The Match: An all-Merseyside FA Cup Final sets up a thriller

As Liverpool and Everton gear up for another clash, it will be their 24th meeting in the FA Cup and their first in the competition since 2012 when Liverpool won a Wembley semi-final.

Dreams of beating rivals and lifting cups this season are far from the surface, as the two are meeting in the third round – traditionally a time for giant-killing, but this is a battle of two giants: only Manchester United and Arsenal have contested more finals than either Liverpool or Everton.

At the last such time, though, the world was a different place. In May 1989, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and an FA Cup final between the two Merseyside rivals was played just five weeks after the Hillsborough disaster killed 96 Liverpool fans at the previous stage of the competition.

That might have made the final at Wembley a sombre occasion, and whilst both sides of the Stanley Park divide came together in solidarity, and whilst both sets of players wore black armbands on the occasion, neither side held anything back when it came to the game.

The game provided the raucous and dramatic affair that a tribute to those lost at Hillsborough deserved in a final contested by two of English football’s most decorated clubs. But despite an early goal, that drama was to burn slowly.

In just the fourth minute of the match, Liverpool, who were on course for a double took the lead through John Aldridge. The previous year, it was the Irish striker’s missed penalty – the first penalty save in FA Cup final history – which handed Wimbledon a famous victory over the champions at Wembley. But a year later, his early goal looked to have won it, making him the hero after all.

It wasn’t until the final minute when it became a classic.

After a low cross from the right was pushed straight back into the middle of the six-yard box by Bruce Grobbelaar, it was Stuart McCall, who had scored just once for Everton before the final, who showed a predatory instinct to react quickest, sliding between two Liverpool defenders to poke the ball into the net from point-blank range.

Cue pandamonium.

The atmosphere of solidarity is something that an occasion like an FA Cup final can engender, but an actual football match is capable of much more than that: for 90 minutes a stadium filled with people can forget about everything else in the world. Indeed, McCall’s 89th minute equaliser ensured that there would be an extra half-hour still to play.

Now this was a final between rivals, and now just city rivals. Only Aston Villa in 1981 were the only team to break the Merseyside hold on the First Division in the 1980s at this point. Although Liverpool were to lose to Arsenal six days later to lose the title on the final game of the season, the FA Cup final was still a meeting between the last two champions. And it showed: Liverpool were able to bring Ian Rush off the bench in the second half to have a vital role in extra time.

Just five minutes into the extra period, Rush put Liverpool back into the lead, breaking Dixie Dean’s record for most goals in Merseyside derbies. But McCall hit back for Everton, himself setting a new record with his second equaliser of the game – the Everton midfielder had become the first substitute to score two goals in an FA Cup final.

It was short lived, however. Just two minutes after McCall had brought the Toffees level again, and made history by scoring twice, Rush matched the feat, scoring twice as a substitute himself when he glanced a header past Neville Southall to win the match.

The Reds had won a thrilling all-Merseyside FA Cup final to add to their league championship the season previously, and had set themselves up for a second double of the 1980s, and only the second Double in English football since Arsenal had achieved the feat in 1971.

Ironically, then, it was the Gunners whom Liverpool met at Anfield six days later. Because of the Hillsborough disaster, their league match which was postponed and rearranged for the Friday evening after the cup final. That night, Michael Thomas’s late goal pipped the Reds to the title in an iconic finale to the league season.

Since then, Everton and Liverpool have been drawn together three times in the FA Cup; two have gone to replays and one, the 2012 semi-final, was decided by another late goals, this time a Liverpool winner.

This weekend, it won’t be a final, nor even a semi-final when the Merseyside giants meet, but it will be on a Friday evening under the lights at Anfield. History tells us to look out for late goals, and maybe even a dramatic winner.

 


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