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
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.
MR FA CUP Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast won four FA Cup trophies with Chelsea LEADER SuperSport United coach Stuart Baxter ANIMATED Orlando Pirates coach Eric Tinkler has an eye on the Nedbank Cup trophy
LETHAL Tendai Ndoro will be out to spoil the SuperSport party on Saturday POACHER Jeremy Brockie poses a threat to Pirates defenders