and by 1957 and 1958 the numbers doing so dwarfed those doing so at the cinema’s.
Having hammered Bournemouth 5-0 in the 1948-49 third round United were drawn against Bradford Park Avenue in the fourth and thousands were determined to see the game. The gates were closed, but not before 82,771 the largest ever crowd outside of Wembley assembled to watch a FA Cup tie. It was though almost beaten in the fifth, non-league Yeovil had created one of the greatest ever cup shocks by overcoming Sunderland in the fourth, but despite being backed by 7,000 in a crowd of 81,565 they were no match for the cup holders. Eight-nil and a then record haul of five goals in an FA Cup match for Jack Rowley. Wolves however put paid to consecutive successes, beating United 1-0 in a replayed semi-final at Goodison Park.
By the time United returned to the final four of the competition in 1957, Matt Busby had assembled a new side. As runaway league leaders, and European Cup semi-finalists, the chance of a treble was on and along with the now by obligatory rosette worn proudly by many United fans there was also the chance to wave a special pennant at the semi-final against Birmingham City at Hillsborough. The Blues had reached the final the previous season, but were no match as United moved onto Wembley. By the time they arrived Real Madrid had put paid to any treble by winning the two leg Euro semi 5-3 on aggregate but with the double still very much on ‘The Babes’ were on the edge of history.
They would have undoubtedly have achieved it if the game had been played under today’s rules. Seven minutes in with ‘keeper Ray Wood easily collecting a poor cross he was battered to the ground by Aston Villa winger Peter McParland, leaving the United custodian with a broken cheekbone. Even for the 50s it was a harsh crude challenge, but it was to be another 28 years before Kevin Moran became the first man to be sent off in an FA Cup Final. McParland went on to profit from his good fortune by scoring both his sides goals in a 2-1 win.
If 1957 broke United fans hearts, the following year shattered even those of people who had never entered a football ground. Munich, February 1958 and with the game of football coming to terms with its tragic loss everyone wanted United to do the impossible by winning their way back to Wembley. It’s not possible to do justice to the players who did it, suffice to say Sheffield Wednesday were swept away in the fifth round match re-arranged in the aftermath of Munich, and although Fulham put up stubborn semi-final resistance a hat-trick by Alec Dawson finally helped a side being managed by assistant Jimmy Murphy to win the second game, 5-3.
Matt Busby was back for the final, but was a game too much from United, Nat Lofthouse scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for neighbours Bolton. It took just four seasons to gain revenge, the Wanderers losing 2-1 at Old Trafford on 3rd round day in 1962. The previous season had seen United swept aside 7-2 at home to Sheffield Wednesday so when the two sides were pitched together in the 5th round revenge was in the air. The Owls did force a replay but a resurgent United won this 2-0 at Hillsborough, Johnny Giles and Bobby Charlton sweeping home the goals. Matt Busby’s side were back on the same ground within five weeks. Facing them were the previous season’s double winners Spurs and despite a valiant effort it was the Cockney side who triumphed 3-1.
This was to mark the start of five seasons in which United reached the last four of the competition. Yet only once did they make the final, when having enjoyed a fortuitous series of draws - - that pitched them against just one side from the top League in Aston Villa they found themselves lining up against Leicester City at the 1963 final. The East Midlands side were the favourites to win, but, inspired by Denis Law, Manchester United won comfortably enough in a 3-1 win, David Herd hitting two past Gordon Banks in the Leicester goal.
Set to face their first top flight opponents that season in the 1964 semi-final it looked like history might repeat itself. However the damage had already been done. United might have beaten Second Division Sunderland 5-1 in the 2nd replay of the sixth round, but their efforts in hauling themselves past the Wearsiders, when in both the earlier matches they had scored right at the end, had left them exhausted. As many as 100,000 are estimated to have turned up for the second game at Roker Park, when with the gates broken down two people died. Unable to get anywhere near the ground the United party had to dismount from their coach and make the last half mile on foot. The series of games were later to be described by Bobby Charlton as the most exciting of his career. Back at Hillsborough for the semi-final, United slumped 3-1 to West Ham United. Fast forward a year and this time Leeds United stood in the way, United having won a thrilling quarter-final tie 5-3 away at Wolves.
If football had been the winner at Molineux it certainly wasn’t at Hillsborough, when both United’s kicked lumps out of each other. Law and Jack Charlton made passable impressions of being boxers in their past lives and to make matters worse a scoreless draw forced a second game. A third seemed certain but with only minutes remaining Leeds, through Billy Bremner, forced home the winner. Five years later the two sides did, in fact, need three games to divide them at the semi-final stage and Bremner was again the match-winner. It was a defeat that brought to an end George Best’s chance of winning an FA Cup medal of any description. He’d been too young to play in the 1963 Final and a premature end to his career meant he was to be long gone by the time United again qualified for the final.
He had though not left without making his mark. Having beaten near neighbours City 3-0 in the fourth round of the 1969-70 season, United were given a tricky away tie against Northampton Town. The Cobblers had thrilled the football world by making it into Division One at the end of the 1964-65 season. They almost managed to stay for a second season but relegation started the plunge right back to the basement and by the time Best came to town on 7 February 1970 they were struggling in Division Four. Still this being the FA Cup, confidence was high amongst the home followers in a packed out County Ground.
What happened next remains folk law. On a muddy pitch, perfect for upsets, Best was at his impudent best. He headed home the opener and had added a second to make it 2-0 by half-time. His third arrived just after the restart and by the end he’d doubled his haul. Best was fresh back from suspension and yet despite being thrashed 8-2 no Northampton player that day would turn back the clock as they and anyone lucky enough to be present witnessed perhaps the greatest of the genius’s games.
Manchester United had completed three consecutive seasons semi-final defeats in 1966 by losing 1-0 to Everton at Burnden Park, and it was to be another ten years before they did finally make it back to Wembley for the first time in 13 years. Southampton of the Second Division stood in their way. Having enjoyed a successful return to the top flight after promotion from the Second Division the previous season then Tommy Docherty’s side were big favourites. Not for the first, or last, time the FA Cup Final threw up a surprise, and although neither team really deserved to win it was Southampton, courtesy of a late Bobby Stokes goal, that captured the famous trophy for the only time in their long history.
Defeat meant that over a twenty-year period United had reached the last four on nine occasions, but on only one occasion - in 1963 - had they actually managed to win the FA Cup. There must have therefore been one or two fans who feared the worst when they again reached the last four in 1977, especially as the other three sides were Leeds United and the two Merseyside Giants. To add to their concerns United were asked to again play the Peacocks at Hillsborough. This wasn’t though the Don Revie side of the 1960s and goals from Steve Coppell and former Leeds apprentice Jimmy Greenhoff, saw Docherty’s side win more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline would suggest.
Liverpool were United’s opponents at Wembley. The Merseysiders had already captured the League Title and with a European Final against Borussia Moenchengladbach to come then the chance of the unique treble was definitely on. Before the game much was made of the absence of the highly reliable Stewart Houston down United’s left, but in the event FA Cup debutant Arthur Albiston came in and played with distinction. The better side on the day lost, but Martin Buchan couldn’t have cared less when he became the first man to captain sides to Scottish and English FA Cup successes. Neither could the United hordes, who roared their delight when he hoisted aloft the famous trophy.
The first half was a poor affair, but on 50 minutes Stuart Pearson cracked home a fine opening goal. Jimmy Case, Liverpool’s combative midfielder with a lovely shot on him, was having none of that and two minutes later he put his side level with a wonderful sweeping drive. With the tension on the terracing becoming almost unbearable United were back in the lead within three minutes. The goal was a fluke, Lou Macari’s shot was going well wide when it hit Jimmy Greenhoff to deflect the ball wide of Ray Clemence in the Liverpool goal.
Liverpool were stung but when they pushed forward the United back four, able supported by a busy midfield, were never going to give up the chance to deny their rivals a crack at the treble. That would have to wait for another day, or rather year, because unlike United Liverpool have yet to achieve such a feat.
By the time United next returned in 1979 to Wembley in the FA Cup Tommy Docherty had long since departed, unceremoniously dumped after his affair with Mary Brown, wife of United physio Laurie. Having, in the semi-final, again beaten Liverpool, courtesy of another Jimmy Greenhoff goal, United’s final opponents were Arsenal.
Manager Dave Sexton had spent heavily in bringing in two Leeds United players in Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen and it was the latter who appeared to have given his side a consolation goal when he used his long legs to proud the ball beyond Pat Jennings to make it 2-1 with just four minutes remaining. Arsenal had been coasting with an early goal from Brian Talbot being added to by a Frank Stapleton effort just before half-time.
Sammy McIlroy, part of a long line of Northern Ireland internationals at Old Trafford, had endured a difficult afternoon but with 88 minutes on the clock he showed sublime skill to weave his way across the box before leaving his countryman Jennings grasping thin air. 2-2 and queue ecstatic United celebrations - too ecstatic in fact.
Liam Brady, another Irishman, only this time from the South, had created Arsenal’s first two goals and now he was going to play his part in the third. Slipping a wonderful pass out wide gave Graham Rix the chance to cross and, timing his run to perfection, Alan Sunderland came bursting in to send one half of Wembley into silence. Brian Talbot thus became the only man to win the FA Cup with different clubs in successive seasons, having been part of the Ipswich side the previous year. Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2 and a long way home for the United followers, who then watched their side fail to pass beyond the fourth round over the next three seasons.
Italian bound Joe Jordan had been replaced by Arsenal’s Frank Stapleton in 1981, one of many new expensive arrivals under new manager Ron Atkinson and his last minute goal had seen United squeeze past Everton in the quarter finals of the 1982-83 FA Cup. Standing in the way of an ninth final appearance were Stapleton’s old side, and they took a first half lead through Tony Woodcock, only for another of Atkinson’s expensive buys, Bryan Robson to force home the equaliser before Norman Whiteside saw United back at Wembley for the second time in a matter of weeks after the disappointment of losing to Liverpool in the Milk Cup Final.
Brighton, already relegated, were not expected to offer a significant threat. The Seagulls though led 1-0 at half time, courtesy of a 14th minute Alan Smith effort. Yet with just three minutes of the game remaining United’s name seem certain to be on the cup following another Stapleton and a rare Ray Wilkins goal. This may account for some slack marking at the back and Gary Stevens profited by forcing home the equalising goal. It was to be the first time United had played extra-time in the FA Cup Final, and with no extra-goals it also meant a first ever replay. If there was disappointment it was tempered by the fact that Smith was left with only Bailey to beat at one point - ‘Smith must score’ ranted the commentators. If he did it would have been the greatest day in the South Coast sides’ history, but stung by enjoying such a lucky escape United made sure in the second game. Robson with two, Whiteside and Arnold Muhren, the first Dutchman to play in a cup final, all scored in a 4-0 win that gave United a fifth success.
This became six just two years later. Liverpool had again been beaten at the semi-final stage, no-one from Anfield being able to match Bryan Robson over the two games in which he scored in both. It was the other side from the Mersey who faced United. Everton had already won the First Division title and following their previous seasons FA Cup success they were poised to capture the now long gone European Cup Winners Cup. They had a powerful midfield in which Peter Reid had been outstanding that season.
With ticket prices at a record high it was not surprising that the match saw the first one million pounds plus gate receipts for an FA Cup Final. It was a sum significantly higher than the first final in which reliable receipts were recorded, when 12,500 spectators paid out a grand total of £442 to witness Blackburn Rovers beat Scottish side Queen’s Park 2-0 in 1885.
In a bruising no-holds encounter United more than held their own but seemed certain to go down to defeat when Kevin Moran was unlucky, after fouling Reid, to become the first man to be dismissed in a Cup Final, referee Peter Willis Wiley waving away appeals for clemency. For Everton the famous League and Cup ‘double’ was within their reach when Whiteside wrenched the cup from their grasp by curling a magnificent shot that left Neville Southall grasping fresh air. A great contest had been settled by the sort of goal which should win such occasions. It was to be Whiteside’s finest hour and he like his manager was long gone by the next time United ran out at Wembley in the FA Cup Final.
In 1990, manager Alex Ferguson’s side had enjoyed two thrilling games at Maine Road against near neighbours Oldham Athletic in the semi-final. In a see-saw match both teams took the lead in the first, at the end of which they’d shared six goals. Only half as many were scored in the replay, with Mark Robins scoring the crucial third in extra-time.
Crystal Palace had never previously reached the final and United were expected to win comfortably. That hadn’t been the case in the third round, drawn away at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest there were rumours that defeat, in a season in which his side had failed to perform in the League, would see Ferguson summarily dismissed. A late goal from substitute Robins proved just enough to squeeze United through.
Managed by ex-Red Steve Coppell, Palace were ahead when Bryan Robson thundered home an equaliser. When Hughes made it 2-1 it was time for Coppell to push on substitute Ian Wright and within seconds he’d brought the match level and taken it into extra-time. Jim Leighton was then left stranded by a superb Wright volley and an unlikely south London success looked on. Seven minutes from time Mark Hughes cruelly denied the Eagles a famous victory in what had been an exciting 120 minutes of football.
The replay never had anything like the same level of entertainment. Leighton had been surprisingly replaced between the posts by Les Sealey, on loan from Luton. He had little to do, Palace were poor and United little better but a 60th minute well-driven shot by Lee Martin proved enough to win the trophy for a then record equalling - with Aston Villa and Spurs - seventh time. Alex Ferguson too also had a record to be proud of, becoming only the second man, after Johnny Cochrane of St Mirren and Sunderland in the 1930s, to manage English and Scottish FA Cup Winning teams.
By the time captain Steve Bruce next lead out United in the 1994 Cup Final Spurs, by winning the cup in 1991, were back in front with eight wins. With the FA in dire financial straits semi-final matches had all been moved to Wembley, and so it was that the followers of both United and Oldham journeyed past perfectly acceptable venues to meet in north London for the right to return there for the final a few short weeks later. For much of the time it seemed it would be the near neighbours who’d been travelling south but with only seconds remaining Mark Hughes lashed home a trademark volley to give United a slightly fortuitous draw. Thankfully, at least, the replay was at Maine Road. The consolation of a short trip home would have been the least of Oldham followers concerns after they’d witnessed their side being well beaten 4-1.
Chelsea stood in the way of a record equalling eighth win. Not for long, Eric Cantona became the first man to score two penalties in the Cup final before Mark Hughes and Brian McClair added a goal apiece to ensure the Pensioners limped off a well-beaten side. Victory in a year in which Sir Matt Busby had earlier passed away meant a first ever League and FA Cup double, a fitting tribute to the great man. Also joining in the celebrations were the residents of Gugh Island, who before you ask ‘where’s that?’ is in the Isles of Scilly, who issued a special 50p stamp in commemoration of United’s achievement.
A chance of a ninth FA Cup success came the following season. Even though Eric Cantona was still suspended at the time of the semi-final match because his actions in attacking a Crystal Palace supporter during the league game at Selhurst Park earlier in the season - this helped stoke up the atmosphere before the two sides met at Villa Park in the semi-final. Significant pre-match trouble around Birmingham failed to prevent the sides putting on a fine display, but following a 2-2 draw many supporters of both sides, sickened by the violence, decided to give the replay a miss. Only 17,987 saw United win comfortably with a goal apiece from the centre-back partnership of Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce. It set up a frantic finish to the season, with a second double very much on.
Having lost out to Blackburn on the final day of the League season there was to be further disappointment when Everton’s Paul Rideout put his side ahead after half an hour. United after that were the better side, but failed to create sufficient chances to deserve a victory and it was to be the Toffees who headed north with what is currently their last major honour.
One year later and having already won the league title United were back at Wembley. They’d enjoyed a touch of good fortune in round three, Sunderland, backed by what Alex Ferguson later said were the loudest bunch of away fans he’d heard at Old Trafford, had come within seconds of putting United out of the competition when they led 1-0 at Roker Park in the replay before Paul Scholes equalised at the death. Andy Cole duly put United through in extra-time, after which they cruised to the final to set up a meeting with Liverpool.
The match proved a terrible one - especially for Liverpool, who in a return to the past defended deeply and seemed happy to ensure they didn’t lose. Justice was therefore done when Cantona, showing great poise, fastened on to a loose ball to drill home a shot from the edge of the box that somehow made its way past the ranks of Liverpool defenders in front of him. United had done the double for the second time and won the FA Cup for a record breaking ninth time. Wimbledon and Barnsley put paid to a tenth the following seasons but no-one was going to do so in 1998-99!
Chelsea had defended deeply in the sixth round but any hopes they might profit for a goalless draw were to be ruined when Dwight Yorke scored both goals at Stamford Bridge in the replay. Arsenal and United then played out another goalless affair in the semi-final at Villa Park and it looked with the score at 1-1 in extra time that the outcome would be decided on penalties.
Ryan Giggs had last scored an FA Cup goal back in 1995 and was due another. Few though would have bet on him scoring when he picked up a ball just inside the Arsenal half. Showing all the skills of his compatriot and United legend Billy Meredith the Welshman hurtled down the wing leaving a trail of Gunners in his wake before cutting inside and hammering a shot of such pace and precision that England keeper David Seaman never had any chance of saving it. It was a truly brilliant goal and helped set United up for another final, this time against Newcastle.
The match itself was not the best Wembley has ever seen. Having already won the title United were keen to simply get the job done and move on to Barcelona to face Bayern Munich in the final of the European Champions League. Newcastle were backed by their passionate followers but there was never a chance of the Geordies winning their first domestic trophy since the last time they won the FA Cup in 1955. Teddy Sheringham and Paul Scholes ensured a comfortable success.
To the intense irritation of its older fans United didn’t defend the cup the following season, journeying off to South America to play in the World Club Championship but by May 2004 Alex Ferguson’s side were back in the final. They were up against unlikely opponents in Millwall, whose manager Denis Wise had taken the Lions to a first ever final. United had beaten City 4-2, with Ruud van Nistelrooy grabbing two, in round five and were naturally big pre-match final favourites. With Wembley closed for refurbishment the match was played at the impressive Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and although the lower league side looked like they may go in at half-time level they failed to pick up van Nistelrooy in the 44th minute and his headed goal was one of two in a 3-0 victory. United had now won the FA Cup eleven times.
There was a glorious chance to make it twelve the following season. Back at the Millennium Stadium for the semi-final van Nistelrooy again grabbed two in a 4-1 demolition of Newcastle, setting a final with Arsenal.
Having, for once, failed to capture a trophy during the season then this was United’s chance to do so. The Gunners were more intent on not losing than winning the game and adopted a defensive attitude. Alex Ferguson’s side were unlucky to find Jens Lehman in fine form, and his series of saves helped ensure the game finished 0-0 after extra-time. In the past a 0-0 draw would have meant a replay, but changes in the rules meant that for the first time the FA Cup was decided on penalties. Again Lehman was the hero, saving Paul Scholes effort to leave Patrick Viera to stroke home the winning penalty at 5-4.
By the time United were back in the final in 2007 the new Wembley had opened. Rooney had starred in a 4-1 semi-final win against Watford at Villa Park and hopes were high for a 12th cup success. Victory over Chelsea would also have given United the double for the fourth time. With their opponents having won the League Cup earlier in the season then there were real hopes of a great game for the first FA Cup Final back in London after six years in Wales. It was not to be, the first shot didn’t arrive till half an hour had gone, and two sides seemed set to settle the competition on penalties when Didier Drogba popped up with a late winner.
In 2008/09 a chance to again play Chelsea in the final was lost when United lost on penalties at the end of the goalless semi-final match with Everton. There was further disappointment in 2010-11 when City beat their near neighbours 1-0 at Wembley in the semi-final. City went on to win the Trophy for the fifth time, but with eleven successes then their near neighbours are easily the most successful FA Cup side ever.