The 10 most magical FA Cup Finals (in order)

Words: Nick Moore
Images: Neal Simpson - EMPICS / Getty

Here are the greatest Cup Finals in the history of the competition, in ascending order of drama…

Thrillers, humdingers, howitzers, own goals, heartbreak, merciless violence – and people losing their minds either through wild joy or sheer fury: the FA Cup Final has seen it all.

The world’s oldest Cup competition has been a permanent fixture on our football calendar for 135 years, an unmissable May Saturday tradition – but which of those finals have been the finest? From pendulum-swinging nail-biters to seismic shock wins, these are the 10 matches that served up the heartiest helpings of that ol’ Cup magic…

10. Coventry City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2, 1987

Even today, fans of Coventry approach former Spurs stopper Gary Mabbutt and ask to take a picture kissing his knee. The Spurs stopper’s fabled joint was the deciding factor in this epic fixture, deflecting the ball goalwards for a Sky Blues winner in extra time. Also notable for Keith Houchen’s heroic diving header for the unfancied Midlanders.

9. Chelsea 2 Leeds 1, 1970

We’re not normally ones to condone violence, but this was a highly enjoyable bloodbath between two of the most fighty football teams ever to walk the earth. After a carnage-filled 2-2 draw at Wembley, the Old Trafford replay saw the likes of Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Norman ‘Bite Yer Legs’ Hunter vigorously slice and gnaw; a modern review concluded that there should have been six red cards and 20 yellows. X-rated.

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8. Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 1, 2013 

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The Mancunian moneybags were seen as a lock to defeat Roberto Martinez’s collection of journeymen, but the Latics put in a blood and thunder display that neutralised City schemers like David Silva and Sergio Agüero. Callum McManaman was incisive, and Ben Watson’s heroic last-minute winner was the stuff of comic book cliché.

7. Everton 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2, 1966

There was another half-decent match at Wembley in summer ’66, y’know: two months prior to Geoff Hurst’s productive afternoon, a brilliant Everton side who’d reached the final without conceding got a terrific scare from Division Two battlers Wednesday. The Owls went 2-0 up before the Toffees scored three in a breathtaking comeback. 

6. Tottenham 3 Manchester City 2, 1981

Two elevens that seemed inseparable – finally prised apart by perhaps the Cup’s most beautiful piece of solo wizardry ever. Spurs and City had contested a tight 0-0 on the Saturday; a rare Thursday night Wembley replay was poised at 2-2 when Argentine sensation Ricky Villa danced past four players to slot home a finish later voted ‘Wembley Goal of the Century’.

5. Liverpool 0 Wimbledon 1, 1988

A decade earlier, the Dons had been playing non-league; in the meantime Liverpool had dominated at home and abroad. But in a cinematic 90 minutes, Wimbledon’s motley crew – Dennis Wise, Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu – brutalised the Reds, with Dave Beasant saving a penalty and Lawrie Sanchez nodding in the winner. “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!” burbled Motty…

4. Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2, 1979 

Remembered as the ‘Five-minute final’ with good reason: this was a fairly moribund match up until the 86th minute. With Arsenal leading 2-0 and looking nailed on for victory, a barmy flurry saw Gordon McQueen and Sammy McIlroy level the scores – only for Alan Sunderland to bang home an 89th minute winner to send half of Wembley bananas.

3. Blackpool 4 Bolton 3, 1953

Ask your great granddad, if you’ve got one, and they’ll insist this was the finest match ever under the old Twin Towers. Blackpool went 3-1 down before a masterclass of wing play from Stanley Matthews dragged the Seasiders to glory. He was so influential that it’s still known as ‘The Matthews Final’ - despite his teammate Stan Mortensen bagging a hat-trick. A Tangerine Dream. 

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2. Sunderland 1 Leeds 0, 1973 

The FA Cup is best loved for its underdog stories, and this was the ultimate yarn. Second Division scrappers Sunderland faced one of the finest British sides of all time: Don Revie’s gnarly Leeds. The game wasn’t one for the purists, but the Mackem’s rearguard effort and manager Bob Stokoe’s crazy victory gallop over the hallowed turf on the whistle were simply magnificent. 

1. Liverpool 3 West Ham United 3, 2006 (Liverpool won 3-1 on penalties)

A clear winner in terms of excitement, the ‘Gerrard Final’ remains the highest-scoring draw in FA Cup Final history – and one of only two finals ever out of 135 to go to penalties (the other, oddly enough, was the year before). The ding-dong tussle saw a Jamie Carragher own goal, some epic Alan Pardew yelling, and that 30-yard blockbusting equaliser with two minutes left that helped to seal the ‘Stevie G’ legend.

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04/2017 The Red Bulletin

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