Manchester United have won the FA Cup on eleven occasions – a competition record shared with Arsenal – and have appeared in the final 18 times in total. The Reds are also the only club to appear in an FA Cup final in every decade since the war. The club’s maiden FA Cup voyage was in 1890 under the name of Newton Heath but didn’t progress beyond the third round until 1902, after the change of monicker to Manchester United. United won the competition for the first time in 1909 by beating Bristol City 1-0 at Crystal Palace but the Reds then had to wait until 1948 to reach another final – this time at Wembley, where Blackpool were defeated 4-2 by Matt Busby’s team. In the following decade, the Reds were runners-up in two consecutive finals, 1957 and 1958 – the latter coming just months after the squad was decimated by the Munich air disaster. The FA Cup final in 1963 provided United’s first silverware after Munich, with Denis Law among the scorers as Leicester City were conquered 3-1. The Reds really became FA Cup specialists in the late 1970s, reaching three finals in four years. Tommy Docherty’s side lost 1-0 to Southampton in 1976 but returned to Wembley in 1977 to triumph 2-1 and deny opponents Liverpool the chance to win the Treble. Dave Sexton was then in charge for a thrilling final against Arsenal in 1979 – after being 2-0 down, United came back to score two goals in then final five minutes only for the Gunners to snatch the Cup through Alan Sunderland with almost the last kick of the game. Sexton’s successor Ron Atkinson won the FA Cup twice, against Brighton after a replay in 1983 and at Everton’s expense in 1985, when United defender Kevin Moran became the first player to be sent off in a final and Norman Whiteside scored a glorious winning goal in extra-time.
Sir Alex Ferguson guided United to no less than five finals in the 1990s, with four ending in triumph (the exception being 1995 when Everton won 1-0). The Reds beat Crystal Palace 1-0 after a replay in 1990 to give the legendary manager his first trophy in English football; in 1994 and 1996 the club completed the League and FA Cup double after winning finals against Chelsea and Liverpool respectively; then in 1999 United completed the second part of an historic Treble with a 2-0 win over Newcastle. The Reds next reached the final in 2004. After beating arch-rivals Arsenal 1-0 in the semi-final at Villa Park, the task of seeing off First Division side Millwall at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was more straightforward. Goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy (2) won the match 3-0 for United. United were back at the Millennium Stadium just 12 months later, in May 2005, seeking a 12th FA Cup success.
This time, arch-rivals Arsenal were waiting there, as if to exact their revenge for the semi-final results of 1999 and 2004. United dominated the match and created the best chances but ultimately failed to kill off the more defensively-minded Gunners. Consequently the FA Cup final was decided by a penalty shootout for the first time in its history, regrettably in Arsenal’s favour. The FA Cup final went home to the new-look Wembley in 2007, with freshly-crowned Premiership champions United and previous incumbents Chelsea locking horns in what seemed set to be a fitting curtain raiser for the revamped stadium. In truth, the final was a massive anti-climax as the Reds’ fatigue at the end of a long season allied to an ultra-conservative approach from Jose Mourinho’s side made for a stifling affair, which was eventually settled late in extra-time by a strike from Didier Drogba. After an eight-year absence from the FA Cup final, the Reds are ravenous for a return to Wembley and more determined than ever to win the club’s elusive 12th FA Cup.