1988 and all that
Tomorrow’s FA Cup Final is being touted by many as a David and Goliath affair, with Premier League champions Chelsea facing the bottom side, Portsmouth. Thoughts soon drift to famous FA Cup Final upsets, and in particular Wimbledon defeating Liverpool 1-0 in the 1988 final. But was it really such an upset?
It’s bugged me for years and years that the 1988 final is always on FA Cup upset lists. While Liverpool were strong favourites and were coming off an incredible championship-winning season, Wimbledon were hardly the minnows they are made out to be.
Sure, they had come from humble beginnings, but by 1988 Wimbledon were a strong Division One team. They finished seventh in the league, which is often overlooked. They had drawn with Liverpool at home earlier in the season, as well as losing narrowly at Anfield, 2-1. On their day they stood a chance of winning, and of course, they did.
An ‘upset’ suggests the stronger side failing miserably on the day. In fact, Wimbledon rode their luck as Liverpool pressed and pressed. Liverpool had a perfectly good goal disallowed when the referee failed to play advantage. John Aldridge, painfully, had a penalty saved. This was a competitive affair between two strong Division One sides, where one side squeezed out a victory. This was not, in my book, an upset for the ages.
But then, maybe I’m being an oversensitive and biased Liverpool supporter, tired of being reminded of a painful defeat that took place over 20 years ago. Hopefully Portsmouth will pull off a victory tomorrow, and take over Wimbledon’s mantle of the FA Cup Final upset kings. Unlikely, especially as the FA Cup Final doesn’t seem to mean as much as it once did.
In fact, I’m sure there is an argument for the late eighties and early nineties being the last time the FA Cup Final really, truly mattered as the finale of the season. Pretty soon the hype of the Premier League, and dreams of Champions League football, would eclipse football’s oldest competition. The play-offs, not the Cup Final, would be the last games of the season. Perhaps 1988 is so well-remembered as it was one of the last finals that felt truly special.
Will the FA Cup Final ever be able to recapture that excitement? I’m not so sure, but a Portsmouth victory tomorrow would surely help it regain some of its magic.
Anyway, for me, at least one good thing came from the 1988 final. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Anfield Rap…
While it’s entirely true to say that Wimbledon were a pretty decent top division club by the time of that 88 final, their ascension from non-league football to the top table had been meteoric. The media were taken with Wimbledon’s win because they had so recently been semi-professional. But you’re right, it wasn;t really a shock except to those who expected Liverpool to win everything all the time. That final is really memorable for two reasons, one statistical and one more speculative. Statistically it was the first ever penalty given but not converted in an FA Cup final. Most newspapers did manage to acknowledge this at the time, even whilst slobbering over Wimbledon’s success. More speculatively it could be argued that the 88 final marked the beginning of the end for Liverpool’s dominance of the English game. They won the next season’s FA cup and were within minutes of winning the league as well (thanks Michael Thomas, thanks so much). And of course they won their 18th and last title in 1990, but the air of invincibility had somehow been corroded. TWenty years later we’re still trying to rediscover the lost art of title-winning. And I still reserve a special level of bitterness towards Wimbledon for signalling our demise.
All fair points. I guess that was an early sign that despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the 1980s Liverpool side wasn’t actually invincable. The finale to the 1989 season, and then going out to a Crystal Palace side we’d previously beaten 9-0 in the FA Cup a year later kind of cemented the decline. Then came Graeme Souness…
Yesterday’s game was by no means a classic, but was special in having two penalties saved in one game. With Aldridge and Lineker, they are in good company, although I doubt that is any comfort…
I thought the first half yesterday was really exciting with Chelsea hitting the posts and uprights five times and Portsmouth just needing better finishing a couple of times at the other end. But the inevitable came through in the end and Drogba did what he does third best, scored a goal. (What he does second best is sulking. What he does best of all is throwing himself to the floor in a twisty, apparently broken heap, then jumping up all cured once he’s won a free kick.)