For Leicester City, this is the one they’ve always dreamed of lifting. Forget the Premier League miracle, it’s the FA Cup that fans have longed for more than any other. The one who has always escaped them.
Four FA Cup finals, four losses. No one has achieved so many without winning it. On Saturday, Brendan Rodgers’ side will have the chance to get lucky for the fifth time when they take on Chelsea at Wembley.
It has been 52 years since they last came there. It’s a tale of underdog stories, mystery squads, horror injuries, controversies, Norman Wisdom, and a Gordon Banks performance that rivaled his exploits against Pele at the 1970 World Cup.
Sportsmail spoke to stakeholders to find out why the FA Cup means so much to Leicester.
Leicester City defeated Southampton at Wembley in April to reach their fifth FA Cup final
Leicester City 1-3 Wolverhampton Wanderers – 1949
Throughout their history, Leicester has enjoyed their place as the underdog. Their first FA Cup final was no different. They fought against relegation to the third level. Wolves, led by Billy Wright, rode high in the First Division.
Leicester had produced a massive kill to get to the final when Don Revie scored twice in a 3-1 win over Portsmouth, who would win the league that season.
They took a massive blow when a nosebleed forced Revie out of the final, while goalkeeper Ian McGraw missed the game with a broken finger.
Jesse Pye scored twice for Wolves in the first half before Mal Griffiths withdrew one. Then a crucial decision. Ken Chisholm thought he was leveled only to be offside. It was tight and Leicester was furious. Sammy Smyth then scored a third and it was all over.
Leicester survived the fall with a 1-1 draw on the final day of the season, sending down rivals Nottingham Forest instead.
Jesse Pye (center) jumps to give Wolves a 2-0 lead against Leicester in the 1949 final
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Leicester City – 1961
Imagine the outrage when Leicester supporters arrive to find out that Rodgers has let Jamie Vardy out of the squad.
Fans met a similar fate when their side faced Tottenham. Ken Leek was the top scorer, but was dropped by manager Matt Gillies before the final. Gillies claimed the decision was form-based. Leeks had scored in every round.
“That was a bomb,” said winger Howard Riley, who played in the 1961 and 1963 finals Sportsmail. ‘We never found out why. We assumed he had a fight with Matt.
‘We found out on a Friday morning when we arrived for a photo on the floor and Ken wasn’t on it. We were shocked. It made a huge difference. I remember crossing one early and it flipped everyone over and I was like “oh, if only Ken had been there”. ‘
Leicester goalkeeper Gordon Banks cannot contain a header during the defeat against Tottenham
Leicester had Gordon Banks in target. Frank McLintock was still a part-time decorator and painted a basement the day before the finale.
Mystery became controversial when Leicester defender Len Chalmers was crippled within 20 minutes by a horror tackle from Les Allen. It would have been a red card these days. No substitutions meant Chalmers stumbled through the game as best he could. “It totally changed the pattern of the game,” says Riley.
Despite this, it was Leicester who was the better side early on against the champions. Even when Bobby Smith gave Spurs the lead after the hour, a reporter asked manager Bill Nicholson for his thoughts on the pitch-side and the Tottenham boss admitted that he thought it was against the normal course of events. Terry Dyson headed in the second 10 minutes later and that was that.
Another final, another defeat but a sense of pride. “There was no real depression in the locker room,” says Riley. ‘We realized that we had a good show with 10 men against such a team.’
With Len Chalmers’ injury in the final, Leicester played effectively with 10 men in a pre-substitution era. In the photo, he is helped into the team bus by his wife Joy after the game
Leicester City 1-3 Manchester United – 1963
Leicester was back, but this time they were favorites. They were known as the Ice Kings, undefeated from Boxing Day to mid-April, having managed to keep playing during the 1963 Big Freeze.
They were at the top of the First Division with five games to go. United, despite the legendary talents of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, fought relegation.
Leicester had drawn a draw at Old Trafford the month before and had beaten them 4-3 at Filbert Street the next day. “We were pretty sure going into the final that this was our year,” said defender Richie Norman, who played in both the 1961 and 1963 finals.
Their win over Liverpool in the semi-final was memorable for Gordon Banks’ exploits. “Everyone remembers Banks for saving against Pele, but the best I saw was in that semi-final,” said Riley. The rescues he made that day were incredible, one after another. We won it 1-0, but they could have had six. ‘
Manchester United goalkeeper David Gaskell does everything he can to get the ball from Leicester’s Graham Cross as the Foxes ruin their rare chance to win the final as favorites
“The attacks came from all angles, I can see it all now: St John, Hunt, Thompson, Callaghan. I was behind St. John when Gordon somehow tapped his head around the post. He just held his head in his hands. ‘
But when the final came, Leicester failed to shoot. Law and David Herd put United two before Ken Keyworth pulled one back, so Banks spilled a high ball and Herd made sure it was United’s trophy.
While the atmosphere had been one of pride two years earlier, this time it was gloomy. “It was awful,” says Norman. ‘We have abandoned the club and ourselves. We went to dinner at the Dorchester and everyone was in the dumps.
Norman Wisdom was on and even he couldn’t cheer us up. I can tell the guys playing this time that there’s nothing worse than being beaten at Wembley in the final – and I’ve had it twice! ‘
Leicester lost their last five games of the season to miss the title.
Manchester City 1-0 Leicester City – 1969
Six years later, Leicester had another man at the helm. Gillies, the club’s longest-serving manager, resigned mid-season with the club at the bottom of the table. Frank O’Farrell was appointed in his place.
There was also a new man in the target. Banks was sold a year after winning the World Cup to make way for a confident 17-year-old named Peter Shilton.
“Shilton came to train part-time and you could see he was going to be a good boy,” Scottish midfielder Bobby Roberts, who played in the 1969 final, told Sportsmail. ‘He was very confident and worked hard. It was a bit of a surprise when they sold Gordon. ‘
Shilton was still a teenager when Leicester lined up for the final against reigning champions City, who delayed their emergence from the locker room in an attempt to tickle Leicester’s nerves.
Leicester had knocked out West Brom in the semi-final, thanks to a late goal from Allan Clarke, who broke the British transfer record by signing for £ 150,000. Clarke would also be named man of the match in the final.
Neil Young (right) jumps for Manchester City to score the only goal in the 1969 FA Cup final
They had done for Liverpool too. Their fifth-round draw was delayed seven times before finally playing a 0-0 draw on a Filbert Street pitch that was more sand than grass. “Bill Shankly said they would, they would kill us in rerun,” Roberts recalls. That was normal with Bill. We went there and won 1-0. ‘
Shilton saved a penalty for the Kop. Leicester had studied Tommy Smith’s habit of firing to the right, so O’Farrell gave Shilton special training that morning to practice diving that way.
There were no exploits in the final. Neil Young’s 24-minute strike was enough to seal it.
“I remember it so clearly,” says Roberts. When I was young I watched the cup final on television and was amazed at the opportunity. It was a magical experience. But losing was a big disappointment for yourself, the club and the fans. ‘
Things were to get worse for Leicester, who was demoted three weeks later. Fifty-two years later and Leicester hope this will finally be their year.