1988 and all that

by Steve

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…