With Manchester United facing Crystal Palace in the 2015-16 FA Cup Final all thoughts are on their previous meeting at this stage of the competition 26 years ago. It’s a final remembered for two things: the confirmation of Ian Wright as a World Class striker, and the job-saving win for one Sir Alex Ferguson. However, this article’s focus is all about the fact these two clubs have actually met in the FA Cup final before, a phenomenon that isn’t as common as you might expect.
In fact this is only the 19th of 135 FA Cup Finals to involve two teams who have previously met in the Final in the past. The first such occurrence was the Final of 1877 when The Wanderers met Oxford University just four seasons after The Wanderers beat the ‘challenge’ of Oxford University 2-0 at Lillie Bridge, the only time the competition was run on its original premise of clubs winning through to challenge the holder. The 1877 Final went the same way as the previous one, this time 2-1 after extra time, becoming the second leg of The Wanderers’ famous ‘three FA Cup wins on the trot’. To complete their treble The Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 3-1 in 1878, the side they had also beaten 1-0 in the inaugural FA Cup Final six years earlier.
The next time a repeat happened it was in successive FA Cup finals between Blackburn Rovers and Queen’s Park in 1884 and 1885, covering the transitional stage between the emerging dominance of the professional northern based clubs and the declining dominance of the amateur, mainly southern based, clubs. Blackburn Rovers won both finals 2-1 and 2-0 respectively, the first two legs of them equalling The Wanderers three consecutive FA Cup Final wins.
The final of 1891-92 saw West Midlands based rivals Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion face each other for the second time in five years, and is noted as being the first time one club avenged their defeat of a previous final. In 1887 Aston Villa won 2-0, but in 1892 it was The Baggies turn to win the match 3-0. Three years later these two sides became the first pair to meet each other for the third time in an FA Cup Final, with Aston Villa winning 1-0 to claim a 2-1 lead in Cup Final wins.
Meeting each other three times in FA Cup Finals has only ever occurred three times and both the latter two occasions involved Cup winning record holders Arsenal. The 1932 Final saw Newcastle United win 2-1 against The Gunners with a similar 1-0 victory to Newcastle happening 20 years later. Arsenal did finally get to beat Newcastle 2-0 in the 1998 Cup Final. The converse happened against Liverpool with The Gunners winning on the first two meetings in 1950 and famously in 1971 to claim the Double, whilst Liverpool had to wait until Michael Owen’s two late goals to beat The Gunners at the Millennium Stadium 2-1 in 2001.
Arsenal has also met Manchester United twice in FA Cup finals, unsurprising given they hold the joint record of appearing in 19 finals each, but The Gunners have won on both occasions, 3-2 in 1979 with Alan Sunderland’s dramatic last-minute winner, and on penalties in 2005 in the only final to date not to witness a goal in normal play.
Repeated finals can induce some form of symmetry between them. In 1922 Huddersfield Town beat Preston North End 1-0 courtesy of a second half Billy Smith penalty. When the clubs met again in the 1938 Final that match was settled 1-0 in favour of Preston North End thanks to a George Mutch spot-kick in the last minute of extra time.
Other clubs to have played each other twice in an FA Cup Final and have the honour of one win apiece are Aston Villa and Newcastle United (winners in 1905 and 1924 respectively), Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City (1926 and 1904), Everton and Manchester United (1995 and 1985), and Everton and Sheffield Wednesday (1966 and 1907). Everton have also faced their Merseyside rivals twice in FA Cup Finals, but Liverpool have been triumphant on both occasions, 1986 by three goals to one and in 1989 winning 3-2 in extra time, a final notable for substitutes on both sides scoring twice.
History suggests that it is more common for a team to win the Cup against a previous Final opponent if they are meeting for the second time and if they won on the first occasion, but West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Everton (twice) have proved that revenge can be achieved regardless of how long you’ve had to wait for it. Can Crystal Palace join them and end 26 years of hurt?