Today is the first anniversary of Bradford City’s terrific FA Cup win at Chelsea in the Fourth Round last season, and many commentators are heralding it as the greatest ever FA Cup shock.
It is definitely up there amongst the greatest shocks of all time, a win away from home against the team that went on to become Premier League Champions is not to be under valued, but I’m not convinced it’s even the greatest ever FA Cup shock between League teams, never mind in the history of the competition.
The reason it’s touted as the greatest ever FA Cup shock is because of the financial gulf that exists between the top Premier League clubs and everyone else, a gap exacerbated the further down the Football hierarchy you go. But at the end of the day The Bantams were a third tier side, one that just missed out on reaching the play-offs that season, and there have been many Fourth tier victories over top flight sides in the competition in the past. Yes, Bradford City were away from home, and yes Chelsea had a remarkable home record, but for me the following three victories over Division One sides rank as bigger shocks.
First to mention is Wrexham beating Arsenal 2-1 in the Third Round in 1992, the one where veteran Mickey Thomas scored that fantastic free-kick. Arsenal were defending League Champions whilst Wrexham had finished bottom of Division Four in 92nd place in the Football League. It’s impossible for there to have been a bigger gap between two League sides. Arsenal would go on to finish fourth that season whilst Wrexham would end up mid-table in Division Four (and narrowly lose 1-0 to West Ham United in a Fourth Round replay, another top flight team who admittedly finished last that season).
Whilst that was a terrific win for Wrexham, it has to be said, as good as Arsenal were at the time, they weren’t a dominant force. The gloss on their recent star was definitely beginning to rub off as Manchester United became the team to beat, winning four of the first five Premier League titles. However, back in the 1930s there was another successful Arsenal team, and this one was definitely the top dog. The Herbert Chapman inspired Gunners won the League title five times in the 1930s and won the FA Cup twice in the same decade, alongside being runners-up in 1932.
It was on the back of that runners-up appearance (and after finishing runners-up in the League, too), that Arsenal had to travel to Division Three North outfit Walsall in the 1933 Third Round. There wasn’t a fourth tier in those days with Division Three split between North and South, and so this was the biggest League gap,possible at the time, and The Saddlers had finished 16th out of 21 teams the previous season. They also had only ever won one Third Round FA Cup match in their history, so on paper it was a no-brainer that Arsenal should win. But as any FA Cup historian knows, Walsall won that day by two goals to nil, sending shock-waves through the football world. Walsall would go on to lose to Division One side Manchester City in the Fourth Round, and finish 5th in that season’s Division Three North table. Arsenal would go on to win the title, their first of a hat-trick of titles. Definitely a seismic shock.
However, even this outstanding, against-the-odds, victory is not regarded by me as the greatest FA Cup shock between League teams. That honour belongs to Colchester United and their 5th Round victory over the mighty Leeds United in the 1970/71 season. Colchester were in the 5th Round of the FA Cup for only the second time in their history (the first was in 1947-48 when they became the first Non-League side to beat a Division One club in the FA Cup – since the Cup was re-organised and top flight clubs were exempt until the Third Round – a 1-0 Third Round win over Huddersfield Town). The club had never played above the Third tier and had only joined the Football League 20 years earlier. And they had finished 10th in Division Four the previous season.
Leeds United, on the other hand, were the dominant team of the late 1960s /early 1970s, winning two League Championships, one FA Cup and European trophies during that period, and when not winning trophies usually being as close as possible runners-up. The tie was a definite mis-match on paper, but Colchester tore up the form guide and stormed into a three goal lead, and even though Leeds pulled two goals back, the Us held on to record a famous victory. Colchester were in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup for the first and only time in their history, and despite being despatched by Everton in that Quarter Final, this Fifth round win over Leeds United is my nomination as the biggest FA Cup shock between League sides ever.
As for my view on the biggest ever FA Cup shock, that’s for a future blog.