FA Cup Throwback: The Invincibles

Written by Andy Wood

A few months back I published a comparative article on the unbeaten league seasons achieved by Preston North End (1888/89) and Arsenal (2003/04). One feature which I (deliberately) didn’t focus on too much at the time was the fact that Preston’s side also did an unbeaten double during that campaign, winning the FA Cup alongside being the inaugural league champions. What was (and still is) unique about their run that year was that they conceded not a single goal along the way to lifting the most prestigious domestic cup competition in the world. Here is just a quick retrospective on their unmatched success that season.

Round One- Bootle 0-3 Preston North End

The run started in February of 1889 when Preston travelled to second division Bootle for a first round tie. The structure of the competition went like this due to the lower number of teams involved in comparison to today, and had less overlap with the football league season that ended in February 1889.  Bootle themselves have a small place in the history of English football – they’re one of only two clubs to have resigned from the football league after just one season, ultimately reforming in the lower divisions. They were replaced by another new club formed in the area – Liverpool FC.

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Preston, by the time this fixture had come around, had already asserted their dominance over the top flight, whilst Bootle had made their way to a decent but unremarkable second division campaign. Of the 1000 attendance, few if any would have put money on a Bootle result, and the game played out as expected. Forward trio John Goodall, Jack Gordon and Sam Thompson grabbed the goals in a routine 3-0 result for the away side and progression to the second round proper.

Round 2 – Grimsby Town 0-2 Preston North End

In the second round Preston were once again drawn against a side outside the top division, two weeks after the first round win. In front of 8000 fans at Grimsby’s home stadium the result wasn’t as convincing as it might have been, although with a 2-0 win it was fairly comfortable for the visitors. Top-scoring duo John Goodall and Jimmy Ross got on the scoresheet again to secure safe passage to round 3.

Round 3- Preston North End 2-0 Birmingham St George’s

It was very much a case of Deja Vu with Preston taking on Football Alliance, in front of 8000 spectators and securing a 2-0 win. Birmingham St George’s had applied for first division membership during the season but had been rejected, and they were to be a short lived outfit due to the rise of Aston Villa. In this match they were unable to prove themselves against, albeit exceptional, higher division counterparts. Robert Holmes and Sam Thompson grabbed the goals for another secure victory.

Semi-Final- Preston North End 1-0 West Bromwich Albion

The semi-final, played at a neutral venue in Bramall Lane, with Preston taking on a useful West Brom outfit who’d finished 6th in the league that season, in a repeat of the previous season’s final, which Albion had won 2-1. All the signs pointed to Preston carrying on their fine run this time around- during the regular league season they’d clocked up 3-0 and 5-0 wins over their opponents. Their defensive record seemed unlikely to be troubled- even though West Brom were a decent side, they’d been relatively struggling in front of goal. Their 40 goals over the 22 game Football League season was amongst the lowest in the debut campaign, with only Everton and Stoke scoring a lower outright total.

Having smashed 8 goals in two matches past them in the regular campaign, Preston might have wanted a larger scoreline, but as per the old adage, it’s the win that counts. This one has the hallmark of a tight and scrappy win- a big match settled by a one goal scoreline and a defender grabbing the only goal. But with that, it was one more game to play before history could be made.

credit DSanchez17

The Final- Preston North End 3-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers

And so we reach a date that, with the benefit of hindsight, is one of great history. Preston faced off against Wolves at the Kennington Oval (traditionally a cricket ground but in the early days versatile enough to host the first ever FA Cup final and a number of others before the 20th Century), allowing for 27000 people to witness ‘The Invincibles’ write their names into the footballing record books.

Preston will have gone into this game as favourites- that being said they could have gone into any game as favourites at this stage. As with the semi finals, they had previous meetings on their side- recording 4-0 and 5-2 victories over the regular league campaign, alongside the obvious factor of just how good they were. They will also have been keen to avenge their defeat to West Brom in the final the year before. Wolves would have had some cause for optimism however- they’d managed a third place finish in the regular season (12 points behind Preston) and had for a time been arguably more impressive in the FA Cup, having smashed in 15 goals in the first three rounds, although they needed a replay to get past Blackburn Rovers in the semi-finals.

Both teams lined up in the 2-3-5 formation that was popular at the time, and referee Francis Marandin got the game underway. In the end, this was to be a comfortable final for North End, taking a two-goal advantage after just 25 minutes, with captain Fred Dewhurst opening the scoring and Jimmy Ross grabbing the second. Although Wolves were in with a shout, when Sam Thompson netted his 3rd goal in 5 games in the competition, Preston were on their way to a famous domestic double, with the defence holding on for that all important 5th clean sheet in a row to achieve a truly remarkable feat.

So just a short reminder of one of football’s great teams there. If anyone has a suggestion for any more forgotten achievements that might be worth reflecting on, feel free to send a message, or even your own take on the matter, to @AllOutFootball or message the All Out Football page on Facebook.