The 138th edition of the Emirates FA Cup is nearing its climax. On May 18, Manchester City will lock horns with Watford at the majestic Wembley stadium for the trophy.
Man City is on a high after being crowned winners of the English Premier League (EPL). Watford, on the other hand, will be looking to redeem itself after finishing a dismal 11th there. Clearly, Man City is the hot favourite. But then, this is the FA Cup!
The FA Cup’s history is replete with the proverbial David vs Goliath battles in the final. There have been fairytale victories, where lesser-ranked teams have felled the more fancied ones. Perhaps the thought of becoming heroes just by being better on the given day inspires the underdog. It could also be that they steel themselves for a final surge. Somehow, the Emirates FA Cup final inevitably brings the best out of the underdog.
Watford could look towards some of these legendary upsets to derive inspiration.
1. Sunderland 1-0 Leeds (1973)
Leeds was mighty and possessed superior firepower. Sunderland was playing in the Second Division and seemed no match. However, they defended a slender one-goal lead as if their life depended on it. Jim Montgomery, under the bar, ably shepherded the defence. Together, they stoutly thwarted everything that Leeds threw at them. It was one of the finest displays of defending. Sunderland’s manager Bob Stokoe’s run to the middle of the pitch at the final whistle is part of folklore. It has also been immortalised in a statue outside Sunderland’s home — Stadium of Light.
2. Southampton 1-0 Manchester United (1976)
Man U’s league season had dramatically petered out. Still, they seemed head-and-shoulders above Southampton. Man U created a lot of chances, and it seemed a matter of time before they would strike home the winner. And then the heartbreak! A late winner by Bobby Stokes saw the Red Devils’ challenge wither. It’s one of the Saints’ most famous victories. The match was symptomatic of Man U’s season. So near, yet so far!
3. Ipswich 1-0 Arsenal (1978)
The 1970s indeed was the period of footballing shocks in the FA Cup. Wembley was yet again the epicentre when lowly Ipswich clashed with Arsenal. Ipswich dominated the Gunners throughout the match. After a period of relentless pressure, Roger Osbourne hit the back of the net. The Tractor Boys had felled the mighty Gunners! It remains Ipswich's only FA Cup triumph.
4. Liverpool 0-1 Wimbledon (1988)
Liverpool had won the league by playing football of the highest quality. It faced an unfancied Wimbledon in the FA Cup final. It was labelled as a match between two completely opposing styles of football. The Wimbledon ruffians were up against the aristocratic Reds! Wimbledon scored a shock goal late in the first half. Then; drama in the second half! Wimbledon goal-keeper and Captain Dave Beasant stopped a spot-kick from John Aldridge. The Reds couldn’t breach Wimbledon’s defence that evening. ‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!’ screamed the headlines!
5. Manchester City 0-1 Wigan Athletic (2013)
The current finalists were at the receiving end of an upset six years back. Man City was looking to seal their second FA Cup in three years. It seemed like a stroll in the park against a struggling Wigan Athletic in the final. Wigan had a pathetic league season and was staring at relegation to Second Division. City had big names including Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, and David Silva. Wigan had — nothing to lose! The Latics played with a stout heart and matched Man City, move for move. Ben Watson’s stoppage-time header gave the Latics their first major piece of silverware. The aftermath of the contest saw Robert Mancini being sacked as Man City’s manager. Wigan was subsequently relegated, becoming the first FA Cup winners to exit the league in the same season.