It seems fitting that, mere days after confirming an FA Cup Final spot, the Arsenal celebrate the anniversary of their 4th appearance at the showpiece Wembley event. 81 years ago today, the Gunners took on Sheffield United, hoping to capture the trophy for a 2nd time after their inaugural triumph 6 years earlier. How different the clubs’ fortunes in the competition have been since; the Blades never again made it to the final, while the Arsenal are set to appear in their 20th.
The two finalists had met exactly 50 times in all competitions prior to their Wembley face-off. Coincidentally, their first ever meeting, in February 1903, was also in the FA cup; on that occasion United had prevailed 3-1, with then-Woolwich Arsenal grabbing a consolation through Walter Anderson (via 11v11). However, their positions had changed dramatically in the subsequent 33 years, as the Blades went from a side that finished 4th in the top flight that season to being a 2nd Division team in 1936 while the Gunners passed them in the opposite direction (via Statto).
Sheffield United, having just missed out on promotion, were also motivated by a desire to emulate the achievement of their city rivals Wednesday, who had won the FA Cup the year before. Like Arsenal’s opponents in 2017, United had knocked Tottenham Hotspur out of the tournament – a factoid only included here for its pleasing symmetry. Similarly, the Blades had won the cup on their previous visit to Wembley in 1925, beating Cardiff City who themselves would go on to triumph over the Arsenal 2 years later. Coincidences abound.
This was the first year that the BBC experimented with commentators, as messrs Ivan Sharpe and Norman Creek provided coverage from 2.30pm onwards. It would also be the first FA Cup Final in which the Arsenal would don their now-iconic red shirts with white sleeves – they had worn entirely red tops on previous occasions – along with blue and white hooped socks, which surely must be long overdue for a comeback (via The Beautiful History). Herbert Chapman reckoned that the white sleeves and blue hoops combined to make the players stand out more, and you can’t argue with a man of his innovative genius, can you?
Due to a dispute between the stadium bosses and the media, no broadcasters were allowed to film the match inside Wembley. Thus, barely any footage survives of a classic ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, in which Ted Drake netted the crucial goal with a quarter of an hour left. The move was started by club captain, Alex James, spreading the play to Cliff Bastin, who dribbled past his marker and crossed for Drake to smash home with his left foot (via Wikipedia).
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