Most people with an interest in the FA Cup will know that The Wanderers won the first ever FA Cup Final way back in 1872, but will many of them be able to state who were the losing Semi Finalists that year? Most football fans will know that Arsenal beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final last season, but how many will be able to recall who were the losing Semi Finalists?
The Semi Finals induce almost limitless levels of excitement, and generate the biggest anticipation of potential achievement for everyone involved with a club that makes it so far in this illustrious competition. But for two clubs each year that potential of ever-lasting glory will be snatched away from them and replaced with the ignominy of almost perpetual anonymity, destined to become nothing more than a footnote in FA Cup history, and a pub quiz question to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Fans, players, managers and owners alike will have to look on with envy as their victors take the limelight (whether they win or lose in the final) whilst they themselves are forgotten almost as quickly as that itch on your leg or that fly buzzing in your lounge. Forgotten by everyone, that is, except those involved with the club or those who love the club, who will forever remember with a mixture of pride and dismay their missed potential day in the sun.
For some clubs reaching the Semi Final is the furthest they have ever travelled in the competition. There have been 22 past and present clubs in total who’ve never tasted the sweet nectar of a FA Cup Semi Final victory, and for Norwich City, Oldham Athletic and a nineteenth century club called Swifts, the final step to perpetual FA Cup renown has been failed to be taken no less than three times.
But even the most successful of clubs in the FA Cup have experienced the utter dejection of a Semi Final defeat. Record FA Cup winners Arsenal have lost nine of their record 28 FA Cup Semi Finals, a figure shared by Manchester United who are into the Semi Finals for a 28th time themselves this season. A defeat for the Red Devils at the hands of their opponents Everton will move them to within two losses of equalling the Toffemen’s record haul of 12 FA Cup Semi Final defeats. Everton can at least console themselves in the knowledge that they have won one more FA Cup Semi Final than they have lost.
So fans of Manchester United and Everton, and particularly fans of Crystal Palace and Watford (teams not used to still being in the FA Cup at this stage of the competition and with only one FA Cup Semi Final win apiece), embrace the optimism of the occasion, start to dream about a return to Wembley in May, but steel yourselves for an absolutely devastating low, because 50% of you are going to be disappointed at the end of the day, disappointed with a capital D.
Oh, and the answers to the questions at the beginning of this article. 1872 losing Semi Finalists were the original Crystal Palace club (lost 3-0 to Royal Engineers after a 0-0 draw) and Scottish side Queen’s Park who scratched after drawing 0-0 with The Wanderers as they could not afford to return to London to play the replay. 2015 losing Semi Finalists were Reading, who lost 2-1 after extra time to Arsenal, and Liverpool who lost 2-1 to Aston Villa. Did you remember?