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Saturday, 17th May 2008

The Football Association Cup, the FA Cup, finishes off the domestic football season. A knock-out tournament which creates much excitement as many small clubs get to dream of glory. Quite frequently it humbles the greats as it becomes painfully obvious a part-time footballer running a butchers shop throughout the week is as capable as a £20,000 a week pampered striker.

In 1995 an FA Cup final programme from the 1889 match sold for £7300 ($12500)

This is all great fun as long as the part-time side is not in your locality. When this happens Grandmothers are interviewed in the street and corny lines delivered about butchers serving up the goals on Saturday. I cannot believe I have just chastised someone for failing to pass up the opportunity for using a well-worn phrase.

Now football is all about money and that is all about television. You almost expect the teams in the final to change football strips at half time just to increase revenues of kit sales in the shops. There is, afterall, a lot more at steak than kicking a pigs bladder about a field for ninety minutes nowadays.

Man Utd has merchandising sales of £28 millions pounds a year. More than any other football team in the world, representing over 30% of the clubs turnover
Man Utd launches its own cable channel 1998/9 season

Before the 'beautiful game' was overtaken by the 'bank account game' it was populated by local heroes playing more for pride than money. Today it is populated by foreign mercaneries often shooting with deadly accuracy and killing off the national game. How can England hope to compete in the world arena when it is not allowed to field its best players for the simple reason they are not English.

Fortunately for viewers the FA Cup final has no such nonsense about only British players being fielded so at least we can expect some good football even if half the players cannot communicate with one another.

Before I bury this bone of contention let me point out that Blackburn Rovers probably did more to create this mood of cheque book football when they all but 'bought' the FA Cup in 1995 by spending a small fortune on the team and facilities. It was alleged this small fortune was actually three times the expenditure of Blackburn Borough Council at the time. Now lets face it, that's a lot of money to spend on a football team. More of Blackburn Rovers later.

The FA Cup was introduced in 1871 and 15 sides took part, today over 500 enter. This makes it the oldest footballing knockout competition in the world.

There is no way I can let the FA Cup Final pass without special mention of Players, Association Cup Winners [1930] a series of 50 cards it chronicles the winners of the trophy over the years.

Now many times I have mentioned the real beauty of the cards is contained on the reverse. If you only look at the front of the cards then you are just missing out, that is all I can say. None more so than this set. The reverse of the cards are just a goldmine of information.

The first three cards deal with the trophies, the old trophy, the new trophy and the medals. Quite why card three has to have a light background when the 49 other cards have a dark background I do not know. Lets just be thankful it was not a horizontal format. 50 vertical cards are always attractive to those that frame cards.

The old cup was won outright before the outbreak of the series. Under the old rules if it was won consecutively three times then the side got to keep it. And what great footballing club attained such a feat. The Wanderers that's who.

If you are now saying 'who?', its a god enough reaction. The FA cup was dominated by Public school and University sides in its early days.

Anyway being Public school types they returned the trophy and it became a perpetual trophy. Unfortunately in 1895 whilst Aston Villa were the proud owners of the cup it was stolen.

The Present Cup went into circulation in 1911.

Card four gets to the heart of the matter with a card depicting the winners of the 1883 season. By now there were 84 sides competing for the trophy.

Churchmans: Sporting Trophies [1927]
This is what it is all about
The FA cup trophy
(note this is from
Churchmans, Sporting
Trophies [1927]

The cards follow the simple format of having the 11 individuals of the side shown on the front of the card with the names attached and details on the reverse.

I like to think 1883 was chosen for a particular reason. In fact two particular reasons.

The winners were Blackburn Olympic. This was the first side to break the southern domination of the competition and the last hamateur (please don't rib me about spelling) side to win the cup. As a sidenote to that it was the last time two amateur sides fought for the cup, Old Etonians being the runners-up on this occasion. The game obviously was not a 'classic' the card notes the foul appeals were almost continuous as pushing and holding were a good part of the game. This makes it sound like a very modern international in my book although I expect the fouls were of the rather more real variety and the 'fouls' which seem to blast footballers of their precious feet now. At the end of full time the scores were even but both sides decided to play for an extra half-hour which enabled the result as now stands.

Before this date such great footballing names as Oxford University, Old Etonians, Clapham Rovers, Wanderers, Old Carthsians and Royal Engineers had lifted the cup.

In one form or another Blackburn were to have something of a strangle hold on the cup. Blackburn Rovers were to win it in 1884/5/6 before giving it up to Aston Villa in 1887. card 5 also mentions the fact the Blackburn Rovers had been unexpectedly beaten by Old Etonians in the 1882 final which just proves what a dominant side they were and that giant killing is as old as the hills.

Card 5, 1884 should get a mention as the runners up were Queens Park, the first Scottish team to get through to the FA Cup final. It was played at the home of cricket, The Oval.

It should be noted that before the national stadium, Wembley (more of this latter) the FA Cup was something of a travelling circus.

Card 6 saw the two sides meat again in the final with the same result (although the score was 2-0 this time rather than 2-1). This was also the year that the North allowed footballers to be paid for their services for the first time, before this date it was illegal. Something the South did not do for another ten years.

Each card adds something new and I just have to mention, 1886 was the first time the FA cup final was played outside of London when it was played at Derby. On this occassion West Bromwich Albion were the runners up, something they were to be the following year when Aston Villa won the Cup and promptly had it stolen. WBA were third time lucky when they took the trophy in 1888.

Before I leave Blackburn Rovers to the glory of history let me just say that F Suter and H McIntyre were the only Blackburn Rovers players to appear in all three winning finals.

Preston North End were victorious in 1889. A copy of the programme of this year was sold for £7300 ($12500) in 1995. Luckily for the purchaser it had got a tear in the bottom corner otherwise it could have been expensive. Winning three nil over Wolverhampton Wanderers it seems Preston were the on-form side, 'outclassing' all opposition.

Obviously it annoyed Blackburn Rovers because they regained the trophy in 1890 with a record breaking number of goals in the match, beating Sheffield Wednesday 6-1. Only once since have seven goals been scored in a game and that was in 1953, outside the remit of this set.

Blackburn Rovers won it the next year as well and then rather went off the boil forgetting to win for 29 years when their victory is recorded on card 49 in 1928. Rather a relief to everyone else I suspect. That is not to say they had become a bad side. In 1922 (16 Sept, trivia fiends) John McIntyre of Blackburn Rovers managed to put four goals past a bemused Everton goalkeeper within the space of 5 minutes.

Count those hairy lips, surely the most hairy side to even win the cup.

This last cup win for Blackburn Rovers might also be considered the zenith of moustaches winning the FA Cup final. No fewer than ten of the players were sporting the top lip caterpillar. Only the sneering Barton was fresh of face. (1888, WBA & 1889, Preston North End were equally as hairy having but one nude upper lip in the line up.)

The cup was passed from pillar to post for a few years although Sheffield Wednesday did get their fingerprints on it more than once, 1896 and 1899. In 1901 Sheffield United were involved in a draw meaning a rematch was required, none of this gentlemanly extra half hour knockabout decision by then. Tottenham Hotspur won the 1901 final (Spurs currently jointly hold the record for the most number of FA Cup wins, 1901/1921/1961/1962/1967/1981/1982/1991).

Card 13, 1892 should get a mention as being the last time the Cup was played at The Oval which, with but a few exceptions, had been the home of the FA Cup final for many years.

1893 was played to a crowd of 40,000 and Wolverhampton Wanderers carried the day. The card suggest the only goal scored caused some controversy but after an appeal was allowed to stand. The card gives no detail of the complaint but does say the shot was 'a most remarkable screw shot' Make up your own reasons as to what might have happened there then.

1900 sees the long run of Northern teams in the final broken when Southampton played. The first time in nearly twenty years saw a southern team in the final, they lost 4-0 which taught those 'southern pansies' a lesson I think.

1901 was remarkable for 110,000 people watching a 'famous' draw. Only about a third of that number watched the replay the following Saturday when Spurs brought the trophy back to Southern England for the first time in 20 years in a not so famous win it would seem.

1902 saw Sheffield United win the cup after coming so close the year before, the card notes this is the only Final replay to have been played at the Palace ground. Stats can be just soooo interesting.

1903 is notable as being the biggest victory margin when Derby County were humiliated 6-0 by Bury.

Bury were invincible that year, not conceding a single goal in the five rounds of the cup.

The following year Manchester City won the trophy for the first time in 1904. It was not until 1909 before Manchester United won for the first time. Late starters they might have been but they made up for it in latter years as they now jointly hold the record for the most number of wins along with Spurs and at 13 hold the record for the most number of appearances in their own right. On the occassion of the 1909 victory 71000 people watched the game giving receipts of £6000 ($9000 approx). NO doubt there were plenty of people complaining about the high price of tickets at the time.

Newcastle United win the trophy for the first time in 1910 and only just missed out to Bradford City in 1911 after the first final was a draw. They had played finals previously in 1905, 1906 & 1908 but had managed to lose on all occassions.

1911 is also important as it was the last time in this particular set a chap with a moustache lifted the cup.

1912 saw that great footballing town of Barnsley carry the trophy away. Not as unlikely as Huddersfield Town in 1922 I suppose. The following year, 1913 is remarkable for the fact 120000 people watched the final with Aston Villa winning by the odd goal against Sunderland. The card remarks the game was 'unexciting', it really makes you feel like you were there.

1914 sees Burnley win but the event was given the Royal seal of approval when for the first time King George attended, the first monarch to do so. A struggling Liverpool was beaten by a struggling Burnley. It is interesting to note the mighty Liverpool do not get their fingerprints on the Cup during the period covered by this set.

In between times the trophy was not played (1916-1919 inclusive) because the war rather got in the way of national sports.

So shocking was the Huddersfield Town victory that the Players compilers made some rather strange errors on the cards. Obviously the players were never household names as they mis-identified four of the players. Stephenson is called Smith who is wrongly called Islip. Islip in turn ends up being called Mann who logically ends up being called Stephenson. That said, in 1920 Huddersfield Town were runners-up so I might well be being a bit harsh. The 1922 victory was decided on a penalty in a game which, reading between the lines, saw players being kicked more than the ball.

Perhaps understandable but no excuse for a textual error on card 46 and Newcastle United's win in 1924 when they could not decide if Harris or Hardy was the name of the goal scorer.

I have skipped a year which is unforgivable as that year was 1923. Bolton Wanderers won but who cares? This was the first final to be played in the new Wembley Stadium which was built for the British Empire Exhibition.

In fact the 1923 FA Cup final was the largest crowd the stadium ever held, 126,047 people watched the game. Say the official records. The card has it slightly differently, '...arrangements were hopelessly inadaquate. 126,000 people passed the turnstiles and certainly another 100,000 rushed the barriers...The crowd encroaching the field of play.' The idea of another 100,000 fitting onto a football field seems a bit unlikely, there would have hardly been room to swing a cat let along get a policeman beating everyone senseless from the top of a white horse.

Wembley Stadium also hosted the 1948 Olympic Games (Yep Britain did host them) and the 1966 World Cup final (Yep, we did win it). Now the capacity has been reduced to somewhere in the region of 78,000 and it is still the National Stadium over 70 years after it was built and almost half the crowd capacity. Makes you proud to be part of Cool Britannia, a nation of forward thinkers.

1927 sees Cardiff City bringing home the bacon and the trophy heading across a 'national' border for the first time. Perhaps I can taste sour grapes as I read the win 'was the result of a tragic mistake.' Certainly one for the bloopers show. The Arsenal goalkeeper saved a shot. But on picking up the ball allowed it to slip between his fingers and watched in horror as it rolled over the line. To think these were the days British football was the best in the world. Cardiff had been runners up in 1925.

Let me just finish this article with a final ham-fisted attempt at a butcher pun. There finished.