With Leicester City taking the 2020-21 FA Cup title, here’s a look at the six best FA Cup Finals where a smaller club won it all.
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Note that these aren’t all “giant killings,” because in one case the winning team was a big club just down on its luck, and in another the loser was also a non-giant club.
Still, Leicester City had never before won the FA Cup; they have lost the Final four times, and even that hasn’t happened since 1969. So, considering that history and Chelsea’s haul of eight Cups, a win for the Foxes will definitely make next year’s version of this post!
2020-21 FA Cup Final Time and Date
Speaking of Chelsea vs Leicester, that was on Saturday, May 15. You can watch the whole FA Cup in the US on ESPN+.
What is the FA Cup?
For some background, the FA Cup is a no-seeding, no-bracket tournament for 700+ clubs all over England; it’s been held almost every year since 1871, and for many years the Final was one of the biggest events of the nation’s sporting calendar, as well as the only game broadcast live on television.
For more on the FA Cup, read this post or check out Groundhopper Guides’ video on the subject:
FA Cup Winners Who Weren’t Giant Clubs
2013 FA Cup Final: Wigan Athletic 1, Manchester City 0
Wigan are from a city much better known for rugby football, so when the Latics made the Football League for the first time in 1978, then the Premier League in 2005, they became a model of a plucky little club hanging on in the top tier.
Their owner was Dave Whelan, who had played in an FA Cup Final for Blackburn Rovers in 1960 but broke his leg during the game. He then made a fortune in sporting goods and bought Wigan in 1995. He spent £30 million on a new stadium in 1998.
By 2013, though, the bloom was off the rose, and Wigan were struggling in the league. But they made a dramatic run to the Final, where they ran into a rising Manchester City, on the way to becoming the big-money behemoth they are today. With the late winner in front of 30,000+ of their fans and the announcer referencing Whelan in his call, it’s one of the more dramatic moments in FA Cup Final history.
Today, outside the Wigan stadium, there’s a statue of Whelan holding the FA Cup.
1988 FA Cup Final: Wimbledon 1, Liverpool 0
Liverpool were winning everything in English football in the 1980s, so when Wimbledon — and yes, they were from the same part of Greater London as the “lawn tennis” club — made the Final, few gave them much chance. They had only been in the Football League for 11 years and the top division for two.
This game also featured the first unsuccessful penalty kick in FA Cup Final history.
This particular version of Wimbledon doesn’t really exist anymore. This was Wimbledon FC, who played at Plough Lane and were relegated in 2000, then sunk into financial trouble. Their owner moved them to Milton-Keynes, renaming them MK Dons, an event which struck horror in the world of English football. It has never happened before or since.
So the Wimbledon fans started a new club, AFC Wimbledon, who began life in tier 9 of the league pyramid and are now in League One — same as MK Dons. And in 2021, Wimbledon moved into a new stadium at Plough Lane!
2008 FA Cup Final: Portsmouth 1, Cardiff City 0
This one would have made the list regardless of the winner, as Cardiff City were then playing in the second tier. They hadn’t won the FA Cup since 1927, and Portsmouth hadn’t done so since 1939. Neither had even made the Final since!
The crowd of 89,874 is still the biggest ever for a football game at the new Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007.
Portsmouth made the Final again two years later and lost to Chelsea. Cardiff have yet to return.
1987 FA Cup Final: Coventry City 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2
Spurs were making their third Final appearance in seven years, and they had won it in 1981 and 1982. Coventry City, meanwhile, had never been to any cup final before — and they haven’t since. But they weren’t exactly a nobody; they had been in the top tier since 1967 and the Football League since World War I.
Still, Spurs were heavy favorites, and the game is considered one of the best FA Cup Finals ever — in particular for the nature of the winning goal.
1973 FA Cup Final: Sunderland 1, Leeds United 0
If you don’t know your English football history, you might not know that Leeds were once a mighty power. From 1961 to 1974, under legendary manager Don Revie, they won the First Division twice (and finished second five times) and won the FA Cup once while also losing five other FA Cup Finals.
One of those losses was this famous game against Sunderland, then in the Second Division. They would become the first winners from outside the top flight since 1931. The double save towards the end of the game by Sunderland’s keeper, Jimmy Montgomery, was so remarkable that the announcer famously assumed the ball had gone in.
At the final whistle, Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe, who had spent the game in a fedora and overcoat under a blanket on the bench, ran across the field to hug Montgomery, an iconic image made into a statue outside Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
1980 FA Cup Final: West Ham 1, Arsenal 0
Before Hammers fans come after me, West Ham is not a small club! They have won three FA Cups, but never won the top tier; their highest league finish was third in 1985-86. They have also played in two other FA Cup Finals.
They make the list here, though, because as mentioned before, this is the last time a team from outside the top tier won the thing. The victims on the day were Arsenal, and if Gunners fans would rather not watch, at least they have a record 14 FA Cups to look at in their trophy case. They had also been in the previous two Finals.
The winner here was scored by Trevor Brooking, now Sir Trevor Brooking, who appeared for West Ham 647 times and for whom a stand at their old Upton Park ground was named in 2009. He was also on their 1975 Cup-winning side, and he’s now the Director of Football Development for the Football Association.
West Ham has never made another Cup final since this one.