Winning the FA Cup is becoming a habit

As the whistle blew in a (mostly) empty Wembley Stadium we celebrated Arsenal’s 14th FA Cup win.

Amazing. Unprecedented. An extension of the record we set in 2017 by beating the same team we beat this time. 

It was a strange final which seemed at one point as if – like the 2019/20 football season itself – it would never end. With Pedro lying injured in Emi Martinez’s penalty box and Kolasinac waiting to run on to replace Tierney, I still felt there was time for Chelsea to scramble an equalizer and send us into extra time. 

It’s never easy watching Arsenal (well, except for the golden years of Wenger, when they seemed to beat teams before half time). As Alan Davies said on QI the other night, ‘I don’t really find football relaxing’. 

Fourteen cup wins is remarkable, and I can honestly say I have watched eleven of them, even if I was only present at Wembley for two. I had a twinge of nerves yesterday when one of the commentators reminded us that Kieran Tierney was the first Scottish international to play for the Gunners in an FA Cup final since Willie Young in 1980 against West Ham . 

I was there in 1980. I’d collected all the coupons in the programmes and queued up with thousands of others to get my ticket. Only one of my schoolmates – the lads I usually went to Highbury with – were with me. None of the rest went. I’ve no idea why. 

But one of the boys that worked as a paperboy in the same newsagent as I did was there. I can’t recall his name but I can still see his grinning, jeering face as he waited for me on Wembley Way as I made my way out of the ground. I was crushed and didn’t get the chance to see Arsenal again in a Wembley final until 2014, when I was lucky enough to secure a ticket in the ST ballot. 

That game started badly – worse than yesterday even – and we were 2-0 down in eight minutes. Thankfully Aaron Ramsey brought the cup home. 

The rest I watched on TV. I can just about remember Charlie George’s goal in 1971 – I was eight and spent the next few weeks practicing falling over backwards after every goal I scored. My dad went to the Leeds final the following year and brought me back a programme. I have hated Leeds ever since. 

1978 was painful but 1979 – and Brady to Rix to Sunderland – was wonderful. Re-watching that final recently brought back all the memories of standing on the North Bank in the late 70s with my mates from school. That was the time I lived and breathed football and went to games bedecked in an array of scarves. 

In 1993 we beat Sheffield Wednesday (2-1 after extra time and a replay; we never make it easy for ourselves). Wrighty had scored first in the delayed second game, but a Waddle shot deflected off Lee Dixon to allow Wednesday back in the game. The hero of the hour was Andy Linighan who had his nose broken by Mark Bright and then saw his header beat the keeper in the 119thminute. I thought yesterday’s final would never end but this was the longest final on record. 

1998 was much more straightforward. Having won the League in Wenger’s first full season, the team beat Newcastle in the final with goals from Marc Overmars and Anelka. Alan Shearer still gets teased about his lack of an FA Cup winner’s medal – he did hit post that day. 

I watched the 2002 final in a Northampton pub with some local Arsenal friends. Most of the pub was rooting for Chelsea because most of them were United fans (go figure). Freddie was man of the match but I’ll always remember throwing beer everywhere when Ray Parlour scored that brilliant long-range goal. 

A year later, Wenger’s team was back, to beat Southampton with a goal from Bobbie Pires not long before half time.  Ashley Cole gets lots of stick from Gooners, but he made a vital goal-line clearance deep in injury time to make sure the cup stayed in north London. 

We didn’t quite make it three in a row but Arsenal were back at Cardiff in 2005 beating Manchester United on penalties. It was a terrible game to watch I recall; United were the better side and we rode our luck. Vieira’s winning spot kick was just about the last time he turned out for us (he did play in a testimonial the following pre-season). 

And then we had the drought. No wins till 2014 and then three in four years as it seemed the FA Cup was the only trophy we could win. 

Hull City in 2014, Aston Villa (4-0) in 2015 and then Chelsea (against all the odds) in 2017. Ramsey was the hero for me in 2014 and 2017, just like Charlie George and Alan Sunderland in 1971 and 1979. 

So in 49 years I’ve seen Arsenal lift the FA Cup eleven times (and seen them reach a few more finals and lose). Hopefully, this win signals the beginning of a new era of success for Arsenal under Mikel Arteta. Let’s hope we can hang on to yesterday’s hero – Aubamayang!

It’s worth reflecting on the fact that we have reached twenty-one finals and won fourteen of them. Both records in their own right. By contrast, only United and Chelsea come close to us (with 20/12 and 14/8 respectively). The mob from down the road? Those cup specialists? Nine finals and eight wins but none for 29 years. 

Come on you Gunners!

Drew Gray (AISA chair)

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