How FA Cup Finals Have Been Affected By Big Goalkeeper Moments

By Tim Ellis

News • May 24, 2024

How FA Cup Finals Have Been Affected By Big Goalkeeper Moments

FA Cup finals are the season's last chance for goalkeepers to perform on the biggest domestic stage. Many have taken the starring role.

In 1986, Liverpool had just completed the domestic double at Wembley against Everton. The BBC’s Bob Wilson grabbed the Reds’ heroes Ian Rush, Antipodean goalscorer and creator of the Adidas Predator, Craig Johnston and Bruce Grobbelaar for a quick post-match interview. Arsenal’s former goalkeeper asked the Zimbabwean about one crucial moment that changed the course of the match.

With the score locked at 1-1, Alan Hansen’s rushed clearance went back centrally for Everton striker Graeme Sharp to redirect back into a vacant net, That was until Brucie turned up. “All the crowd behind us were already shouting goal,” said Wilson. Liverpool’s No. 1 referenced his new found skill. “I had to get to it with the kangaroo leap. He (Johnston) taught me how to leap. I had to get it over the bar because if I had tried to catch that I would have gone in the back of the net.”

The rest was history as Liverpool overcame Gary Lineker’s opener to prevail 3-1 against their Merseyside rivals. Whenever there was a big day out, the successor to Ray Clemence lapped it up. This was the Clown Prince’s stage.

It takes cojones to step up on the hallowed turf and embrace it. 

Grobbelaar had seen the worst of life after fighting in the Rhodesian War. Kasper Schmeichel had grown up around the best of the Old Trafford football rock stars in the 1990s thanks to his famous father. There’s nothing like preparation.

The 2021 final had a strange feel, played in front of one of the biggest crowds since lockdown although only at just over one-fifth capacity. The two goalkeepers were Kepa, who was in a tussle with form as well as Edouard Mendy for the number one position, and the supremely confident Schmeichel, son of the legend and a very talented branch of the family tree.

Kepa was beaten from distance just after the hour, which wasn’t in itself an error. Youri Tielemans’ strike was superbly struck. The Spaniard’s reputation for struggling with shots from range made him look less invincible on the day than his counterpart. That’s how the narrative goes. It sucks.

As Thomas Tuchel’s side struggled to get back in the game, Mason Mount hit a clean strike that was destined for the net until the Dane somehow clawed it out. As Jermaine Jenas said: “There’s nothing more that (Mount) could do with that.” Another scrambled save from Ben Chilwell’s header was pushed onto the post. These were ‘I refuse to be beaten’ vibes in the best tradition of finals. See Courtois, Thibaut.

The agony and ecstasy of being a keeper in the FA’s crown jewel knockout match was never more apparent in 2006.

Maybe the Millennium Stadium’s last temporary staging of the main event brought a bit of the supernatural to Liverpool’s normally tight defence. Jamie Carragher was so discombobulated he put through his own net after trying to cut out a Lionel Scaloni cross. Then minutes later, Pepe Reina inexplicably spilled a Matthew Etherington shot and Dean Ashton put the Hammers into dreamland.

Even when Liverpool fought back to level, Liverpool’s No. 1 was outfoxed by a mishit Paul Konchesky cross that plummeted into the corner over his head. This wasn’t the Pepe that had gone 1041 minutes  (11 clean sheets) without conceding earlier in the season. Gerrard’s laser strike in injury time past West Ham veteran Shaka Hislop saved the Spanish international from an eternity of nightmares.

The former Villarreal ‘keeper was hailed as “the best goalkeeper in Spain” by Rafa Benitez and suddenly started to show it. He somehow diverted a looping Nigel Reo-Coker header onto the post right at the end of extra time, defining it as his best-ever save. "It was a bad performance by me at the start but goalkeepers live in a small land between mistakes and saves.” Never a truer sentence said…

Reina had stopped seven out of the nine spot-kicks he faced in his last La Liga campaign and saved three in the shootout to take the Cup back to Anfield for the seventh time. Penalties are not a lottery for the ‘keeper

Wimbledon’s Dave Beasant was the first ever to save one during normal time in the 1988 match that denied Liverpool a second double. The former England coach had been studying John Aldridge’s movements prior to the game and felt as if he “could do anything” on the day because he had “all that adrenaline and energy.

Only this month, Pep Guardiola called the Tottenham match a “Cup final” in the ultimately successful pursuit of a fourth consecutive Premier League title. The reason they circumnavigated that big hurdle was in no small part down to Stefan Ortega. The German has been a superb number two on City’s FA Cup trail for two seasons in a row now. While the two Manchester clubs meet again on 25 May, it’s worth remembering how Ortega’s distribution and assured play matched up against the sad farewell from United great David de Gea in last year’s showpiece.

De Gea was responsible for City’s winning goal, but there was a rather sad legacy to this appearance that transcended a “mere” error. Ortega's passing accuracy far outweighed that of his Spanish counterpart. This wasn’t a final of spectacular saves but of an old-fashioned player parting ways with the modern age. The Golden Glove winner was not the Onana that Erik ten Hag wanted. De Gea remains a superb ‘keeper and a free agent. It’s a cruel game.

Wembley can also throw up its brand of wow moments. The 1973 Sunderland-Leeds final was touted as a cakewalk for the holders as pundit Brian Clough said there was “no way” that the Second Division Black Cats could beat their illustrious opponents.

The save that gets replayed almost as much as Gordon Banks’ effort against Pele in the 1970 World Cup is so stupendous, that it still makes a compelling watch. Sunderland were leading 1-0 midway through the second half. Jim Montgomery made an excellent stop from a diving header to prevent the equaliser but was prone on the ground when Peter Lorimer only had to stab in the rebound from five yards….

Montgomery remembered: “My instincts, as a goalkeeper, were that I had to get up. It was the sort of thing you did in every training session of your life. The only space Peter could hit it was exactly where he did. You get up, see the ball coming, if only for a split-second, and just get your hand to it.”

There it is. A split second can make the difference. Goalkeepers have to live in every moment in “that small land between mistakes and saves” at Wembley.

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