Gary James' fifth column looks at the upcoming all-Manchester FA Cup Final
I’ve been asked to contribute a monthly column focusing on the clubs in the Manchester region. The idea is to discuss each club’s modern day activities while bringing in a bit of historical context. Today’s feature is on the first all-Manchester FA Cup final.
Although we’ve had four FA Cup finals featuring two teams from Greater Manchester (can you name them all? See the end of article for the full list) we have never had one featuring both the Manchester-named League clubs until now. The 2023 FA Cup final will be played between Manchester City and Manchester United on 3 June 2023 at Wembley Stadium.
This is a landmark moment for Manchester and will be watched by a large global television audience. As a one-off showpiece with a major trophy at stake it promises to grab the attention more than most other FA Cup finals have, certainly in recent years. I remember well the hype around the first all-Merseyside FA Cup final in 1986 but I think this time the global attention will be even greater. I hope so.
It should be remembered that with both Manchester clubs already winning the other major domestic trophies this season it means that whichever team is successful Manchester will have won all the major domestic trophies available. This is a phenomenal achievement.
However, the question has to be asked why has it taken so long for us to have our city’s two premier clubs reach the final in the same year? There isn’t one answer to that question but the simplest ‘hot take’ is that it’s extremely rare for the two clubs to have both been at a peak in the same season.
Each club has had significant periods of trophy success but they have both also suffered amazing lows during their history. Typically, when one has been successful the other has floundered in some way. The late 1990s are the most obvious recent example when United found major success, including winning the treble, while a desperate City suffered two relegations before their resurrection. Further back the 1930s saw the roles reversed when City found major League and Cup success attracting record breaking crowds while United spent most of the decade in the second tier with some Old Trafford attendances less than 4,000.
We don’t need to focus on those years too much but it is worth remembering that most football clubs have enjoyed highs and experienced difficult lows. It is extremely unusual for any club to dominate in the way United did in the 90s and 2000s or how City have in recent years.
It is worth remembering that there have been major peaks and troughs for both clubs and it is rare for both to be winning trophies at the same time – or indeed both to be struggling at the same time! The last time both clubs were in the second tier together was way back in 1899 when City became the first Manchester side to gain promotion. Since then we have always had at least one top-flight team.
So what about the times when both clubs have found major success in the same season? The first time was in 1956 when United won the League and City the FA Cup. That year some City fans were caught on camera holding up a banner at Wembley celebrating the ‘Manchester Double: United League winners, City FA Cup’. It’s a different time now and I doubt there’ll be any banners at either end in Wembley celebrating the other team’s success.
1955-56 was a great season with City finishing fourth to United too. Both clubs included some legendary players in their squads with United led by Roger Byrne and featuring Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Tommy Taylor and David Pegg amongst other brilliant stars of the era. City’s team included footballer of the year Bert Trautmann, Don Revie, Roy Clarke, Bobby Johnstone, Joe Hayes and was led by Roy Paul.
Sadly, the Munich air crash in 1958 was to cut short United’s glory period while City’s cup winning team gradually faded and the closest they came to success in the years that followed was a fifth placed finish in 1958.
The Sixties saw both clubs return to trophy winning ways with 1968 being the height, as far as the entire city of Manchester was concerned. That year City won the League, with the Reds second, and United won the European Cup. Those two successes meant that Manchester was proclaimed as England’s ‘Soccer Capital’ in some newspapers. Charlton, Law & Best and Bell, Lee & Summerbee were known throughout the country for their swashbuckling style, but of course these successes were not simply about those six players. Both clubs had talented squads and were guided by highly-regarded footballing leaders.
The Blues were managed by the former Everton and Arsenal trophy-winning captain Joe Mercer, while the Reds were led, as they were in the fifties, by Sir Matt Busby, who had won the FA Cup with City in 1934. These were exceptionally great days for Manchester and the mood of the swinging sixties was enhanced by the exploits of our teams. That year Manchester became the first British city to have two teams competing in the European Cup.
As with 1956 though joint success could not last for ever. Winning Europe’s major prize was perhaps the end of a quest and, despite great success prior to 1968, United were the first to flounder with the European Cup being their last trophy until 1977. The Reds were also relegated in 1974.
At City the League title in 1968 was the first major success of an era that brought them other domestic trophies, including the FA Cup and League Cup. Mercer’s men also found European success, winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup (at the time UEFA’s second most significant competition). It’s a fact that both City and United won a major European trophy before many of today’s so-called European giants including Liverpool and Juventus for example.
Until 2011 that was it as far as both winning a major trophy in the same season, though there were some near misses. In 1976 City won the League Cup and United were FA Cup finalists and in 1977 United won the FA Cup and City were runners-up in the League, missing the title by a point.
The seasons of joint successes returned in 2011 when United won the League and City the FA Cup, after the first FA Cup semi-final between the clubs since 1926. The Blues won the semi in 2011, as they had in 1926, otherwise there’d have been no opportunity for the two clubs to both find success that year. Winning the FA Cup was the catalyst for the incredible trophy winning era that has followed for City – just as it was for United in 1990 and the years of success that came under Sir Alex Ferguson.
United won the League in 2013, the year after City’s first League title of the modern era, and since Ferguson’s retirement the Blues have finished above the Reds in every season, but this doesn’t mean United have been unsuccessful. Of course there’s been the League Cup this year (and in 2017) but there has also been a FA Cup (2016) and the Europa League (2017).
What the future has in store is unclear but with City in the Champions League final it is possible that the Blues could match United’s 1999 treble trophy haul. Alternatively, United could dent that ambition. Who knows how it will go?
No doubt the victors will receive the appropriate level of plaudits but what we should remember is, regardless of club loyalties, having both teams challenging at the highest level possible is good for the city as a whole. In the 60s they talked of the ‘Soccer Capital’. Maybe we need to stand back from our own club allegiances and ensure the wider world is reminded that Manchester’s two clubs bring honour and prestige to our city?
Earlier I asked if anyone could name all the finals involving two clubs from present day Greater Manchester. Here they are:
1904 City 1 Bolton 0
1926 Bolton 1 City 0
1958 Bolton 2 United 0
2013 Wigan 1 City 0
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