ASTON VILLA's F A CUP FINALS

The following are accounts of the 10 F A Cup Finals that Villa have so far played in. The text for the match reports is based largely on content from this site of cup final records and this Aston Villa site. I send my grateful acknowledgments to the webmasters of those sites, and commend those sites to my readers.

1887: ASTON VILLA  2   WEST BROMWICH ALBION  0
2nd April at Kennington Oval, London. Attendance 15,534.

PREAMBLE

For the first and only time in the history of the F A cup entries were received from all the home countries; England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The intention of the F A had always been to open the competition to any member team regardless of where they came from, and had it not been for the Scottish F A who knows how far the cup may have spread. The Scottish banned its members from entering the F A cup after this year and Ireland would later follow suit. Yet again this year's competition was littered with byes, walkovers and disqualifications in the early rounds. With no preliminary rounds there was a string of teams who were hopelessly out of their depth in the early rounds as no less than five teams managed to score double figures in the first round alone.

Blackburn had become only the second ever club to win the cup three years on the trot and required only to get past the first round to better Wanderes attempt to win the cup for a fourth time in a row. Rovers couldn't have got it any easier as their first round opponents Halliwell withdrew. In the second round though Renton pulled off one of the biggest shocks for years when the Scottish club won their replay with the holders 2-0 after being held 2-2 at home.

The Scots failed to reach the quarter-finals though as they went down at home to Preston in round three. Preston were favourites to win the cup by the quarter-finals and had defeated Witton 6-0 along the way. Their opponents were Old Carthusians and the amateurs came within a whisker of a replay when they went down 2-1 at home after extra time. With just seconds remaining the ball came to Carthusians winger C Aubrey Smith but his shot went agonisingly wide of the Preston post. Years later the North End players could use Smith as a claim to fame. After his footballing days he became one of Britains most famous pre-second World War character actors in Hollywood appearing in countless films as Sir, Lord or Colonel whoever.

That was the last of the four quarter-finals this year and when the semi-final draw kept Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion apart the talk of an all-Birmingham final had the City on tenderhooks. Villa had come through a tough quarter-final 3-2 against Darwen. Darwen had enjoyed a good cup run also though with a 7-1 win over Heart Of Midlothian.

West Bromwich were in their third consecutive quarter-final after easily beating Burton Wanderers 6-0 in the first round and Derby Junction 2-1 in the second. A bye in round three had been followed by a tense 1-0 local derby win at Birmingham St Georges in round four before a controversial fifth round tie with Lockwood Brothers. Albion won the game 1-0 but the goal caused so much controversy that the F A ordered a replay. Lockwood Brothers had no complaints this time when Albion won 2-1. Next up for Albion was a daunting trip to Notts County for a place in the last four. County had beaten Basford Rovers 13-0, Notts Rangers 5-0 and Great Marlow 5-2 along the way but they collapsed in front of their own fans as Albion easily won 4-1.

The semi-final line up would be completed by either a Scottish side or a Southern amateur team. Glasgow Rangers put paid to Old Westminsters 5-1 to give Scotland one last bid to take the cup North of the Border. Rangers brought the curtain down on the last serious bid by a Scottish club to win the cup when they lost their semi-final at Nantwich Road in Crewe when an Archie Hunter double and a third from Albert Brown capped a 3-1 win for Aston Villa. Meanwhile West Bromwich Albion returned to Trent Bridge, the scene of their quarter-final victory, to pull off a surprise semi-final 3-1 win over Preston. Pearson, with two goals, and Paddock were the heroes who ensured there would be an all Birmingham final.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
30-10-1886 Home Wednesbury Old Ath  13-0
15-11-1886 Home       Derby Midland  6-1
20-11-1886 Away       Wolves         1-1
           Replays:   11-12-1886     2-2
                      22-01-1887     3-3
                      29-01-1887     2-0
05-02-1887 Home       Horncastle     5-0
12-02-1887 Home       Darwen         3-2
05-03-1887 Semi-Final Rangers        3-1

THE 1887 FINAL

It's not unreasonable to believe that some at the F A may have considered staging the final in Birmingham in view of the fact that both finalists came from that City. In truth it would have been a non starter as the only two stadiums in the City capable of staging the final were Aston Villa's Aston Lower Grounds and West Brom's Stoney Lane. Neither side would have been allowed home advantage in the cup final and the venue remained London's Kennington Oval.

The final was held twenty-eight days after both sides had won their semi-finals and almost the entire City had been gripped by cup fever. Only the most die hard Small Heath and Birmingham St Georges fans avoided the subject in conversation as the City geared up to invade London.

Both the local and National newspapers were divided as to who would win the battle but on the day Albion were installed as slight favourites. This was probably due to them fielding eight of last years beaten side, not to mention their impressive semi-final display against Preston. Villa were in the final for the first time and had no players in their ranks with cup final experience but they and their supporters still arrived at the Oval in confident mood.

Some eight thousand fans travelled from Birmingham for the game where local interest swelled the attendance to a record 15,534 and it was clear to all of them early on that the occasion had got to the Villa players. They had frozen on the big stage and it took a superb save from Jimmy Warner to deny  Albion's captain Jem Bayliss from scoring early on. Minutes later Pearson's snap shot forced another fine save from Warner and before the quarter hour mark George Woodhall had also been denied by the Villa keeper with the goal at his mercy. Gradually though Villa began to get their game together and their two centre backs, Coulton and Simmonds visibly grew in confidence as the half progressed. By the interval Albion had been reduced to half chances from long range though Villa had rarely troubled Bob Roberts at the other end.

The second half started more evenly but it was still Albion who came closest to scoring when Bayliss rose above the Villa defence only to head narrowly over from eight yards with Warner motionless on his goal line. Then, with Albion still doing more of the attacking came a moment that would wrangle with Throstles fans for decades and would also turn the game on it's head. Villa had been hemmed back for the majority of the game and had resorted to the speed of the wingers, Davis and Dennis Hodgetts to try and hit Albion on the break but for the most part they had been ineffective without the support of Archie Hunter. Charles Perry had been able to keep the Villa striker in his pocket and Hunter dropped deeper in an attempt to get into the game. Finally free of the Albion defender, Hunter got a chance in the 60th minute. Picking up the ball just inside the Albion half, he quickly slid it through to Hodgetts who had raced in from the wing but looked suspiciously off side. The Albion defence stopped, but Hodgetts continued and, unchallenged by the keeper Roberts, he slid the ball home for the first goal. Albion were livid when Major Marindin did not disallow the goal and the game was stopped for a good three minutes as the protests raged but the referee was never going to change his mind and Villa had a precious 1-0 lead. Marindin never wavered in his belief that the goal was good and Villa fans who saw the goal agreed.

For decades after the game though Albion fans who saw the incident still fumed that the ref got it wrong.

The goal turned the game in Villa's favour and Albion became hesitant at the back in the remaining half hour of the contest. Villa though seemed to lack the ability to kill the match off and Roberts still remained largely untroubled until two minutes from time. There was little danger when Charles Perry attempted a back pass to his keeper but he scuffed it and Archie Hunter reacted quickest. He raced after the pass and got there just as Roberts did. The pair collided but Hunter managed to stick out a leg to steer the ball into the empty net with Roberts helplessly spreadeagled on the edge of his penalty area.

Two minutes later Francis Marindin put the Throstles out of their misery, and misery it was as they had created the four most clear cut chances of the game but had still lost 2-0 to two of the softest cup final goals of all time. Aston Villa would be the first club from the Midlands to lift the cup, but Albion were by now established as a good cup side and their fans would not have too long to wait for their own moment of glory.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Jimmy Warner; F Coulton, J Simmonds, H Yates, F Dawson, J Burton, R Davis, Albert Brown, Archie Hunter {Captain}, Howard Vaughton, Dennis Hodgetts.
Scorers: Hodgetts {60}, Hunter {88}

WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Bob Roberts; H Green, Albert Aldridge, Ezra Horton, Charles Perry, Timmins, George Woodhall, T Green, Jem Bayliss, Paddock, Pearson .



1892 WEST BROMWICH ALBION 3    ASTON VILLA 0
19th March at Kennington Oval, London. Attendance 32,810.

PREAMBLE

The 1892 F A cup was notable as the first season in which there were no double figure scorelines in the competition proper. It had shown that changing the format of the cup to keep the top clubs out until  the first round proper was a sensible decision. Conversely, there was room for only eighteen clubs from outside the football league in the first round proper. The vast majority of these clubs hailed from the football alliance which, the following year became the newly formed second division of the football league.

The weather on first round day was atrocious and many of the games should have been called off. Blackburn's defence of the cup went ahead as planned and Jack Southworth took up where he left off in last year's final with all the goals in a 4-1 win over Derby. Preston's game with the extravagantly named Middlesbrough Ironopolis had to be abandoned with the sides locked at 2-2 while four other sides who lost, lodged protests about the state of the pitch, including a surprising protest from Everton about the state of their own Anfield Road ground. Of course what the protesting teams failed to remember was that their opponents had been forced to play on the same conditions so there may have been a sense of justice when all four replays produced the same results. Sheffield Wednesday were the only non league club to claim a league scalp when they beat Bolton 2-1 on a frozen pitch and then 4-1 after Bolton's protest. Middlesbrough Ironopolis probably wished their tie had not been abandoned as Preston ran out easy 6-0 winners while Royal Arsenal knew better than to protest about the pitch after their 5-1 defeat by Small Heath.

The cup holders and ultimate league champions both came to grief in round two although one used the old fashioned protest method to book a second chance. West Bromwich Albion put paid to the holders 3-1 while Accrington looked to be into the quarter-finals for the first time in their history after a 1-0 win over Sunderland. History could have been very different if that score had been allowed to stand but a replay was ordered which Sunderland won 3-1. Within a year Accrington were out of business in an era where winning the cup could keep a club financially sound for a decade. that said, Accrington still had a long way to go to win the 1892 cup. Giant killers, Sheffield Wednesday made the last eight with a 2-0 win over Small Heath while Preston took their place with 2-1 win at Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Wolves, Aston Villa and Stoke completed the last eight.

The two non league sides were kept apart in the quarter-finals but met with different results. Sheffield Wednesday bowed out 1-2 at West Bromwich Albion but there was delight for Nottingham Forest with a 2-0 win over Preston. The two all league clashes saw Aston Villa gain an impressive 3-1 win at Wolves while Sunderland and Stoke fought out a 2-2 draw before the Makems came through 4-0 at the Victoria Ground in the replay.

By that time Sunderland already knew that their semi-final opponents would be Aston Villa and were keen to make amends for their defeat by Notts County at the penultimate hurdle last year. Superstitious Sunderland fans would not have been happy at the choice of Sheffield's Bramell Lane where they had lost last year. The ground remained unlucky for the team from the North East as John Devey and Denny Hodgetts bagged a brace apiece to cancel out Smith's solitary strike for Sunderland. 4-1 the final score.

Meanwhile in Wolverhampton, Nottingham Forest were playing out of their skins in a bid to get to the cup final for the first time. Lindley for Forest and Alf Geddes for Albion ensured a 1-1 draw and a replay a week later. By now cup fever had gripped both camps with Albion fans salivating at a second crack at Aston Villa in a cup final and Forest fans believeing they could be the first non league cup finalist for two years. Yet again both sets of fans were frustrated as a Billy Bassett goal late on forced another 1-1 draw. The second replay was moved from Molyneaux to the grounds of Derby Racecourse, an unusual venue which has never since been used. This time Forest were overwhelmed as Alf Geddes became only the third player in history to strike a semi-final hat-trick. Billy Bassett, Groves and Charlie Perry added goals for a comprehensive 6-2 win, Higgins scored both goals for Forest in a game played in arctic conditions with a full blown blizzard during the game.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
16-01-1892 Home        Heanor Town 4-1
30-01-1892 Home        Darwen      2-0
13-02-1892 Away        Wolves      3-1
27-02-1892 Semi-final  Sunderland  4-1

THE 1892 FINAL

The 1892 cup final saw the F A bid farewell to Kennington Oval. The famous old cricket ground, which is still the home of English cricket today, just couldn't cope with the huge crowds that football was attracting in the 1890's. Just 2,000 had turned up for the final twenty years previously but in 1892 over 32,000 people converged on London from the Midlands for the second meeting between Aston Villa, The Perry Barr Pets, and West Bromwich Albion, The Stoney Lane Strollers. The Oval was also situated in one of the more upmarket areas of London and it is probable that the Northern fans were less than welcome there on cup final day. For the fans there was a new innovation with the introduction of a cup final programmes instructing fans how and where to get their hands on team photographs. For the more up market fan planning to stay overnight in London, The Alhambra advertised that it would be open until 11 p.m. that night while The Gaiety theatre's entertainment started at 8 in the evening with a wide range of popular music hall acts. After the game fans were also invited to see the latest exhibits at Madame Tussaud's for 1/- (one shilling). Football wise, sadly this final would leave a bad taste in the mouth of players from both camps.

Villa were clear favourites on the day and included Jimmy Warner and Denny Hodgetts in their side from their 1887 cup winning XI. Albion had more experience though with Charles Perry, Billy Bassett and Pearson from the 1888 winning side. As expected, Villa looked to be the more composed side in the opening exchanges but the destiny of the game was decided very early on. With his first chance to run at the Villa Defence, Billy Bassett carved their back line open with a great run and cross which Alf Geddes met with a stunning volley which Warner had no chance of stopping. Albion were in front with the fastest goal yet scored in a cup final, just four minutes. At this early stage Villa didn't panic and continued to play very controlled and crisp football but just like Notts County last year, they seemed unable to carve out a decent opportunity to truly test Joe Reader. On twenty-seven minutes Villa were caught out in exactly the same fashion as they had been for the first goal. Another lung bursting run from Bassett again went unchecked and his cross this time fell to Nicholls whose tame shot somehow eluded Jimmy Warner.

Villa had done most of the attacking in the first half hour and, had their strikers been up for it, they could have easily had three or four goals but hesitancy had seen them two down and yet to force a decent save from Reader. After the second goal any hope of a Villa fightback was snuffed out. The favourites began to visibly labour as Albion grew in confidence to take the game by the scruff of the neck to the point that Villa were grateful for half time. Albion had created several clear cut chances in the last fifteen minutes of the half and it is notable that Jimmy Warner was praised for two top quality saves in light of what was to happen after the game.

The second half was very one sided as Albion began to dominate the game in every department. Any Villa attacks were quickly and easily closed down by Reynolds, Perry and Groves at the heart of the defence while Billy Bassett was tormenting 38 year old Billy Evans at the other end. Few were surprised when John Reynolds popped up from defence to increase Albion's lead ten minutes into the second half, although yet again Warner looked to have been at fault for a very saveable effort.

The remaining thirty-five minutes were an anti climax after that. The game was over as a contest and Villa did little to try and salvage some pride from a local derby their fans had expected them to win at a canter. West Brom by contrast were well satisfied with their days work and were more than happy to settle on a three goal lead which was never in danger. At the final whistle Charles Perry received the cup from Lord Kinnaird and the Oval era was at an end. At the time it seemed that this would be the last time the Northern fans would get a day out in London as Manchester's Fallowfield ground was announced as the new home of the cup final.

The 1892 cup final was far from over in the eyes of the two finalist's directors though. At Aston Villa, disappointed fans started to point the finger at Jimmy Warner, a faithful club servant and usually reliable keeper. Warner had made some fine saves but had also been at some fault for two of the goals and it was the latter that the fans picked up on. A rumour began to circulate that Warner had placed hefty bets on Albion to win the cup and then contrived to throw the game. This accusation made the National press and while no action was ever taken against Warner, his career at Villa was over. Newton Heath signed him for a snip for their first campaign in the new second division but Warner's heart wasn't in it. A Villa man to the core, Jimmy Warner quit football and shortly after quit the Country, moving to Philadelphia with his daughter to get away from the rumours. Meanwhile things were not rosey at Albion either. John Reynolds had played his best game for months in the final and when his form dipped again after the game, he was openly accused by the board of having played for a transfer and was promptly told that if he didn't start playing to his cup final form every week, he would be fined £1 a week until he did. Reynold's response to that was to tip off a friend who was playing for Villa. Reynolds, who had played a major part in sinking Villa in 1892's cup final, would go on to become one of Villa's all time legends.

THE TEAMS

WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Joe Reader; Nicholson, McCulloch, John Reynolds, Charlie Perry {Captain}, Billy Groves , Billy Bassett, Roddy Mcleod, Nicholls, Pearson, Alf Geddes. Scorers- Alf Geddes {4}, Nicholls {7}, John Reynolds {55}.

VILLA: Jimmy Warner; Billy Evans, Cox, H Devey, Jas Cowan, J Baird, Charlie Athersmith, John Devey {Captain}, Dickson, Dennis Hodgetts, Campbell.



1895: ASTON VILLA   1  WEST BROMWICH ALBION   0
20th April at Crystal Palace, London. Attendance: 42,560.

PREAMBLE

For the third consecutive year, the Football Association chose a new venue for the cup final. Fortunately this time their choice was a sensible one when they selected the natural bowl situated at the lare Victorian pleasure park at the Crystal Palace grounds in Sydenham in London. The Crystal Palace itself had been moved here after the Great Exhibition and the huge glass building dominated the area, also noted for it's famous switchback roller coaster ride. Spectators would once again be able to enjoy a day trip to London and be able to take in all the attractions the grounds had to offer before the game itself. The only down side to this venue was that the natural banks which surrounded the pitch offered very poor views of the action for those not lucky enough to be at the front while some fans would find their position was quite some way from the pitch itself. Despite this, the final of 1895 would prove to be a huge success and led the F A to make the Palace the home of the cup final for the next twenty years.

The competition itself was not one for great shocks this year as all eight quarter-finalists hailed from the top flight, the first time since the league was formed that this had happened. Sheffield Wednesday were among them for the eighth consecutive time but had still not managed to get their hands on the cup. Wednesday put paid to the cup holders Notts County 5-1 in the first round before non league Middlesbrough suffered at the hands of Davis, who scored a hat-trick, and Fred Spikesley, with two in a 6-1 win. Wednesday hung on to home advantage again in the quarter-finals with a much tougher test against title chasing Everton.

Everton's rivals for the championship were Sunderland and they too were chasing a league and cup double which began with five goals from Miller and a hat-trick from Hannah in an 11-1 romp against non league Fairfield in round one before Preston were knocked out in round two. Bolton would be making the trip to Newcastle Road in the quarter-finals in their bid to bounce back from last year's defeat. So far they had quietly progressed with a couple of 1-0 wins over Arsenal and Bury.

League Champions Aston Villa were also in this strong looking last eight having started their cup run with a 2-1 over Derby in one of the few all first division ties. Next up they had met the only giant killers of round one, Newcastle. The Geordies had stunned Burnley with a 2-1 win but the second division side came unstuck at Villa Park when the Champions ran out easy 7-1 winners to book a home quarter-final against Nottingham Forest.

The last eight was completed by another Midlands club, West Bromwich Albion who got this far the hard way, coming through an away tie at Small Heath and then earning a replay at Sheffield United before winning at Stoney Lane. Local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers lay in wait in the quarter-finals.

All four ties were settled at the first time of asking on March 2nd with Aston Villa making the headlines. Bob Chatt and Steve Smith helped themselves to a brace each in an easy 6-2 victory over Nottingham Forest at Villa Park. Sunderland's bid for the league and cup double remained on course at Newcastle Road where they eased past last years beaten finalists Bolton 2-1. Title rivals Everton saw their cup dream die at Owlerton as Sheffield Wednesday won 2-0. The tightest tie was the local derby between Albion and Wolves at Stoney Lane where Roddy McLeod's goal settled the tie in the home sides favour.

Sunderland were now installed as favourites for the cup but the dream final against Aston Villa was dashed when the two clubs were paired in the semis. Sunderland would go on to take Villa's crown as League Champions and their fans felt they had never had a better chance of laying their semi-final hoodoo, they had lost all three of their previous semi-finals including a 4-1 mauling by Villa in 1892. Things didn't change when the sides met at Ewood Park in Blackburn on March 16th. The clubs had battled out a 4-4 draw in the league two months earlier so goals were expected while Sunderland had a massive incentive that if the league and cup double was performed they would each earn an extra £20. Steve Smith was the hero for Villa though with both goals in a 2-1 win, Hannah scored Sunderland's consolation.

At Derby cricket ground West Bromwich Albion made a little piece of history as they booked their place in the final at luckless Sheffield Wednesday's expense. Hutchinson had already put Albion in front when they were awarded the first ever semi-final penalty. Williams took the responsibility and calmly slotted home the second and killer goal for a 2-0 victory to set up a Midlands final.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
02-02-1895 Home       Derby        2 1
16-02-1895 Home       Newcastle    7 1
02-03-1895 Home       Nottm Forest 6 2
16-03-1895 Semi-final Sunderland   2 1

THE 1895 FINAL

For the first time in the history of the competition two sides met in a final for the third time as Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion clashed for the cup. Villa had won the first encounter in 1887 while Albion had crushed their Midlands rivals in the second meeting in 1892. It would be 103 years before two clubs would notch up three finals against each other again when Arsenal and Newcastle clashed for a third time in 1998. As on the previous two occasions, Villa were the tipsters favourites to win but after their poor showing against Albion three years earlier, few were taking the tie for granted this time. Villa just shaded Albion in terms of cup final experience with Jas Cowan, Charlie Athersmith, John Devey and Dennis Hodgetts all returning from the side beaten three years previously. Hodgetts also had a winners medal from the first meeting between the two sides in 1887 but he was not the only cup winner in the side. John Reynolds was the fifth player in the side with cup final experience and in turning out for Villa, created a unique record of being the first, and still only player to have represented two clubs in the final that he had also played against in the final. In 1892 Reynolds had played for Albion in their victory over Villa. Reynolds was lining up against three of his team mates from 1892 in the Albion side. Keeper Joe Reader, Roddy McLeod and Billy Bassett had all been winners in 1892. Bassett was chasing a third winners medal having also played in Albion's victorious 1888 side. It was in this final that the first signs of Albion wanting to distance themselves from being regarded as a Birmingham club came to light. The directors of Albion arranged for the club to return home from the final by train but organised the longer journey through Worcester rather than direct to Birmingham as they were adamant that the trophy would not be going into the City for even a second. That idea has remained ever since as Albion fans do not regard themselves as a Birmingham club and prefer to think of Wolves as their local rivals and not Villa or Birmingham.

The fans were greeted on their arrival in London by a beautiful spring day which made it ideal for picnics in the huge Crystal Palace grounds and there were many fans still filing into the ground when Villa got the game underway. Bob Chatt kicked off and John Devey set off on a run into the heart of the Albion defence. Not surprisingly this was checked by Tom Perry but under pressure from Charlie Athersmith, he was forced back towards his own goal before trying a wayward pass in the direction of Billy Bassett which went out for a throw. Dennis Hodgetts took it and the ball fell to Bob Chatt who sent the ball goalwards on a stunning half volley. Just over half a minute had been played and because many of the press had not taken their seats in the pressbox yet, they were forced to ask colleagues what happened next. For over a Century it has led to huge confusion over what remains the fastest cup final goal of all time. Depending on which report you read, the goal was scored by either Bob Chatt, John Devey or even as an own goal by Jack Horton. The press have always maintained the goal was Chatt's while the players on the field all credited Devey. Many years later Albion's Billy Bassett recalled that as he saw it, Bob Chatt's shot was heading goalwards when Joe Reader managed to get the faintest of touches. The ball hurtled towards Jack Horton who swung a leg at it but was unable to control the ball and only managed to send it spinning back towards goal. Bassett though was convinced that the ball would have gone wide only for John Devey inadvertently steering the ball into the net. Devey was honest enough to say later that the ball hit him but he knew nothing about it. Certainly Bob Chatt never made any attempt in later years to claim that the goal was his. Whoever did get the final touch, the ball is reported to have crossed the line after 35 seconds of the game had elapsed and although the timing is not as accurate as today, it is fair to say that it was, and remains the fastest cup final goal of all time.

It made for a great final and although neither side managed to add to the scoring, the game was regarded by those who witnessed it as one of the best pre war finals. Albion were the irresistable force as they attacked in wave after wave in an attempt to equalise. Villa were the immovable object as their defence held firm throughout. When Villa did get the ball they set off on lightning counter attacks that constantly left Albion stretched defensively. The two keepers deserve much credit. While Joe Reader of Albion made a string of excellent saves to keep his side in the contest, his opposite number, Tom Wilkes was equally busy preventing Albion getting an equaliser that on balance they probably deserved on the day.

Villa held out to win the cup but it proved to be the last time anyone got to lift the little tin idol. In September Villa agreed to allow William Shilcock to display the cup in his shop window. It was from here that it was stolen and most probably melted down to make half crowns. Down the years there have been four prime suspects for the theft but none of them were ever arrested for it. John "Stosher" Stait did boast about stealing the cup to his children while Harry Burge went as far as going to the papers in 1958 to proclaim that he was the thief. At over 80-years of age, Burge felt safe enough to confess and the police, as he expected, took no action.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Thomas Wilkes; Howard Spencer, James Welford, John Reynolds, James Cowan, Russell, Charlie Athersmith, Bob Chatt, John Devey{Captain}, Dennis Hodgetts, Steve Smith.
Scorer: John Devey {35 Seconds}.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Joe Reader; William Williams, Jack Horton, Tom Perry, Higgins, Taggart {Captain}, Billy Bassett, Roddy Mcleod, Richards, Hutchinson, John Banks.



1897: ASTON VILLA   3    EVERTON   2
10th April at Crystal Palace, London. Attendance: 65,891.

PREAMBLE

The F A cup celebrated twenty-five years of competition in 1897 and the style of play from 1897 back to 1872 was as far removed as 1897 is to today. The players were now professionals and more and more of the clubs were now fully fledged businesses with the bank balance just as important as the trophy cabinet. Support for the major clubs was now huge and the venues where the cup was fought for were very impressive compared to the stadiums used back in 1872. One other major factor had been the introduction of the league which had now set up sixteen of the Nation's elite clubs as giants, there to be slain by the minnows. For the second consecutive season though, not one of these giants fell to lesser opposition in the first round. Many of the big guns ran up impressive performances in their bid to list the cup to emphasise their superiority. The biggest victory came from Bury as they defeated non-league Stockton 12-1, although Stockton had held them to a 0-0 draw to force a replay. Bury's second round opponents were their first division rivals Everton who had put paid to Burton Wanderers 5-2 in round one. It was Everton who progressed 3-0 to earn a home quarter-final with Blackburn Rovers.

Derby County were pushing hard to try and win their first league title when Steve Bloomer's hat-trick saw off hapless Barnsley St Peters 8-1 in round one and they too met first division opposition in round two against Bolton where Bloomer carried on where he left off with another hat-trick in a 4-1 win. Their quarter-final opponents would be Newton Heath (later to be Manchester United), the only club outside the top flight to reach the last eight having come through against non league opposition in both rounds, the first being a comfortable 5-1 win over Kettering.

Heath's local rivals Manchester City could only watch on as they had been hammered 6-0 by Preston in round one. Preston met another free scoring top flight opponent in round two when Stoke, 5-2 victors over Glossop North End, visited Deepdale where Preston booked a home quarter-final 2-1. Thier opponents would be cup favourites and defending league champions Aston Villa who also started their cup run impressively with a 5-0 win over Newcastle before ending Notts County's cup dream 2-1 at Villa Park. Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had been quietly progressing to complete the line up.

Only two of the four ties were settled at the first attempt as Andrew Hartley scored both goals in Everton's 2-0 victory over Blackburn at Goodision while Newton Heath were unable to contain Steve Bloomer at Derby and as expected, bowed out 2-0. Affairs as Deepdale and Anfield were much tighter though as Preston held Villa 1-1 while Liverpool also looked to have blown their chance of a first semi-final 1-1 with Nottingham Forest. Liverpool won the replay through a goal from Allan to set Merseyside buzzing at the prospect of an all Merseyside final as they avoided Everton in the semi-final draw. Their opponents would be Aston Villa but not until they got a real scare at Villa park when Preston did all but score in a goalless replay, Villa won the third meeting 3-2.

The semi-finals were on March 20th and most expected the two title rivals Aston Villa and Derby County to see off the two Merseyside clubs and set up a top two final but as ever it wasn't to be. On the opposite extreme, Merseyside was out to spoil both parties and set up a reds vs blues final. The reds being the ruby of Everton and the blue & white halves of Liverpool. At Bramall Lane in Sheffield, Liverpool were overwhelmed by the quality of Aston Villa. John Cowan scored twice before Charlie Athersmith put the matter beyond any doubt in a comfortable 3-0 win for the champions. There was a much tighter and all round excellent semi-final at Victoria ground in Stoke as Everton and Derby kept their fans on a knife edge. As expected, Derby, led by Steve Bloomer, were the better side but while they tormented Everton's shaky defence and scored twice through the Goodall brothers, they could not contain what was regarded as the most exciting forward line in the Country. Everton came through 3-2 with goals from Chadwick, Hartley and Milward.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
30-01-1897 Home       Newcastle  5-1
13-02-1897 Home       Notts Co   2-1
27-02-1897 Away       Preston    1-1
           Replays:   03-03-1897 0-0
                      10-03-1897 3-2
20-03-1897 Semi-final Liverpool  3-0

THE 1897 FINAL

If the first two matches at the Crystal Palace had produced sensational openings, the third was perhaps the greatest Final ever played. Villa that year had taken the League championship by eleven points, and, by also winning the Final 3-2 against Everton, equalled Preston's 'double' feat of 1889.

65,000 travelled from Birmingham and Liverpool to the Crystal Palace on April 10th for the cup final which was being billed as potentially the best yet. Aston Villa were the best club in the Country and went into the game in the unusual position of possibly winning both major domestic trophies on the same day. Title rivals Derby had a league trip to Bury on the same day and if they failed to take the points, Villa would retain their league title. Opposing Villa were an Everton side who were something of an enigma. The Merseysiders were the biggest club in the land by some distance in matters off the field and their position gave them a head start in attracting the best players but they consistently failed to turn their status into trophies. They were by no means considered underdogs here either as they had inflicted one of just four defeats suffered by Villa all season. It was a bit like a cup final between Steve Davis and Alex Higgins. The former being the perfect example of how to play and win while the latter had talent and ability to burn but so often failed to use it to its best.

Both teams kept their cup final plans top secret and both booked into secret hotels. It was no surprise then that both sets of players fell into hoots of laughter when the Everton players came down for their hotel breakfast to be met by their Villa opponents already seated and waiting to be served. For the first time in cup history the two teams mingled at breakfast and in the hotel gardens as they waited to go to the Palace, in the end opting to travel together. It was a situation which was not repeated however and when you consider the quality that this final produced it is worth considering that their meeting took the edge off the occasion and enabled them to play a more open and entertaining game.

Both sides had plenty of previous experience in their ranks with four previous finalists each. Villa had John Reynolds, James Cowan, Charlie Athersmith and John Devey, the captain, who had all played in both the 1892 & 1895 finals. Reynolds though was aiming for a third winners medal as he had been part of the West Bromwich Albion side that had beaten Villa in 1892. Everton had Richard Boyle, Johnny Holt, Edgar Chadwick, the captain and Alf Milward all from the clubs only previous final, which they lost in 1893.

The game began at a cracking pace and it was a miracle that both sets of players were able to maintain it for the entire ninety minutes in a game that could easily have ended six each.

The only let up in the first quarter of an hour came when both trainers were called upon to render assistance after a nasty looking collision that left a player from each side flat out but when the action resumed it was Villa who struck first blood. Charlie Athersmith struck a pass wide to the unmarked John Devey whose inch perfect cross was met with one touch by John Campbell before squeezing a strong right footed shot past Bob Menham who seemed decieved by the swerve of the shot. It was a goal in keeping with the pace of the game as Everton had been caught completely cold by the speed of the move. Most other clubs would have felt the fates to be against them even at this early stage but Everton had a reputation for never knowing when they were beaten and their response was to simply up the tempo even further. In the twenty-third minute the Merseysiders, playing in what was then their away kit of blue squared things with almost a carbon copy of Villa's effort. This time it was Andy Hartley who provided a defence splitting pass for John Bell to take in his stride before firing past the advancing Villa keeper, Jimmy Whitehouse. One thing Villa had been warned to avoid was giving away cheap free kicks close to goal as Everton had the David Beckham of the era in Richard Boyle but with the momentum for the moment with the Toffeemen, Boyle got his chance when Jimmy Cowan gave away a free kick twenty yards out. Jimmy Whitehouse made no attempt to save the kick, he couldn't, it was struck so well he never saw the ball until it nestled in the net to give Everton the lead. Now though the game changed again as Villa took up the mantle. They were determined not to give Everton a half time advantage. Bob Menham now had his best spell of the game though and for a brief time it looked like Everton's luck would hold as Menham made a Jim Montgomeryesque double save which left Villa players looking to referee John Lewis for the faint possibility of a goal. Lewis called it right that Menham had kept the ball out but in the thirty-fifth minute Menham was caught flat footed when Jimmy Crabtree opted to pass to Freddy Wheldon instead of having a shot himself. Wheldon flashed in the shot first time before anyone could react to level matters again. Villa enjoyed the better of it in the final ten minutes of the half and a minute before the interval John Reynolds picked up a poorly cleared corner and swept in a perfect cross for Jimmy Crabtree to head past the stranded Menham to put Villa back in front.

There was no let up in the second half either but it wasn't for the want of trying that there were no more goals. Jimmy Whitehouse was like a man possessed in the Villa goal, making breath taking saves from Stewart and Holt while at the other end Menham had the woodwork to thank as John Reynold's looping header bounced off the bar, while Charlie Athersmith's thunderous shot smashed back off a post. Two minutes from time John Bell and Edgar Chadwick came tantalisingly close to forcing extra time as Bell rounded Whitehouse but finding his own angle too tight, opted to square the ball back to Chadwick who tamely fired wide of an open goal under pressure from three Villa defenders. Everton knew that their best and last chance had gone and all twenty-two players were virtually out on their feet when the final whistle blew.

What the Villa players didn't know as John Devey led them up to collect the cup was that Derby had gone down at Bury meaning that Villa had simultaneously been crowned league champions. There was plenty of consolation for Everton as John Bell was named man of the match for his display in defeat but the club officials were more critical. In 1893 they had blamed their keeper Richard Williams for losing a very winable final against Wolves. This time, despite having been the match of the best side in the land in every aspect except goals, the goalkeeper Bob Menham was made the scapegoat for their defeat. It was a sour end to their part in a final which was still regarded as the best ever, fifty years later. Villa meanwhile were a little more careful with the cup this time round, having had it stolen from them two years earlier. The trophy spent the most part of the next ten months locked away from public view in a local bank. It had good company in the shape of the league trophy as Villa achieved a feat which many believed would never be repeated. It took sixty four years for another team to emulate them and only one of their 1897 side, Albert Evans, survived to see Tottenham do it.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Jimmy Whitehouse; Howard Spencer, John Reynolds, Albert Evans, James Cowan, Jimmy Crabtree, Charlie Athersmith, John Devey {Captain}, John Campbell, Freddy Wheldon, John Cowan.
Scorers: John Campbell{18}, Freddy Wheldon{35}, Jimmy Crabtree{44}.

EVERTON: Robert Menham; P Meechan, David Storrier, Richard Boyle, Johnny Holt, Billy Stewart, Jack Taylor, John Bell, Andrew Hartley, Edgar Chadwick {Captain}, Alfred Milward.
Scorers: John Bell{23}, Richard Boyle{28}.



1905: ASTON VILLA 2  NEWCASTLE UNITED 0
15th April at Crystal Palace, London. Attendance: 101,117
Referee:  P.R.Harrower (London)

PREAMBLE

VILLA reached their fifth FA Cup Final with a string of fine victories before overcoming Everton in a replayed semi-final at Nottingham. Newcastle, confident after wins over Plymouth Argyle, Tottenham Hotspur, Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday, were the bookies' favourites' to win their first Final at The Crystal Palace. But little did they know that this meeting with Villa was to prove the first of four unsuccessful finals at The Palace during one of the greatest periods in the Geordies' history.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
04-02-1905 Home       Leicester 5-1
18-02-1905 Home       Bury      3-2
04-03-1905 Home       Fulham    5-0
25-03-1905 Semi-final Everton   1-1
           Replay:  29-03-1905  2-1

THE 1905 FINAL

There were some brilliant footballers on show in this epic Final, including Howard Spencer, Alec Leake, Billy Garraty, Harry Hampton and Joe Bache of Villa, and 'Bonnie Bob' McCrombie, Peter McWilliam, Jock Rutherford and Colin Veitch of Newcastle. An enormous crowd, topping 101,000, packed into the ground at Sydenham - 30,000 of them from Birmingham, 20,000 from the North-East - and they saw a cracking contest, which began splendidly for Villa, Hampton scoring inside three minutes following a run and cross from Bache on the left.

Skilfully blending long and short passes, Villa's forwards had Newcastle reeling and should have added to their score, Brawn missing a 'sitter' from six yards. It was stirring stuff from Villa, as Newcastle were made to chase and cover like they had never done before. Hampton, Garraty and Bache all went close within the space of 10 minutes, and only a brave save from Newcastle 'keeper Lawrence prevented a snap-shot from the ever-alert Hampton finding the net. In contrast Newcastle kept the ball much too close and Villa's eager half-backs were in like tigers, winning virtually every 50-50 situation.

At half-time Villa were still ahead, but for the first 15 minutes of the second half it was all Newcastle, George saving goal-bound efforts from Howie and Gosnell in double-quick time. Villa fell back on defence and if Newcastle's finishing had been better the scores would have been level. As it was, Villa picked up their game once more, and on 74 minutes, a jinking run from Albert Hall ended with the winger firing in a block-busting drive. Lawrence deflected the ball to the onrushing Hampton, who made it 2-0. Villa were now in complete command, and as the Final was drawing to its close both Bache and Hampton should have scored again. After receiving the Cup and his third winners's medal, Villa captain Howard Spencer paid tribute to Newcastle's gallant fight, as well as referring to three of his own players, Garraty, Miles and Hampton, who had performed majestically.

On their return to New Street Station, Birmingham, the Villa players were greeted by a tremendous crowd. Three coaches, decorated appropriately in claret and blue, carried the victorious players back to the Holte Hotel, Trinity Road, along a route lined with thousands of cheering citizens, many of whom were waving bunches of violets, Villa's lucky-mascot flower.

THE TEAMS

VILLA:  George; Spencer, Miles, Pearson, Leake, Windmill, Brawn, Garraty, Hampton, Bache, Hall.
Scorers  Hampton (2).

NEWCASTLE UNITED:  Lawrence; McCrombie, Carr, Gardner, Aitken, McWilliam, Rutherford, Howie, Appleyard, Veitch, Gosnell.



1913: ASTON VILLA 1  SUNDERLAND 0
19th April at Crystal Palace, London. Attendance: 121,919.
Referee: Arthur Adams (Nottingham)

PREAMBLE

This veritable 'battle of the giants' attracted a record crowd for a Final, so large that many hardly caught a glimpse of the ball during the whole match.

The winners of this Final could still go forward and carry off the coveted League and Cup double. Sunderland, four points in front of Villa in the first division table, were perhaps favourites to lift the Cup.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
15-01-1913 Away       Derby       3-1
01-02-1913 Home       West Ham    5-0
22-02-1913 Home       C Palace    5-0
08-03-1913 Away       Bradford PA 5-0
29-03-1913 Semi-final Oldham      1-0

THE 1913 FINAL

Clem Stephenson, Villa's bouncy inside-left, had dreamed the night before that Villa would win the Cup and that Tommy Barber would head the all-important goal. He told Charlie Buchan this during the match, and was pushed aside. "Ah, get away with you," replied Buchan.

To say the match was a brilliant one would be overstretching it. Plenty of muscle was used by both sets of defenders, but any sort of skill was cancelled out in no uncertain fashion by the big boot, which often sent the ball flying into the packed audience. Sunderland's tricky trio of Cuggy, Mordue and the famous Charlie Buchan found Villa's middle line of Barber, Harrop and Leach in resolute form, while at the same time Wallace, Halse and Joe Bache could not make any sort of impression against the Sunderland defensive fortress of Gladwin, the bulky Thomson and Low. Indeed, Thomson, a mountain of a centre-half, and Villa's dynamic centre-forward Harry Hampton were at loggerheads with each other throughout the contest and were spoken to on at least six occasions by the referee. Fists and boots were seen to fly in one particular unsavoury incident in the second half. Soon after the Final, at a special FA hearing, both Thomsen and Hampton, as well as referee Arthur Adams, were suspended for 'incidents in connection with the match'.

Villa should have gone ahead in 15 minutes. They were awarded a penalty after Stephenson had been floored by a clumsy challenge from Gladwin. But Charlie Wallace stepped forward and sent his shot hopelessly wide of the post, so Sunderland survived. It was a cut and thrust from then on, with neither goalkeeper coming under pressure. Ten minutes after half-time Sam Hardy, Villa's goalkeeper, involved in a hefty collision with a Sunderland forward, injured his knee and was forced to leave the field for seven minutes. Jimmy Harrop donned his jersey and Hampton dropped back into defence, Villa playing with four forwards. This is when Sunderland took control of the match for the only time, testing Villa's stand in 'keeper with several high crosses which flashed across his goal. Villa survived, Hardy hobbled back into the fray, and Sunderland's period of domination was over. Villa picked up the momentum, and with time running out, they won a right wing corner. Wallace fired over the kick, head-high, towards Tommy Barber who was a yard outside the penalty-area. He darted forward, got his head to the ball, and sent it skidding past the unsighted Butler in the Sunderland goal.

Villa had won the cup and, amazingly, Stephenson's dream had come true.The Final itself lasted for 107 minutes, mainly because of the lengthy on-the-pitch treatment given to Sam Hardy.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Hardy; Lyons, Weston, Barber, Harrop, Leach, Wallace, Halse, Hampton, Stephenson, Bache.
Scorer:  Tommy Barber.

SUNDERLAND: Butler; Gladwin, Ness, Cuggy, Thomson, Low, Mordue, Buchan, Richardson, Holley, Martin.



1920: ASTON VILLA 1  HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 0 (a.e.t.)
At Stamford Bridge, London. Attendance: 50,018

PREAMBLE

The substitution of Stamford Bridge for the Crystal Palace, then a War Service Depot and no longer available, signalled the end of the picnic-like atmosphere that had existed at the Final since 1895. Now the match was more important than any 'side-show'.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
10-01-1920 Home       QPR        2-1
31-01-1920 Away       Man Utd    2-1
21-02-1920 Home       Sunderland 1-0
06-03-1920 Away       Tottenham  1-0
27-03-1920 Semi-final Chelsea    3-1

THE 1920 FINAL

Huddersfield Town's achievement in reaching the 1920 Final was a remarkable one as the club had only recently been threatened with dis­solution through lack of funds. The townspeople of Huddersfield had rallied to the club's aid, and their reward was promotion from the Second Division and a first-ever appearance in the Cup Final in the same season.

In the early autumn of the 1919-20 season. Villa's League position had been desperate - bottom of the First Division, with eight defeats in ten matches. But Villa won this first post-war Final with a fluke goal scored in the seventh minute of extra time.

Villa's quick interpassing had Huddersfield at full stretch early on, and only three magnificent saves from Mutch, defying Kirton, Stephenson and Walker, and Wilson's sterling play at centre-half, gave the nervous Huddersfield team time to settle. Soon their strong spoiling style jolted Villa out of their rhythm, and there was no score at the end of normal time. Villa had been the better, more positive side throughout, but too often they were forced to shoot under pressure or from Song range, and the close covering of the Huddersfield defence cut openings down to a minimum. Villa were a shade too casual in everything they did, and it was just as well that Ducat and Moss were so much on top in midfield.

Villa won the Cup for the sixth time, with a goal scored almost involun­tarily. When Dorrell's corner hung tantalizingly in front of goal, Wilson went up for the ball with Kirton, Villa's best forward. It seemed to go into the net off Wilson's head, but was actually diverted off Wilson's face from Kirton's head - or so the players concerned said afterwards.

In the few minutes that remained, Huddersfield threw everything into an all-out attack on the Villa goal. Mann beat Hardy, but Weston stuck out a leg to block his goal-bound shot. Huddersfield didn't come as close to a goal again.

Andy Ducat, one of the select few to have represented England at both football and cricket, came up to collect the Cup from Prince Henry. There were four members of the winning side of 1913 behind him -Weston, Wallace, Stephenson and the 'Keeper of Keepers', Sam Hardy.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Hardy; Smart, Weston, Ducat, Barson, Moss, Wallace, Kirton, Walker, Stephenson, Dorrell.
Scorer: Kirton.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN:  Mutch; Wood, Bullock; Slade, Wilson, Watson; Richardson, Mann, Taylor, Swan, Islip.



1924: NEWCASTLE UNITED 2  ASTON VILLA 0
At Wembley, London. Attendance: 91,645.

PREAMBLE

This was the second final to be held at the new Wembley stadium.

For Villa, the 1923/24 season had been a bit of a shock as their up-and-coming centre-half Tommy Ball had been murdered in the November, and the amateur Doctor Vic Milne had since stepped into fill the breach - admirably it must be said.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
12-01-1924 Away       Ashington 5-1
02-02-1924 Away       Swansea   2-0
23-02-1924 Home       Leeds Utd 3-0
08-03-1924 Away       West Brom 2-0
29-03-1924 Semi-final Burnley   3-0

THE 1924 FINAL

In 1924 Villa still had five players in their side from the victorious team of 1920, and Newcastle sprang a surprise by calling up their reserve goalkeeper, Bradley, on the morning of the match. On a rain-soaked pitch the play was scintillating from start to finish, and, for the first half at least, Villa appeared to be heading for their seventh Cup Final victory.

Villa captain Walker collided with a post as he just missed connecting with a cross, and, though Villa continued to hold a slight advantage in some exciting exchanges, the prospect of extra time loomed large. With eight minutes left, centre-half Spencer advanced upfield for Newcastle and put Harris through to score with a tremendous shot. Before Villa could recover from the shock, Newcastle had made it 2-0. Seymour, on the left wing, gathered a long pass without breaking stride and slammed another unstoppable shot into the Villa net. It was an exciting finish to an exciting match, and Newcastle had neatly reversed the 1905 result.

A few days prior to the Final, Villa had defeated Newcastle 6-1 in a League match at Villa Park. However, Bradley, Newcastle's inexperienced goalkeeper, had played a hero's game in the Final, keeping Villa's illustrious forward-line at bay.

THE TEAMS

NEWCASTLE UNITED: Bradley; Hampson, Hudspeth, Mooney, Spencer, Gibson, Low, Cowan, Harris, McDonald, Seymour.
Scorers: Harris, Seymour.

VILLA: Jackson; Smart, Mort, Moss, Milne, Blackburn, York, Kirton, Capewell, Walker, Dorrell.



1957: ASTON VILLA 2   MANCHESTER UNITED 1
4 May at Wembley, London.  Attendance 99,225.
Referee F.Coultas (Hull)

PREAMBLE

Villa were regarded as workhorses by independent observers, whilst the United were thought of as pedigree stallions! Villa were, however, served by some illustrious players in the form of Nigel Sims (goal), Jimmy Dugdale (centre-half), Jackie Sewell (a former England player who still had the tag as the most expensive player at that time), captain Johnny Dixon and the exubriant Peter McParland in attack. The only player who could be properly regarded as a "workhorse" was full-back Stan Lynn who was totally uncomprising in the tackle. Stan Crowther was also a tough-tackler.

There were some stirring Villa displays in the rounds up to the Final. One of these was against Burnley, and Jimmy McIlroy of Burnley wrote the following account of their 1957 quarter-final encounter: "Against the Villa, we took an early lead, and without playing really well, held it until a few minutes from the end of the game. Then, the most dangerous man in soccer at converting the pass to the far-post, Peter McParland, popped up to head the equaliser from his favourite position. But there should never have been any replay. In the first ten minutes or so, I squared two passes across the face of the goal, both taken by Ian Lawson in his stride. From very close range, Ian side-footed the ball wide each time.

The pitch at Villa Park [in the replay] was in a shocking state. There were pools of water on the surface, and where there was no water, there was mud - gallons of the stuff! In one corner, in fact, there was a patch of filth giving off a most nauseating odour, causing us to wonder if this famous football ground had been used for sewage disposal. Thus was the stage set in terrible conditions for one of the most vital Cup-ties in the history of either club. Aston Villa at that time were being assailed on all sides for their vigourous style of football. They tackled hard, used their weight to the maximum advantage, and generally bothered little with the frills of soccer, although their manager Mr Eric Houghton repeatedly refuted charges that Villa were over-robust, there is no denying they were formidable opposition. In marked contrast, Burnley were a team of flyweights, with one of the smallest forward lines in the entire League.

The Midlanders ... beat us 2-0, with goals coming from Johnny Dixon and, inevitably, my old Irish pal Peter McParland. I say inevitably, because Peter makes a habit of scoring whenever he plays against me. Indeed, he has scored more goals while playing against me than as my partner in the Irish team ... even though we have played many more times together than as opponents. Burnley were out of the Cup, well beaten on a terrible pitch by an efficient, workmanlike team. The match was not a classic, my main recollection of it being the rather odd-looking playing strip sported by the Burnley players. We wore navy blue shirts and navy blue shorts, and with the referee in his customary all-black outfit it was not surprising that he was given more passes than anyone in our team! We wondered at the time why return passes never came. Fortunately, he changed into a white shirt at half-time, although I am still not certain whether this simplified or further confused the issue!"

However, McIlroy did not provide the whole story for the dark outfits they wore. Peter McParland takes up the story about this match in the days before floodlights at Villa Park:

"It was a foul afternoon," he recalls. "Wet and dark. A really filthy day. So Burnley decided to wear black! With almost no natural light and against the dark background of the crowd it was impossible to make their players out. Eric Houghton, our manager, came into our dressing-room before the kick-off raging. He went to see the referee and complain but all the ref did was ask to borrow one of our white away-shirts to wear!"

Two weeks before the 1957 FA Cup Final, Manchester United (the "Busby Babes") had hopes of becoming the first club to win the treble of League Championship, FA Cup and European Cup. The record books show that United took the Championship, but Real Madrid ended their European Cup hopes in the semi-final and Villa ruined their chances of achieving the 'double' by pipping them 2-1 at Wembley in a controversial Final. Villa, in fact had extra reason for denying United Cup glory for it was they who had been the last to win the 'double' in the gaslight days of Victorian soccer some 60 years earlier.

Manchester United had defeated the previous year's finalists, Birmingham City, in the semi-final, and though Villa were glad that their neighbours were out of it, they felt the need to uphold the honour of Birmingham by succeeding in the Final! Villa had already put out another neighbour (West Brom) in their semi-final, and having been a bit lucky to do so over two matches against a very lively Albion team, some Villa fans felt that this may well be their year. For Jimmy Dugdale, he was something of a latter-day Johnny Reynolds who had seen off his old Albion clubmates, and, having collected a winner's medal with Albion in 1954, was looking forward to another cup success! But he was the only Villa player to have known any kind of trophy success before - even long-serving Johnny Dixon had never been so close. The last time a Villa team had got so far as even to a semi-final was just before WW2, several years before Dixon signed on.

One surprise, however, for Villa fans in the Final was the omission of centre-forward Derek Pace in favour of Billy Myerscough, who had suddenly appeared for the first-team (and scored) in the semi-final replay against Albion.. But the centre-forward spot was, in truth, a main weakness in the Villa team, and both Pace and Myerscough did not remain with Villa for long. Gerry Hitchens was signed in the winter of 1957 after Pace had been sold, and Myerscough held on for a while longer. For Pace, his omission (in the days before match substitutions) must have stung hard, for he was always a thorn against Villa in subsequent matches against his old club.

Villa's wing-half Stan Crowther was not to know that he would be back at Wembley the following year, but this time in the colours of Manchester United, as he was signed by the Manchester club after their tragic plane-crash at Munich in which several of the team lost their lives or were not able to play again. Many independent observers were therefore going to be watching the Busby Babes for the last time, in this 1957 Wembley encounter.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
05-01-1957 Away       Luton      2-2
           Replay:   07-01-1957  2-0
26-01-1957 Away       Middlesbro 3-2
16-02-1957 Home       Bristol C  2-1
02-03-1957 Away       Burnley    1-1
           Replay:   06-03-1957  2-0
23-03-1957 Semi-final West Brom  2-2
           Replay:   28-03-1957  1-0

THE 1957 FINAL

The sixth-minute collision between United goalkeeper Ray Wood and Villa's McParland has evoked much discussion. Suffice to say, the referee, Frank Coultas from Hull, penalised the Villa player for the challenge. Afterwards Coultas was quoted as saying: "It was not a malicious foul. McParland did not try to harm Wood. He was just a bit too robust, as they call it, just a bit too enthusiastic in playing the traditional British game of getting stuck in."

It was indeed bad luck for United, for Wood was stretched off with a fractured cheek-bone. Blanchflower donned Wood's jersey, Duncan Edwards switched to centre-half and Billy Whelan slotted in at left-half.

In the ten minutes immediately after that clash it was clear-cut conflict between United's skill and strength, and Villa's violent tackling, causing one observer to remark: 'It will be a six-a-side contest at this rate, with players carried off and others sent off'. But commonsense prevailed; United battled on, Villa played football as their fans knew they could, and eventually the Final became a much brighter and entertaining contest. Despite their handicap, it must be said that United dominated the first 20 minutes.

Villa picked themselves up and pressed forward towards the interval. United again took control at the start of the second half but Villa gradually wound them down, and it was not long before McParland grabbed the first goal, a header from Dixon's cross which gave Blanchflower no chance at all. Five minutes later Billy Myerscough rattled the United crossbar, the ball came back into play and there was McParland, perfectly positioned to ram in number two. Wood came back into the action, only to trudge along the touchline, but he had to be marked, and this allowed United that little extra space which resulted in them pulling a goal back, via Tommy Taylor's head, with eight minutes to go. Wood went back into goal and United pushed up in search of an equaliser. Villa held on to win the Cup for the first time in 37 years, and a proud Johnny Dixon showed it off to the travelling supporters.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Sims; Lynn, Aldis, Crowther, Dugdale, Saward, Smith, Sewell, Myerscough, Dixon, McParland.
Scorers McParland (2).

MANCHESTER UNITED: Wood; Foulkes, Byrne, Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards, Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Bobby Charlton, Pegg.
Scorer:  Taylor.



2000: CHELSEA   1   ASTON VILLA   0
20th May at Wembley Stadium, London. Attendance: 78,217.

PREAMBLE

This was Villa's first F A Cup Final in 43 years, and this would be the last year of Wembley in its current form, a stadium which had been surviving on its reputation and tradition as host venue well beyond its use-by date. As long ago as the 1970's fans had been whispering that Wembley no longer befitted this prestigious match. Now the F A agreed and plans were set in motion to build a new Wembley. The final would move to Cardiff for the next few years but 2000 proved a sad and embarrassing start to the new Century.

The farce began when Manchester United were invited to enter the first official World club Championship in Brazil. An official World championship was long overdue, not to mention vital to the promotion of the club game outside Europe and South America, offering as it did a chance for the clubs from the rest of the World to play the best at a competitive level. The fans didn't like the idea and saw it as worthless, as did the press but the historians could see the parallels. The Champions cup and World cup had both been given a similar reception in Britain before becoming holy grails of football and the World Club Championship will probably be the same by 2025. In 2000 though it interfered with United's defence of the F A cup. Facing a fixture pile up, United withdrew from their defence of the cup with the F A's blessing. The Association were keen that United should go to Brazil, as a snub of FIFA's new toy may prove harmful to England's 2006 World cup bid. In hindsight a bye to the fifth round of the F A cup may have been a better solution but instead the F A awarded a lucky losers spot in the third round to a losing second round club. Darlington were the lucky recipient and earned the unusual distinction of being eliminated from the F A cup twice in a season when they promptly lost their third round tie at Villa. United meanwhile flopped in Brazil and the 2006 World cup was awarded to the much better prepared Germans regardless of the F A's willingness to promote the FIFA tournament.

Villa would go on to the quarter-finals where they won the only all Premiership tie of the round at Everton and were joined in the semi-finals by Bolton, outplayed by Charlton but somehow managing a 1-0 win. The other semi-final paired Chelsea who demolished giant killers Gillingham 5-0 and Newcastle, who had put paid to the other giant killers Tranmere 3-2. Controversey had hit Tranmere earlier in the cup to add to the F A's woes when they faced Sunderland in an earlier round. Leading 1-0 late on, Rovers set about making a substitution only for the player about to be taken off to be instead sent off by the ref. In the confusion Tranmere sent on their substitute and continued with eleven men to pull off a shock 1-0 win. Sunderland graciously waived their right to a replay.

Curiously the semi-finals were also played a week apart at Wembley. In the first, Bolton held Aston Villa and came a whisker away from the final when Dean Holdsworth hit the Villa woodwork. Villa, though, survived and took the tie on penalties. A week later Chelsea and Newcastle served up a much better encounter as Gus Poyet fired Chelsea in front in the first half. Newcastle hit back midway through the second half from Rob Lee but remained level for just six minutes as Poyet struck the winner with eighteen minutes left on the watch.

Villa had taken on (on a temporary contract) Benito Carbone, and he had scored all three goals against Leeds United - one a stunning strike from way out - and had generally looked a good player. Linking with the skills of Paul Merson, Villa fans thought that Carbone might shake Chelsea, but he in fact made little contribution to the Final, and Villa did not take on Carbone for the next season. That Villa's big striker Dion Dublin made it to Wembley was in fact something of a miracle - he had broken his neck in a match earlier in the season and so easily might have died, but he managed to recover towards the end of the season to get back into the first team. But his latter performances in the season were somewhat subdued compared to his former capability, and he was another who was not able to raise his game in the Final.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
11-12-1999 Home       Darlington  2-1
08-01-2000 Home       Southampton 1-0
30-01-2000 Home       Leeds Utd   3-2
20-02-2000 Away       Everton     2-1
02-04-2000 Semi-final Bolton      0-0 (Villa through on penalties)

THE 2000 FINAL

The F A cup was a wounded animal when it went to Wembley on May 20th. Manchester United's withdrawal, the Tranmere vs Sunderland incident, lucky losers being handed a second chance, and many Premiership sides fielding weakened teams in the early rounds had all been heavily damaging. Now in Wembley's final year the cup more than ever needed a classic. Classics are a rare thing in the cup final. The semi-finals are often far superior in quality and the final, after all the build up and expectation is often an anti climax. In any decade there are usually only two or three good finals and perhaps a great one while the remainder are average but now and again a real poor one comes along. Perhaps this is why the fans are so desperate to be in front of their television sets from early morning. They can savour all the atmosphere, re-live the great moments and then watch the game, waiting for the moments of genius. To watch the late night highlights when you know the result is a very disappointing experience in all but the rarest cases. It's doubtful if anybody (other than supporters of both teams) tuned in for the 2000 highlights of this final.

There was certainly a marked difference between the two starting line-ups. While Villa's included eight Englishmen (and one Welshman), there was only one, captain Dennis Wise, in the Chelsea ranks. The London club compensated to some extent by naming three others, Jody Morris, John Terry and Jon Harley, as substitutes on a bench that, rather surprisingly, did not contain a fourth, Ł10 million striker Chris Sutton. Equally surprising was the decision by Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli not to start with his regular attacking partnership of Tore Andre Flo and Gianfranco Zola. Zola was there for the kick-off, but he had veteran Liberian international George Weah alongside him instead of Flo, who was on the bench. Perhaps it was seen as a last chance for Weah, 33 and on loan from AC Milan, to play in an FA Cup final.

George Boateng, one of the few foreigners in the Villa side, had given advance warning of his intent to match the aggression and industry of Wise in midfield. So it should have come as no surprise when, after only two minutes' play, the powerful young Dutchman shook the Chelsea captain with a crunching tackle that referee Graham Poll felt deserving only of a warning.

The first serious attack of a poor first half, coming after 10 minutes, showed that the little England international had suffered no serious damage. When Gareth Southgate headed out a Zola centre, Wise met the clearance with a ferocious volley that goalkeeper David James clutched to his midriff.

That, sadly, was just about the only moment of real excitement the packed house was offered before the interval. There were plenty of bookings, but very few other scoring attempts. Villa's Gareth Barry and Chelsea's Mario Melchiot were cautioned for fouls on each other and Wise, surprise, surprise, was shown the yellow card for a spot of sly retaliation on Boateng.

But, with both sides giving the ball away with depressing regularity and the defences on top, the volley Paul Merson curled speculatively past the right-hand angle of the Chelsea goal after 25 minutes was the only other scoring attempt that carried any kind of threat.

The start of the second half was much more promising. Whatever the two managers said during the break - and one cannot imagine it was very complimentary to their players - produced three scoring chances in the first four minutes. Almost immediately, Ian Taylor and Southgate headed wide from crosses by Alan Wright and Merson, then Weah shot a foot wide at the other end. The Liberian was given a sight of goal, first by Didier Deschamps, and then by Zola, who threaded the ball through to him in a shooting position. It was the beginning of a period of Chelsea supremacy, during which they put the ball in the Villa net without reward, Weah being given offside after Wise had been quick to punish James's fumble as the goalkeeper tried to deal with a pass from Di Matteo.

Weah had two chances to atone quickly for his unfortunate part in Chelsea's disallowed goal. However, he was guilty of poor finishing from six yards out at the far post as he met the centre Zola curled cunningly in from the right; then, when the ball sat up kindly for him in a goalmouth tussle with Ugo Ehiogu, James came rushing off his line to block the Chelsea striker's attempt to flick a shot over the goalkeeper.

The lead the London club took after 72 minutes was deserved, therefore. Again James erred, again the ball was put away from close range, but this time there was no infringement of the laws. When James came roaring off his line to deal with Zola's free-kick from the left, he fumbled the ball against Southgate's chest and they could only watch in horror as Di Matteo blasted the rebound into the roof of the net.

Benito Carbone should have equalised three minutes later in a situation similar to the one from which Di Matteo had scored, but he failed abysmally. Ed de Goey's failure to catch a Merson free-kick cleanly left Villa's little Italian striker with a clear view of goal. He struck the ball so weakly with his left foot, though, that Frank Leboeuf was able to clear off the line quite comfortably.

Villa manager John Gregory rang the changes in the last 12 minutes as his team searched desperately for an eqauliser. But the introduction of Steve Stone, Julian Joachim and Lee Hendrie for Taylor, Carbone and Wright yielded just one more scoring chance, Ehiogu heading the ball over the crossbar when he needed to direct it across goal to the better-placed Dion Dublin. The 2000 F A cup came to a close with perhaps the youngest person ever going up to collect the cup. The baby son of Chelsea captain Dennis Wise, little bigger than the cup himself was carried up the steps by his proud father to help him receive the cup.

THE TEAMS

CHELSEA: Ed De Goey; Mario Melchiot, Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf, Celestine Babayaro, Gustavo Poyet, Dennis Wise {Captain}, Didier Deschamps, Roberto Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola (Jody Morris {Sub 89}), George Weah (Tore Andre Flo {Sub 88}).
Scorer-Di Matteo {73}.

Subs Not Used: Claudio Cudicini(gk), John Terry, Jon Harley.

VILLA: David James; Mark Delaney, Ugo Ehiogu, Gareth Southgate {Captain}, Gareth Barry, Alan Wright ({Sub 88} Lee Hendrie), George Boateng, Paul Merson, Ian Taylor ({Sub 79} Steve Stone), Benito Carbone ({Sub 79} Julian Joachim), Dion Dublin.

Subs Not Used: Jlloyd Samuel, Peter Enkelman(gk).



2015: ARSENAL   4   ASTON VILLA   0
30th May at Wembley Stadium, London. Attendance: 89,283.

PREAMBLE

Following the dismissal of Paul Lambert as manager in the previous February, the arrival of the Villa at Wembley was a surprise. The new manager (Tim Sherwood) had inculcated belief into the Villa team that had brought about their survival in the Premiership after nearly 5 years of increasingly more depressing results and style of play. However Villa, after a superlative win over Liverpool in the semi-final, also played at Wembley, they had lost badly in the league at Southampton only 2 weeks before the Final and the question was whether they would regain their confidence.

Villa's route to the Final, versus:
04-01-2015 Home       Blackpool   1-0
25-01-2015 Home       Bournemouth 2-1
15-02-2015 Home       Leicester C 2-1
07-03-2015 Home       West Brom A 2-0
19-04-2015 Semi-final Liverpool   2-1

THE 2015 FINAL

From Aston Villa's point of view this Final was even more of a disappointment than the 2000 Final. This time Villa were outplayed from about the 10th minute, and Villa did not make one worthwhile attempt on goal during the entire match. They often froze and gave the ball away, and only a good save by Given and a tremendous block by Richardson prevented Arsenal from taking the lead until the 40th minute. Villa's frustration was born out by the fact that 5 Villa players gained yellow cards, but none of Arsenal's players were penalised.

Villa's highly esteemed striker Benteke had no luck at all against a centre-back who was even bigger than he, and the Arsenal's 'keeper was very good in collecting the ball whenever a centre threatened to get to the head of Benteke.

Once Arsenal scored their second on 5 minutes into the second half (a marvellous strike from at least 35 yards by Sanchez) there was little doubt as to the outcome, but the third and fourth goals could have been easily prevented. Arsenal played commanding, fine football and were worthy winners.

Only when Gabby Agbonlahor came on after the second goal had been scored did Villa gain any urgency, but they remained under the cosh from Arsenal despite two apparently valid late penalty claims from Villa.

THE TEAMS

CHELSEA: Szczesny; Bellerin, Mertesacker (Captain), Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Özil (Wilshere (Sub 77)), Sánchez (Oxlade-Chamberlain (Sub 90)), Walcott (Giroud (Sub 77))
Scorers-Walcott (40) Sánchez (50) Mertesacker (62) Giroud (90).

Subs Not Used: Gibbs, Gabriel, Ospina, Flamini.

VILLA: Given; Hutton, Okore, Vlaar, Richardson (Bacuna (Sub 68)); Cleverley, Westwood (Sanchez (Sub 71)), Delph (Captain); N'Zogbia (Agbonlahor (Sub 53)), Grealish; Benteke.

Subs Not Used: Baker, Sinclair, Cole, Guzan(gk).