Why Man City-Man United FA Cup final has already made history

There are already plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2024 FA Cup final between Manchester City and Manchester United as the local rivals prepare to renew hostilities for the 193rd time at Wembley this weekend.

When Premier League champions City play United on Saturday (live at 10 a.m ET, on ESPN+), it will be the first time in history that the same two English clubs have met in consecutive FA Cup finals and the first time since the late 1800s, when Blackburn Rovers and Scottish side Queen’s Park came face to face, back-to-back, that it’s happened at all.

Last season’s final saw Manchester City beat United 2-1 thanks to a virtuoso display from Ilkay Gündogan, who scored both of City’s goals at Wembley. Now the two Manchester rivals are set to reconvene at Wembley for the second successive year, with United out seeking revenge and to prevent City sealing an unprecedented double double (winning both the league title and FA Cup in consecutive seasons).

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The two clubs will join Blackburn Rovers and Queen’s Park as the only sides in FA Cup history to have both competed in consecutive finals, after the former pair faced each other in the 1884 final and then again in 1885.

Blackburn emerged victorious on both occasions, first winning 2-1 in front of 4,000 fans at London’s Kennington Oval cricket ground on March 29, 1884. Despite losing out in the showpiece, Queen’s Park became the first Scottish team to reach the final of English football’s primary cup competition, having also knocked out the previous holders (Blackburn Olympic) en route.

Rovers then repeated the feat the following year, this time via a 2-0 victory at the Oval in what was the 14th FA Cup final ever to have been played.

Hold on … A Scottish club was playing in English FA Cup?

Not to be confused with the English side Queens Park Rangers, Queen’s Park were founded in 1867 and are still active, making them the oldest professional club in Scotland. They play in the Scottish Championship (the second tier of the national pyramid) and will do so again next season having narrowly avoided relegation by a single point in the 2023-24 season.

Glasgow-based Queen’s Park were highly successful in the late 19th century and won the Scottish Cup 10 times between 1874 and 1893. They had already been crowned Scottish Cup winners in the 1883-84 season before they reached the final of the FA Cup south of the border, meaning that a fairly peculiar double was on the cards when they faced the Blackburn Rovers on March 29.

Having previously declined the offer on several prior occasions, Queen’s Park had accepted an invite from the (English) Football Association to take part in the 1883-84 FA Cup, making them the only Scottish entrants among the 100 clubs participating.

Pioneers of the passing game

Well over 100 years before Pep Guardiola, tiki-taka and juego de posicion, Queen’s Park were pioneering the modern passing game. Indeed, the Scottish club are generally credited with ushering in a tactical revolution that simply did not exist before the 1870s.

Known as “combination football” at the time, Queen’s Park adopted a scientific approach to passing that focused on the importance of staying in possession of the ball and using short, sharp, systematic passes between teammates to advance up the pitch — rather than simply dribbling upfield or kicking the ball long and running after it in support.

The combination style became prevalent in Scottish football and was much revered by English clubs south of the border, who began “importing” Scottish players (colloquially referred to as “professors”) to help them adapt their tactics and overhaul their footballing culture.

Queen’s Park’s cup run was exceptionally high-scoring

After accepting their invite from the FA, Queen’s Park made light work of the competition, particularly in the early rounds when the Scottish side reached double figures in back-to-back games.

Crewe Alexandra were easily dispatched in the first round, with Queen’s Park galloping to a comprehensive 10-0 win. They bettered that scoreline in the second round, when the confusingly named Manchester Rugby Club were beaten 15-0. Queen’s Park then thrashed Oswestry Town (7-1) and Aston Villa (6-1) to reach the fifth round, where they pipped Old Westminsters thanks to a single goal from Davie Allan in the 60th minute of a tie that was also played at the Oval.

Between their commitments in the fifth round and semifinal of the FA Cup, Queen’s Park were crowned Scottish Cup winners without kicking a ball when opponents Vale of Leven withdrew due to several of their key players being unavailable.

Queen’s Park eliminated the holders — a different club from Blackburn

Queen’s Park then travelled back south (via another long and gruelling train journey) to Trent Bridge in Nottingham to face Blackburn Olympic in the semifinals of the FA Cup. They won 4-0, successfully knocking out the reigning holders of the FA Cup to reach the 1884 final.

Olympic were one of a dozen active clubs in Blackburn and while they only lasted for roughly 10 years before being forced to fold, their influence on the nascent game of association football was and is significant. Their historic FA Cup victory over Old Etonians in the 1883 final marked the first time that a club from the north of England had ever won the competition.

It was also the first time that a team comprised of working-class players had won English football’s most prominent and prestigious competition, which had previously been dominated by wealthy teams from London and the Home Counties.

Why was the FA Cup final played at a cricket ground?

The FA Cup final was staged at the Kennington Oval (know more commonly known as “The Oval”) every season from the inaugural competition in 1872 all the way through to 1892 (with the only exception being the 1873 final, which was held at Lillie Bridge stadium in west London).

The Oval was selected as the venue for the FA Cup final by C. W. Alcock, who was the secretary for the Football Association at the time and also just so happened to be the secretary of Surrey County Cricket Club, who are still based at the same ground to this day.

The FA Cup final was then held at various sport stadiums around the country including Manchester United’s Old Trafford, Everton‘s Goodison Park and Chelsea‘s Stamford Bridge until 1923, when Wembley Stadium was opened. The final has been held at Wembley ever since, barring the six-year period between 2000-2006 when the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales was used as an alternate venue while the new Wembley was under construction on the same site.