FA Cup Finals involving lower league clubs
One of the oldest cup competitions still ran today, the FA Cup is a competition that enamour fans worldwide. Pitting every club in England against one another, there’s always potential for giant-killing shocks in every round. The further the competition goes; the bigger fairytale stories grow. In the history of the cup stretching well over a century, there have been plenty of times when smaller clubs have reached the FA Cup Final. This has brought famous stories of both heartbreak and triumph. So what are some of the most famous FA Cup Finals involving lower league opposition?
Notts County vs Bolton Wanderers – 1894
Believe it or not, the first giant-killing success came way back in the 19th century. In the 1894 final, it was then second-division Notts County taking on top-flight side Bolton Wanderers at Goodison Park. Notts County turned the form book on its head in that game as they would win 4-1. After taking the lead through Arthur Watson in the 18th minute, Notts County cemented their presence through a James Logan hat-trick either side of half time. Bolton would get a late consolation through Jim Cassidy but it was a mere footnote as Notts County emphatically made football history.
West Bromwich Albion vs Birmingham City – 1931
Finals always become more intense when a rivalry is involved and that was certainly true in 1931 when West Brom took on Birmingham City. West Brom were the lower division side as they sat in the Second Division whilst Birmingham were playing in the First Division. In this Midlands derby, it was The Baggies that struck first through a WG Richardson strike in the 28th minute. Legendary Birmingham striker Joe Bradford equalised in a 57th minute however Richardson scored a second just one minute later. This was enough for West Brom to win their third FA Cup even if they were major underdogs on the day.
Sunderland vs Leeds – 1973
During the 1970s, Leeds were one of the top sides in England with the likes of Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Eddie Gray in their squad. They took on a low-profile Sunderland side looking to win their David & Goliath clash. They stunned Wembley in the 1973 final when they took the lead through Scottish Ian Porterfield in the 32nd minute. What followed was an inspired defensive performance from Sunderland – particularly from goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery. Montgomery pulled off several stunning saves to deny Leeds until full-time and secure one of the biggest final upsets in FA Cup history. A truly historic day that is talked about decades later.
Southampton vs Manchester United – 1976
For Southampton, the 1976 FA Cup final remains one of the club’s finest moments. Sitting in the Second Division, The Saints headed to Wembley to take on Manchester United in search of their first real taste of silverware. After overcoming plenty of control from United, it would be Southampton that had the last laugh. This came in the 83rd minute when winger Bobby Stokes would slam home from the edge of the area to give Southampton a 1-0 win. It was Southampton’s first major trophy and a signal that the club were ready for the big time.
West Ham vs Arsenal – 1980
London was brought to a standstill in 1980 when two clubs from the capital met in what looked like a mismatch on paper. High-flying Arsenal were heavy favourites especially with the likes of Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton on the pitch against West Ham – a side languishing in the second division. It would be a day that would turn The Hammers team into legends as Trevor Brooking nodded in on the 13th minute to put them ahead. As much as The Gunners tried, they couldn’t break down a stubborn West Ham side who would claim their third FA Cup title – their last major trophy to date.
Portsmouth vs Cardiff City – 2008
The last time a team outside the top-flight reached the FA Cup final was in 2008 when second-tier Cardiff looked to overcome Premier League side Portsmouth. Both sides had not won the competition since before World War II with both pride and fortune on the line. It would be a relatively scrappy affair overall with just one goal separating both sides. This came in the 37th minute when Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu bundled home to give Portsmouth the lead. Pompey remain firm and would secure their first FA Cup win since 1939 and earn their first shot at European competition.