In an era when football matches are a constant part of life, cup fixtures still bring that little extra sparkle to the minds of players and fans alike. In the Capital One Cup this season, that sparkle has often translated into goal-scoring frenzies, and on the odd, special occasions, it produces a memorable solo performance from a player who may not always be the centre of attention. In this series, FFC takes a look at some stellar one-man displays…
When Arsenal took the field for the 1987 League Cup Final against Liverpool, it gave the Gunners their first opportunity to lay to rest the shock of losing to Swindon in their only previous final in the competition in 1969. It was also a golden opportunity for Charlie Nicholas to shine in the Wembley sun.
When Nicholas signed for Arsenal from Celtic in a blaze of publicity, in 1983, he became the highest paid British footballer of the day.
Unfortunately Charlie struggled to fulfil his potential at Highbury and for three years he was a shadow of the player who had been devastating in front of goal for Celtic. But under his third manager in as many years, George Graham, the League Cup was to prove the pinnacle of his Arsenal career and his trophy winning goals at Wembley a reminder of a remarkable talent.
That 1986-87 season wasn`t proving a good one for the striker and up to the day of the final Charlie had only scored three League goals and just one in the League Cup.
It got worse as the final started badly for Arsenal when Ian Rush put Liverpool 1-0 up and in seven years Liverpool had never lost a game when Ian Rush scored, 145 and counting. But that record was ended by Charlie Nicholas who turned the game on its head with two typically plundered goals.
His equaliser came after his close range shot hit the post and ran wide of the goal. Viv Anderson returned the ball by driving it hard and low where Charlie was in the right place to sweep home for 1-1.
Substitute Perry Groves set up the winning goal in the 83rd minute with a terrific left wing run before cutting the ball back to Charlie. He struck it well enough but the deflection off Ronnie Whelan wrong-footed Bruce Grobbelaar and rolled agonisingly inside the post to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead and seven minutes later the trophy.
The television match commentator for the final, Barry Davis, called the Scot, Bonnie Prince Charlie. But there was an irony about his stellar performance that day.
The player who set up his winning League Cup Final goal, Perry Groves, replaced Charlie at the start of the following league campaign to partner new signing, striker Alan Smith. Charlie played just four games at the start of 1987-88 before being dropped.
Charlie Nicholas was the most exciting British player since George Best, according to the media when he joined Arsenal. But the player who won trophies galore in Scotland collected just the one in England before returning North of the Border to play for Aberdeen and Clyde before retiring in 1996 aged just 35.
You will now find Charlie on your television as a pundit for Sky Sports, but many will remember him not for his thoughts on this year’s Capital One Cup, but his goals in that Wembley final of 87.