History

How does it feel to score in an FA Cup final?

Once upon a time, scoring in an FA Cup final was the ultimate dream for any footballer in England – but only a few have ever achieved it for the Blues. We’ve asked some of those players just how good it feels when the ball hits the back of the net on the big stage…

In our 116-year history, we’ve lifted the FA Cup eight times, a total bettered by only Arsenal and Manchester United and the list of players to have scored in the final of the competition for the club is only slightly larger than that.

Including in losing causes, 13 have netted for Chelsea in an FA Cup final – the first was Bobby Tambling and the most recent was Christian Pulisic. Both of their goals were in vain, as we finished as runners-up.

If we stick to just those who have scored in FA Cup final victories, the list shrinks to just eight. Remember, that’s across 116 years of history. It’s a pretty exclusive club and, naturally, that makes it all the more special.

Roberto Di Matteo is part of it, as any Blues fan should know, and he can be considered one of Chelsea’s Cup Final Kings. After all, he ended up with three Wembley Cup Final goals to his name, but none stand out more than his unbelievable strike after just 43 seconds of our clash with Middlesbrough.

The Italian midfield maestro was allowed to run unchallenged from his own half into Boro territory and when he was 30 yards out, with the defenders still backing off, there was only one thing to do – pull the trigger! The ball exploded off his foot and over Ben Roberts, leading to a pumped up Di Matteo racing along the touchline in celebration, leaving his team-mates in his wake.

At the time, it was the fastest goal scored in an FA Cup Final at Wembley – a record surpassed by Louis Saha’s strike against us in 2009 – but Di Matteo took it all in his stride.

‘I thought to myself, “Maybe I will shoot,” and so I did,’ was his rather blasé post-match response. ‘Maybe the Middlesbrough players didn’t think I would. But I was very lucky because when I hit the ball it went first up and then down behind the goalkeeper.’

Later on it seemed to have hit home how important the strike was, when he discussed the moment for a book called Blue Day, which featured sit-down interviews with each member of our 1997 FA Cup-winning side.

‘It has been my best-ever moment and it will always remain in my mind. I think it’s destiny. I couldn’t even think about something like that.

‘To score so early was unexpected, I must say! Very unexpected. I was well happy to put us ahead, I felt over the moon. I shortly lost total connection with what the moment was, I just started running. I didn't even know where to run. Everyone was chasing me. It was just a fantastic feeling, I had goose pimples. The rest, as they say, is history. It was obviously an important game for us as a club after 26 years without a trophy.’

That he did it again in 2000, this time with a close-range effort against Aston Villa, cemented his legacy at the club. But he won’t take all of the credit.

‘Wembley was a good pitch for me and 1997 was fantastic, a wonderful experience. Certainly one of the best times I had in my career. But if I can say that it is because football is a team sport. It takes the effort of everybody involved, even those who maybe played less and those who didn't play.’

Our other scorer in 1997 was Eddie Newton, who three years earlier had conceded a penalty as Manchester United recorded a 4-0 victory over the Blues.

Spurred on by that heartache, the Chelsea boy through and through exorcised those demons with the clincher against Middlesbrough. Producing a lung-busting run from deep, Newton was perfectly placed to steer an outrageous flick from Gianfranco Zola past Ben Roberts.

‘I was blowing out of my backside just chasing after Robbie to celebrate his goal, so you can imagine how tired I was after 80-odd minutes,’ he said, also in an interview for Blue Day.

‘I was tired, but not gone. When Dan Petrescu overhit his cross, I saw Zola and I just knew he was going to do something so I carried on my run. He was our Messi, he could score and create goals out of nothing and that's what made him different from anyone else.

‘He just popped it back into the area, perfect for me. Some people had stopped and I knew he was going to do something. It was perfect, straight onto my left foot. Glenn Hoddle always used to say I had to stay behind the ball, and I was constantly behind the ball in that move!

‘I just wanted to win the cup, really, but to get a goal was just the icing on the cake. It’s a moment I’ll cherish forever.’

Prior to the Di Matteo and Newton double-act, the last player to win the FA Cup for Chelsea was Dave Webb, who settled the 1970 replay against Leeds United in extra time.

The game was watched by a record television audience for a club game in this country – which still stands today – and came towards the end of 240 minutes of brutal football between two sides who knew how to look after themselves.

The Blues’ FA Cup history to that point had long been a running joke, as we’d never previously lifted the trophy, so how did Webb feel to be the one to write the first winning chapter in our cup story?

‘It was all happening in slow motion from then until about three days afterwards,’ he joked in a Chelsea magazine interview last year, referencing the moment when Ian Hutchinson’s long throw somehow found its way all the way to him at the back stick to nod home.

‘Ossie went up with Jack Charlton at the near post and it hit Charlton on the top of the head, which
made it loop up, and I was going to the back post, expecting it to come at a bit of pace. In the end, I had to hang up there as long as I could, and I just had to let it hit me because I couldn’t get a proper header on it.

‘As it was, it hit me on the cheek and I ended up in the back of the net with a couple of other people, and when I looked down the ball was there with me.’

Even though it was long before the very concept of VAR had even entered our consciousness, Webb’s first instinct was still similar to what many players experience today.

‘The next thing you do is look at the linesman and the referee, because that’s what Leeds did – if the ball went in, they squealed like anything and bullied the referees to change their minds. So I looked, and the referee and linesman were both going back towards the centre circle, while all their players’ heads had dropped.

‘I thought, “We’ve done this!” It was definitely the highlight of my career. It was a one-off thing and it was like I’d come good after having such a hard time at Wembley. For me to do it was phenomenal.’

Of course, the most famous Chelsea FA Cup final goalscorer of the lot is Didier Drogba, who enjoyed doing it so much he did it four times, in four different finals no less. The latter statistic is a competition record and the former puts him just one behind Ian Rush.

As an Ivorian who grew up in France, you may wonder if Drogba fully grasped the importance of FA Cup final day to the English football public, but it seems the history was etched in his mind when he was busy putting Manchester United, Everton, Portsmouth and Liverpool to the sword.

‘We all watched the FA Cup final as though it was the last game of the season,’ he told this very website in an interview in 2015, midway through his second spell with the club. 'I used to see players that I was and still am a big fan of playing and scoring in these finals, people like Cantona and Anelka.

‘It’s a great competition for English football, one where you can find a team from a lower division or a team that is struggling in the league in the semi-final or the final. The atmosphere for the games, with all the fans travelling to support their teams, is special.

‘When I think of the FA Cup I have these images of Di Matteo, Cantona, Anelka scoring in the final at the old Wembley. I always dreamed of playing at the old Wembley but I didn’t have the chance because they built the new one. I was lucky then to create some kind of history at the new stadium.’

Will there be another name to add to the list this weekend at Wembley Stadium? Tune in to find out…

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