- Rewind to 1988
Beasant and the 'Crazy Gang' stun Liverpool
This season's FA Cup final pitches David against Goliath in the form of Premier League champions Chelsea and relegated Portsmouth. The same tag applied to Liverpool's encounter with Wimbledon 22 years ago. What ensued is enshrined in FA Cup folklore.
Every great story needs a hero. On May 14 1988, Wimbledon's was 6' 4" tall captain Dave Beasant. That year he would be responsible for two FA Cup final 'firsts', as the first goalkeeper to receive the Cup as skipper and the first to save a penalty kick in a final.
The curly-haired goalkeeper joined Wimbledon two years after their promotion to the Football League and was a regular fixture as the club climbed up the leagues before achieving promotion from the old Second Division in 1986. Two seventh-place finishes followed as the south-west Londoners established their place in the top flight and a place in the '88 Cup final was a very sweet cherry on top for a club who had been a member of the Football League for 11 years.
The unfashionable and unfancied Dons had beaten West Brom, Mansfield Town, Newcastle United, Watford and Luton on their way to reaching that year's final. Any chance of them winning their biggest trophy to date against a rampant Liverpool side seemed impossible though, as the Reds came into the final chasing their second league and cup double in three years. Having sealed the league title by a comfortable nine-point margin (in an era when a win received two points), manager Kenny Dalglish was able to focus the attention of his players on the final well ahead of the game.
Bobby Gould and his side looked confident as they strode onto the Wembley turf but any sense of calm soon disappeared. The Wimbledon goal led a charmed life from the start as Liverpool contrived to miss a number of good openings and, in the 35th minute, Peter Beardsley stumbled through Andy Thorn's heavy tackle on the edge of the box and coolly slipped the ball over the advancing Beasant. Referee Brian Hill, not realising the potential for the diminutive forward to carry on playing, blew for a foul. Beardsley and Liverpool were clearly aggrieved.
Two minutes later the underdogs were ahead. Full back Terry Phelan, a future Republic of Ireland international, made an energetic foray into the Liverpool half only to see his progress unfairly halted by Steve Nicol by the corner flag. Dennis Wise, 21-years-old at the time, clipped the resultant free-kick towards Lawrie Sanchez, who out-jumped Gary Gillespie to score with a simple glancing header into the far corner.
Half-time came and passed with Liverpool in control and in the 61st minute Wimbledon's luck seemed to have run out. A clumsy challenge inside the area by Dons defender Clive Goodyear on John Aldridge gave Hill another decision to make. Perhaps influenced by his earlier mistake, he pointed to the spot. Aldridge assumed the responsibility of pulling his side level.
Signed from Oxford United for £750,000 in January 1987, Aldridge was an instant hit at Anfield, so much so that Dalglish allowed the prolific Ian Rush to depart for Juventus that summer. He scored 26 league goals in the 1987/88 season, which included a goal in each of the first nine games of the season, making him the First Division's top scorer. His partnership with new signings Beardsley and John Barnes - both recruited in the summer of 1987 - proved a major factor in Liverpool re-claiming the league title from Everton.
Aldridge had taken 11 successful spot kicks for Liverpool but his 12th attempt found the outstretched hands of Beasant, who had denied him only moments before with a one-handed save at point-blank range. Aldridge departed almost immediately.
He would redeem himself 12 months later with a fourth-minute strike in Liverpool's 3-2 win over local rivals Everton in the '89 final, but the disappointment of his missed penalty was clear as he watched on from the sidelines as Wimbledon's athletic midfield suffocated Liverpool's attacking ambitions.
Avram Grant will be hoping for a similar miracle this time around from his Portsmouth side against a similarly dominant Chelsea team, and in David James he might just have a goalkeeper capable of recreating Beasant's heroics.