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Jan 28, 2011

The FA Cup's Greatest Controversies

ESPNsoccernet will be taking you through the season with a series of FA Cup features detailing the highlights of the competition's long and proud history. Here, we select the competition's most controversial moments. • Vote for your FA Cup all-time best XI
• FA Cup's Greatest Defenders
• FA Cup's Greatest Goalkeepers
• FA Cup memories
• Jon Champion: A heavyweight round
• FA Cup LIVE on ESPN

United withdraw from 1999-2000 tournament

Winning the FA Cup was once the pinnacle for English clubs, as those images of the lifting of the trophy at a sun-drenched Wembley always signify. But somewhere along the line, a sheen was lost, that level of importance shed. And many place the competition's identity crisis as being generated from the time when its holders did not defend their hard-won trophy and instead headed for a sunshine break in Rio de Janeiro. Of the three trophies Manchester United won in 1999, their Treble year, the FA Cup was the lesser bauble but a vital part nonetheless, with their semi-final replay win against Arsenal a true classic. Fast forward to the autumn of that year and United were portrayed as the betrayers of over a century of tradition, though the issue had more complications than that. As Champions League winners, United had been invited to the inaugural FIFA Club World Championship, a new wheeze to supplant the old Intercontinental Cup between the champions of South America and Europe, and add the winners of each confederation's pan-continental competition. Problem being, it was to take place in January, the time of the FA Cup's opening rounds. Manchester United raised an objection to the FA on the grounds of fixture congestion and were offered, amazingly, the olive branch of not being forced to defend their trophy. The reason behind this amazing offer was - and this may sound familiar - that England wanted to host the World Cup, a campaign that was to prove as ill-fated as the 2018 disaster. To have an English team offered the chance to attend a FIFA bonanza and turn it down would have been fatal to the campaign. Should United withdraw then Bayern Munich would be invited in their stead, to add further credence to Germany's hopes of being 2006 host... The announcement was made in August to universal derision, and an angry footballing public launched brickbat after barb at United and the FA, to the point where right up until the third-round draw was made on November 8, it seemed the decision might well be revoked. Another oddity about that season's competition was that the third round was played in December, a move that was not repeated after a series of low attendances and low publicity. A growing campaign mounted to reinstate United, and should they get past the fourth round, then allow the club to field a youth and reserve line-up. Such an idea was said to be supported by Sir Bobby Charlton, with Sir Alex Ferguson also seriously considering it, but eventually the die was cast and there was the bizarre sight of a "lucky loser" from the second round going into the third round to balance up the draw. Darlington were the recipients of that one-off prize, only to be defeated by eventual finalists Aston Villa. United meanwhile, headed to Brazil to disappoint in a shoddily-organised tournament that was not repeated in that form again. They would better remember the sunshine break afforded them in Rio, and would cruise to the Premier League title doing handsprings. The FA Cup limped on without them, and was rewarded with a dog of a final with Chelsea winning the old trophy in the last final at Wembley's old Empire Stadium. Needless to say, United's envoy mission to Brazil did not result in England's hosting of the 2006 finals, as Germany staged a very successful tournament indeed.

"The Wembley Hoodoo" - 1950s-1960

Football in the 1950s was a rather different game; this was the time before substitutes. The FA Cup final, by then an event to bring the nation huddled round radios or stone-aged TV sets, played host to a series of horrific injuries. Bolton Wanderers' Eric Bell in 1953 limped onto the wing with a ripped hamstring while Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood in 1957 was forced to be a passenger on the wing after breaking a cheekbone. Nottingham Forest overturned the curse by defeating Luton Town while winger Roy Dwight, cousin of Reg (Elton John) was hospitalised with a broken leg. However, it returned the following year when Blackburn's Dave Whelan, now owner of Wigan Athletic and laird of the DW Stadium, suffered a career-ending injury.

Mudbath at Wembley 1970

Wembley's pitch may have improved in recent months after it became backpage news for its restaging of the aforementioned injury "hoodoo" but its unsteady surface could not match the gloopy quagmire that greeted finalists Leeds United and Chelsea in 1970. Poor weather hardly helped but neither did the fact that the surface had been torn up by a troop of horses at the equestrian "Horse of the Year Show". Closely resembling the terrain that greeted those at the Battle of the Somme, it added fuel to a bad-tempered final between two clubs with ill-feeling between them. It ended a 2-2 draw, and the replay was moved to Old Trafford. In the late '90s, referee David Elleray "replayed" the match years later, and concluded that the sides should have received six red cards and 20 yellow cards between them.

Bad blood at Broadhall Way 1998

Newcastle United's recent humiliation by Stevenage - now without the Borough - brought back memories of an almighty row between the two clubs. In 1998, the Magpies were aristocratic members of the elite, featuring Alan Shearer in their ranks and Kenny Dalglish as their manager. When they were drawn against Conference club Stevenage, Newcastle were clearly not relishing a trip to a Hertfordshire ground with a temporary stand and tried to get the tie switched back to St James' Park. Stevenage held firm and were accused by Newcastle of courting too much publicity. The game went ahead, finishing 1-1 with Giuliano Grazioli cancelling out a Shearer strike. Newcastle were painted as the bad guys, which they clearly didn't like, with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman asking Dalglish if he was a "big girl's blouse". Though the nation was on their side, Stevenage lost the replay, though Shearer's goal is long said to have not crossed the line. Revenge would be served live on ESPN in January 2011.

Wenger sees the incident 1999

First Division - as was - Sheffield United's trip to Arsenal ended in much acrimony when the Gunners' winning goal, converted by Marc Overmars, was scored after a moment of controversy involving the recently-arrived Kanu. United had deliberately conceded a throw-in as midfielder Lee Morris was lying prostrate on the Highbury surface, but instead of returning the ball to the opposition, Kanu carried on playing, Overmars tapped in and referee Steve Dunn, hemmed in by the rules rather than the spirit of the game, allowed the goal to stand.That meant a 2-1 home win, but, with Blades boss Steve Bruce leading the protests, Arsene Wenger and vice-chairman David Dein offered to replay the game, a decision that took much wrangling for both the FA and FIFA to ratify. Bruce pushed his luck by asking for the game to be played at Bramall Lane, but Highbury staged the replay, and the same result was delivered, this time without controversy.

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