Africans make their mark in FA Cup fi­nals

The list of African play­ers who col­lected FA Cup final medals reads like a who’s who of foot­ballers

CityPress - - Sport -

hen Crys­tal Palace beat Wat­ford 2-1 in the semi­fi­nal of the FA Cup late last month, four African play­ers were in ac­tion for the Ea­gles. If they got a chance to pa­rade their skills in yes­ter­day’s final against Manch­ester United at Wem­b­ley, their ap­pear­ance was a con­tin­u­a­tion of a long tra­di­tion for the con­ti­nent in the final of the world’s old­est com­pe­ti­tion.

The first African play­ers to fea­ture in the FA Cup final were South Africans such as Bill Perry, who starred in the so-called Matthews final of 1953, when a 38-year-old Sir Stan­ley Matthews won his only win­ners medal.

It was the Johannesburg-born Perry who scored the win­ning goal for Black­pool in their 4-3 vic­tory against Bolton Wan­der­ers. In 1966, Al­bert “Hurry Hurry” Jo­han­neson be­came the first black player to ap­pear in an FA Cup final, and although the South African was on the los­ing side as Leeds lost 2-1 to Liver­pool, Jo­han­neson blazed the way for many ex­cit­ing foot­ballers.

Since then, the num­ber of African play­ers who have col­lected FA Cup final medals reads like a who’s who of African foot­ballers in Eng­land, with the Touré broth­ers (Yaya and Kolo), Fifa Bal­lon d’Or win­ner Ge­orge Weah, Ivo­rian Di­dier Drogba, Nige­ri­ans Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu and John Obi Mikel, as well as Ghana­ian Michael Essien, fa­mous for mak­ing the proud walk to the Royal Box.

Tragedy and tri­umph

Although African goal­keep­ers in Eng­land have been few and far between, Zim­bab­wean in­ter­na­tional Bruce Grobbe­laar was a highly suc­cess­ful ex­cep­tion, mak­ing an un­likely leap to Liver­pool.

He ul­ti­mately had a tremen­dous ca­reer that spanned more than 600 games, six league ti­tles, three FA Cup win­ners’ medals and a win­ners medal from the Uefa Euro­pean Cup.

“I still re­mem­ber watch­ing the 1973 FA Cup final,” Grobbe­laar said. “I was only 15 at the time. Jim Montgomery pulled off a world-class dou­ble save to pre­vent Leeds from scor­ing and Sun­der­land went on to cre­ate one of the huge FA Cup up­sets by win­ning 1-0.”

In the 1986 final against Ever­ton, Grobbe­laar him­self pulled off a save that is still re­mem­bered and talked about.

“That is prob­a­bly my most mem­o­rable FA Cup final mo­ment. Graeme Sharp headed the ball to­wards goal, and I had to run across half of my box be­fore tip­ping it over. Sharp thought it was in. And from there, we went on to win 3-1.”

But Grobbe­laar’s FA Cup mem­o­ries will al­ways be ac­com­pa­nied by sad­ness, as he played in the 1989 semi­fi­nal match that led to the Hills­bor­ough Sta­dium dis­as­ter in which 96 Liver­pool fans lost their lives.

“It was tough to go on af­ter that, but what made the dif­fer­ence was that Kenny Dal­glish, who was our man­ager at the time, made us go and visit the fam­i­lies of the be­reaved. We coun­selled them and, in turn, we coun­selled our­selves.

“Af­ter beat­ing Not­ting­ham For­rest, we qual­i­fied for the final and it was fit­ting that it was again against lo­cal ri­vals Ever­ton, as the whole city was griev­ing. We won 3-2.”

Mr FA Cup

Few play­ers have dom­i­nated the FA Cup final as much Drogba, who not only has four win­ning medals in his tro­phy cab­i­net but also has the dis­tinc­tion of scor­ing in all four of those fi­nals – twice the only goal of the game.

In the 2010 final, when Drogba’s 59th-minute goal against Portsmouth gave Chelsea a 1-0 vic­tory, the striker was one of nine Africans to tread the hal­lowed Wem­b­ley turf.

One of them was Nwankwo Kanu, who has his own part in FA Cup final folk­lore.

Two years ear­lier, the Nige­rian striker be­came an in­stant Portsmouth hero as he helped the club to only their sec­ond FA Cup vic­tory, which came 69 years af­ter their first. Kanu scored the win­ning goal against Cardiff and picked up his third FA Cup medal, hav­ing ear­lier twice won with Ar­se­nal.

“The FA Cup has al­ways been a big thing for me. I grew up watch­ing it on TV and ev­ery team wants to win the FA Cup. To make the final is some­thing spe­cial,” said Kanu.

The for­mer Nige­rian in­ter­na­tional said win­ning the cup with Ar­se­nal and Portsmouth were very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. “With Ar­se­nal, we just had to win a cup that sea­son. We were so strong. But with Pompey, it was dif­fer­ent. When we started, we cer­tainly did not see our­selves in the final and win­ning it. But once we won the quar­ter­fi­nals and then the semi­fi­nals, I knew that we would def­i­nitely have to win it. And then we did, and it was a spe­cial one for Portsmouth and the play­ers. Be­cause it is an old tra­di­tion, peo­ple in Eng­land re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the FA Cup.”

For Crys­tal Palace mid­field­ers Yan­nick Bo­lasie (Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo), Bakary Sako (Mali), de­fender Pape Souare (Sene­gal), as well as in­ter­na­tional striker Em­manuel Ade­bayor (Togo), yes­ter­day’s final against the Red Dev­ils (if they played) pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to write yet another chap­ter in the glo­ri­ous FA Cup final his­tory of African foot­ballers.

– Fifa.com

PHOTO: SHAUN BOTTERILL / GETTY IM­AGES PHOTO: LEFTY SHIVAMBU / GALLO IM­AGES PHOTO: GALLO IM­AGES

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