140 years… it’s probably the longest any team has waited for a rematch. However, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, The Royal Engineers finally got the chance to challenge for the FA Cup in a replay of the very first FA Cup final, played in 1872.
The victors of that day, and their challengers on this cold November evening were the Wanderers… the inaugural winners of the world’s most famous domestic club competition.
Back in 1872, the Wanderers, who sported such magnificent names as Reginald Courtney Welch, Morton Betts and C.W. Alcock (who was one of football and cricket’s great innovators), took on nine lieutenants and two captains of the British Army’s Royal Engineers regiment.
With rules long since passed, (throw-ins were awarded to whoever fetched the ball first and teams swapped ends each time a goal was scored) The Wanderers’ attacking-style – they lined up with eight forwards compared to the meagre seven from the Engineers, proved to be difference as they ran out 1-0 victors. Newspapers of the day described the match, played at the Kennington Oval as “some of the best play, individually and collectively, that has ever been shown in an Association game.”
Skip on 140 years and the Kennington Oval (now renamed a much more corporate sponsorship-friendly Kia Oval) played host to the long, long awaited rematch. I was honoured to be invited along by one of the organisers to photograph this commemorative occasion.
The Oval was once famous for more than just cricket. In fact, other than being the venue for the original FA Cup final, it hosted the very first international football match in 1870. In total, the Oval was the setting for no less than twenty FA Cup finals.
Today, it is primarily used as Surrey County Cricket Club’s home venue and one of the nation’s premier test match arenas. However, for one night, a football pitch was marked out near the pavilion and once again, the South London venue was playing host to the world’s favourite game.
The occasion was full of FA Cup regale. The original and current cups were on display. A marching band entertained the gathering crowd. Abide With Me was gracefully sung and a plethora of media were on hand to document the evening. The teams took to the field, with former FA Cup winner Bobby Gould taking a one-time charge of the Wanderers.
Within the first ten minutes, the writing was on the wall. The Engineers easily looked the fitter, stronger, if not technically better team. And they made the Wanderers pay. There was a fear that the match would ironically end in a cricket score… not what anyone really wanted to see. By half time, the Army side were up 6-0, with the Wanderers barely registering a shot on goal. Certainly not “perfect” as one newspaper reported of the Wanderers performance in the original game.
The introduction of ‘Flash’ (ahh-ahhh as the crowd sung) for the second half bought some much needed life to the Wanderer’s attack and, much to the delight of the crowd, nodded in to reduce the deficit. The rest of the half played out much more evenly contested, with the Engineer’s producing only one more goal themselves (a deft little lob over the stranded Wanderer’s keeper).
Upon the final whistle, hands were shook, laughs were shared and all was played in the true original spirit of the game. Yes – the Wanderers had lost, but no-one seemed to mind. The original cup was presented (though comically, could only be handled with gloves) to Captain Jay Hubbard by David Gold. It was the Engineer’s night… the latest winners of the FA Cup and only 140 years of revenge in the making.