Everyone loves an underdog story. Something about a team rising up and winning a trophy or going on a great run is always so entertaining. The FA Cup always seems to be on hand to provide a fairy-tale journey from obscurity to superstardom. The beauty of the competition is that it doesn’t discriminate based on ability or stadium size, no matter if you are in the Premier League or down in step 11 of the pyramid, everyone has a chance of playing at Wembley.
Over the years there have been a number of sides who have defied the odds and gone on to overachieve in England’s oldest football tournament, and with that in mind, we thought we’d run through some of the FA Cup’s biggest underdog stories.
“The Crazy Gang has beaten the Culture Club.” Perhaps John Motson’s most infamous quote as a Wimbledon side, mainly a bunch of rebellious third division players, rose through the ranks to win an unlikely FA Cup, in defiance of all football betting suggestions.
For the younger readers, Liverpool at the time were untouchable, regularly picking up the league title and competing in Europe pre-Heysel, so when Dave Beasant saved John Aldridge’s penalty after Lawrie Sanchez put ‘The Crazy Gang’ ahead, it was destiny. You only need to look at Vinnie Jones’ crunching first tackle to see how much the game has changed in the years since.
Lincoln City 2016/17
Very little was expected from Lincoln City in the summer of 2016. A National League side at the time, when fans had made the trip to Sutton to see the Imps thrashed 3-1, few would have imagined they would be playing at the Emirates at the turn of the year. A Memorable trip to Burnley booked Danny Cowley’s side a place in the quarter final, where they played well for the first half but were ultimately beaten 5-0 by Arsenal. Nonetheless, they gave a good account of non-league football and went on to win the league later that year.
From Burnley being beaten, to their manager having a huge role as a player ten years earlier. Sean Dyche was instrumental in Chesterfield’s run in the 1997 FA Cup, whenthey reached the semi-final. Despite finishing 10th in the Second Division, John Duncan’s side went on a memorable run, earning a replay in the semi-final before losing away to Middlesbrough. The Teesiders were convincing in their route of Chesterfield in all fairness, but had the Spireites managed the game better, they could have very well found themselves at Wembley for a once in a lifetime cup tie.
Wigan Athletic 2012/13
Very rarely do we see a team win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same week, such was the fate of Wigan Athletic, who defied every one of the free football tips to beat Manchester City in the 2013 FA Cup final. Roberto Martinez, now Belgium’s manager, was in the Wembley technical area for the Latics as a scintillating Callum McManaman performance and a late Ben Watson goal ensured victory for the Premier League strugglers, who were snapped very quickly back into reality when they were thumped by Arsenal days later and relegated to the Championship. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending.