The 10 greatest FA Cup finals in history

FA Cup
(Image credit: Getty)

The oldest national football competition in the world, the FA Cup, saw its first ever match played 150 years ago today. Since that fateful day, it has grown to become a cornerstone of British sporting culture; watched by millions around the globe. 

Here, FFT takes a walk down memory lane to look back at 10 of the top FA Cup finals.

1953: Blackpool 4 Bolton 3

What became known as the ‘Matthews Final’ remains one of the most celebrated FA Cup stories.

Stanley Matthews, then 38, finally earned a winners’ medal to much national acclaim.

The occasion, though, was not all about him – with Stan Mortensen hitting a hat-trick as Blackpool came from behind to defeat Bolton 4-3.

Nat Lofthouse, Willie Moir and Eric Bell had helped Bolton take a 3-1 lead early in the second half – before Matthews took charge with some darting runs down the right, causing chaos in the Trotters’ defence.

Mortensen pounced on an error to pull one back and then levelled with a thunderous last-minute free-kick.

The crowning moment came in injury time as Matthews beat his man and pulled the ball back for Bill Perry to slot home the winner.

1988: Liverpool 0 Wimbledon 1

Wimbledon goalkeeper Dave Beasant made history with his penalty save

Wimbledon goalkeeper Dave Beasant made history with his penalty save (PA)

The Dons had worked their way up from the Southern League to the top flight with a no-nonsense approach and team spirit, but were given little hope against a Liverpool side expecting to seal the double.

In the 37th minute, Lawrie Sanchez headed home a Dennis Wise free-kick to give the underdogs the lead.

Liverpool had the chance to equalise in the second half, but John Aldridge saw his penalty pushed away by Dave Beasant, who became the first goalkeeper to save a spot-kick in an FA Cup final at Wembley.

As the full-time whistle blew and Wimbledon celebrated the most unlikely of victories, BBC commentator John Motson declared: “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club.”

1979: Arsenal 3 Manchester United 2

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In one of the most dramatic endings ever seen in an FA Cup final, Arsenal surrendered a 2-0 lead to Manchester United – but then hit back to win 3-2, all in the last four minutes.

The Gunners looked to be cruising after the outstanding Liam Brady set up Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton in the first half.

Gordon McQueen bundled home what appeared to be little more than a consolation goal in the 86th minute – but Sammy McIlroy equalised after a mazy run.

With extra-time looming under the sweltering Wembley sun, Brady was not finished, as the Republic of Ireland midfielder broke forward and picked out Graham Rix, who crossed for Alan Sunderland to slide in the most dramatic of winning goals at the back post.

1987: Coventry 3 Tottenham 2 (after extra-time)

Keith Houchen's diving header is one of the most memorable FA Cup final goals

Keith Houchen’s diving header is one of the most memorable FA Cup final goals (PA Archive)

A year before Wimbledon’s unexpected triumph, Coventry had delivered a shock of their own to beat Tottenham.

The final appeared to be running to form when Clive Allen headed Spurs in front after just two minutes, although Dave Bennett soon equalised.

Spurs were in front again through Gary Mabbutt to lead at half-time – but the Sky Blues were back on level terms just after the hour when Bennett crossed for Keith Houchen to make it 2-2 with his famous diving header.

Coventry – appearing in their first domestic cup final – went on to win the cup in extra-time when Mabbutt diverted a Lloyd McGrath cross into his own goal.

1981: Tottenham 3 Manchester City 2 (replay)

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The 100th FA Cup final had ended in a 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Tottenham, so both teams returned to Wembley five days later for a replay.

Argentina star Ricky Villa took centre stage with one of the most memorable goals in a final as Spurs ran out 3-2 winners.

Villa had earlier opened the scoring after eight minutes when he pounced on a rebound, only for City to hit back as Steve McKenzie connected with a long-range volley.

Kevin Reeves put City ahead from the penalty spot, but Garth Crooks poked home Spurs’ equaliser from a deft ball by Glenn Hoddle.

With 15 minutes left, a moment of magic from Villa secured the trophy.

Picking up the ball midway inside the City half, he beat two defenders to run into the box before then cutting back inside and slipping the ball past Joe Corrigan.

2014: Arsenal 3 Hull 2

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Arsenal came from 2-0 down to win a dramatic FA Cup final in extra-time with a goal from Aaron Ramsey to end their nine-year wait for a trophy.

Hull had earlier stunned the Gunners at a sun-baked Wembley as they went 2-0 up inside eight minutes through James Chester and captain Curtis Davies, who both capitalised on some poor defending from balls into the penalty area.

Arsenal, though, rallied and reduced the deficit through a superb 30-yard free-kick from Santi Cazorla.

The equaliser eventually came in the 71st minute when defender Laurent Koscielny knocked the ball into the net from a corner and was then clattered by Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

In extra-time, France forward Olivier Giroud crashed a header against the crossbar, before Ramsey completed a remarkable turnaround in the 109th minute.

The Wales midfielder – who had left Wembley in tears as a schoolboy following defeat with Cardiff in the 2008 final against Portsmouth – drilled in a loose ball from the edge of the penalty box which handed manager Arsene Wenger his first taste of success since 2005.

1966: Everton 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Everton captain Brian Labone (left) saw his side fight back from 2-0 down

Everton captain Brian Labone, left, saw his side fight back from 2-0 down (PA)

Ahead of England’s famous World Cup triumph, Brian Labone had captained Everton to a 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday in another memorable comeback as John Lennon and Paul McCartney watched on at Wembley.

The Owls went 2-0 ahead after Jim McCalliog’s early goal and another from David Ford just before the hour.

Everton, though, rallied as two goals in the space of five minutes from Mike Trebilcock levelled things up.

Wednesday were crestfallen and Derek Temple completed the turnaround with a third goal for the Toffees with 15 minutes left.

1990: Crystal Palace 3 Manchester United 3

Crystal Palace substitute Ian Wright made an impact with two goals

Crystal Palace substitute Ian Wright made an impact with two goals (PA)

Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace produced a memorable showdown against favourites Manchester United with a thrilling 3-3 draw at Wembley as Ian Wright came off the bench to score twice.

Gary O’Reilly put the Eagles in front with a header from a free-kick in the 15th minute.

United, though, rallied as captain Bryan Robson equalised before Mark Hughes put them ahead just after the hour.

Wright made an immediate impact from the bench to weave his way into the United penalty area before slotting past Jim Leighton.

The Scottish goalkeeper was then caught out in extra-time as he hesitated at a floated cross, which allowed Wright to volley home at the far post.

Hughes later made it 3-3 to send the tie to a replay, which United – with Les Sealey in goal – won 1-0 with a goal from Lee Martin.

1989: Liverpool 3 Everton 2

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Taking place just a few weeks following the Hillsborough disaster, Merseyside was united as Liverpool faced Everton at Wembley.

Aldridge put the Reds in front after four minutes, which looked to have proven enough until Stuart McCall equalised with just a minute left.

Ian Rush made it 2-1 in extra time, but McCall equalised again.

Liverpool, though, had the final say when Rush nodded in a cross from John Barnes with two minutes left to play.

1973: Sunderland 1 Leeds 0

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Bob Stokoe’s Division Two Sunderland stunned holders Leeds in one of the biggest FA Cup final shocks – with goalkeeper Jim Montgomery the unlikely hero.

Sunderland went in front through a first-half goal from Ian Porterfield after Leeds failed to clear a corner.

Midway through the second half, Montgomery palmed away a close-range header from Leeds defender Trevor Cherry.

The ball fell to Peter Lorimer, whose fierce shot was pushed onto the underside of the crossbar before Dick Malone hacked it clear.

At the final whistle, Stokoe ran half the length of Wembley to hug his goalkeeper as Sunderland celebrated a memorable victory.

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