Liverpool’s First FA Cup Win (In Focus)

Liverpool fans celebrating

It is amazing to think that a club of the repute of Liverpool had actually been in existence for more than seven decades before they won their first FA Cup.

It happened in 1965 when they beat Leeds United in the final.

They have since gone on to win many more FA Cups and many more trophies in general, but the first one is always special. 

So I thought I’d put a spotlight on Liverpool’s First FA Cup win.

Liverpool’s First FA Cup Win

Liverpool’s first FA Cup win didn’t arrive until 1965 when they beat rivals Leeds United 2-1 after extra time. The club was at the start of a dominance that would last almost 30 years and was built upon the foundations set in place by their FA Cup-winning manager Bill Shankly.

Two men wearing retro football inspired t shirts with text in between them

Close But No Cigar

By the time Liverpool took to the field at Wembley on 1 May 1965 to face Leeds United in the FA Cup Final, the club was 72 years old, having been established in 1892.

They were the reigning League Champions and had won the league title six times.

But they’d never won the FA Cup.

They had come close in 1914 when they’d lost 1-0 in the Final to Burnley with ex-Everton forward Bert Freeman scoring the only goal.

They also made the final in 1950, losing 2-0 to Arsenal. The match was notable for future manager Bob Paisley being dropped despite scoring the semi-final win over city rivals Everton. It was also Liverpool’s first appearance at Wembley, the 1914 Cup Final had been at Crystal Palace.

The 1960s

Liverpool had seen in the start of the decade in the second tier of English football.

They had been relegated from the First Division in 1954, and it took them eight seasons to get out of the Second Division.

It was the appointment of Huddersfield Town manager Bill Shankly in 1959 that proved pivotal, not just in getting them out of the Second Division, but in the history of the club.

Liverpool won the Second Division in 1962 and then finished 8th in their first season back in Division One.

Then in the 1963/64 season they were First Division champions for the 6th time.

Fans went into the 1964/65 season with high hopes of another title triumph, but unfortunately a poor start and end to the campaign put pay to that.

Liverpool lost eight of their first 15 games, winning just four of them. They then lost seven of their last 13 games.

In the middle of that, they had a spell of 14 games unbeaten which included nine wins.

They went into the FA Cup Final as underdogs, with opponents Leeds finishing 2nd in the league and only missing out on the title by goal average.

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The Road to the Final

Leeds United’s run to the Final had been a mixed one.

They started with an easy 3-0 home win over Southport in the Third Round, before being drawn against fellow Division One team Everton.

They eventually triumphed after a replay before being rewarded with a home tie against Third Division Shrewsbury in Round Five.

A 2-0 win then saw them drawn away against Second Division Crystal Palace in the Quarter-Final.

An easy 3-0 win, meant they faced Manchester United, who would pip Leeds to the league that season, in the semi-final.

A last-minute Billy Bremner goal in a mid-week replay gave Leeds their place in the Final.

Liverpool’s route to the Final was similarly erratic.

They got a tough tie to open proceedings, being drawn away to fellow First Division team West Bromwich Albion in the Third Round.

Liverpool won 2-1, but the game was not without incident. In the 77th minute, with Liverpool 2-1 up, Liverpool’s captain Ron Yeats picked up the ball in the penalty area. 

He believed he had heard the referee’s whistle, but there had been none! Fortunately West Brom missed the penalty.

The Fourth Round was on paper Liverpool’s easiest tie of their entire FA Cup campaign, but it was the one where they came closest to coming unstuck.

They were drawn at home to Stockport County who would, that season, finish bottom of the entire Football League – 24th in the Fourth Division.

So confident of victory was manager Bill Shankley that instead of attending the game he travelled to Germany to spy on Cologne, the club’s opponent in their forthcoming European Cup quarter-final.

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But Len White gave Stockport the lead, and Liverpool only scrambled to a draw courtesy of a Gordon Milne equaliser before winning the replay 2-0.

A goal five minutes from time gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory away to Bolton in the Fifth Round, before they recorded another narrow victory in the Quarter-Final, beating Leicester City 1-0 in a replay.

Liverpool’s opponents in the Semi-Final were Chelsea, who had finished third in the League that year behind Leeds and Manchester United.

Legend has it that, upon finding a brochure pre-match that was designed for Chelsea’s appearance in the Final should they win, Shankly told his players to “stuff those wee cocky south buggers”.

Liverpool duly did, winning 2-0 to progress to their third FA Cup Final.

The 1965 FA Cup Final

The 1965 FA Cup Final was Leeds’ first, although they went into it disappointed.

The previous week Leeds had drawn their last match of the league season 3-3 against Birmingham City. 

Their direct rivals for the title Manchester United has lost 2-1 to Aston Villa. If Leeds had turned that last day of the season draw into a victory they would have won the title.

Cup Final day started with an unsavoury incident when Leeds Albert Johanneson became the first black player to play in an FA Cup Final.

As he walked out onto the pitch he was subjected to racial abuse, later saying: “When we walked out, all I could hear was a cacophony of Zulu-like noises coming from the terraces. It was dreadful, I could barely hear myself think for those screams. I wanted to run back down the tunnel.”

Liverpool fans dominated the crowd that day, with twice as many Liverpool supporters in the crowd as Leeds supporters.

It didn’t take long for the game to heat up when, just five minutes in, Liverpool’s Gerry Byrne and Leeds’ Bobby Collins collided.

Collins came off relatively scot-free but Byrne had broken his collarbone.

As there were no substitutes at this time Bill Shankly didn’t tell Byrne of the extent of his injury.

After this initial excitement, the game settled down and was dominated by two strong defences. 

Liverpool had the better of any real chances, with Leeds keeper Gary Sprake making a couple of good saves whilst Liverpool’s Tommy Lawrence was rarely tested.

This meant the game became the first FA Cup Final to go to extra-time since 1947.

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And it was then the match burst into life.

In the 93rd minute, Willie Stevenson jinked past a couple of players and threaded the ball through to Gerry Byrne.

Byrne’s floated cross was met by Roger Hunt’s stooping header to give Liverpool the lead.

This finally sparked Leeds into life and just seven minutes later Jack Charlton knocked down for Billy Bremner to fire home.

Now both sides were in search of the winning goal, and it was Liverpool who got it in the 117th minute.

Ian Callaghan beat two Leeds defenders and his cross was headed home by Ian St John to give Liverpool their first-ever FA Cup win.

Ron Yeats collected the trophy from the Queen, and Gerry Byrne followed him up the steps having played 115 minutes of football with a broken collarbone!

Byrne later admitted: “I was worried about going up to collect my medal, so many of our fans wanted to slap me on the back. I had to keep twisting and turning to avoid the congratulations.”

Over half a million people welcomed Liverpool back to the city for their victory parade, but the season wasn’t finished yet for the Reds.

They were still in the European Cup, where they beat Inter Milan 3-1 in the first leg of semi-final, only to lose the second 3-0 at the San Siro.

Still any disappointment was shortlived, they would go on to convincingly win the First Division the following year, with Leeds again having to settle for 2nd place, six points behind Liverpool.

Final Thoughts

Liverpool's First FA Cup Win infographic

It is amazing to think that Liverpool didn’t win the FA Cup for the first time until 1965.

The 1965 FA Cup Final pitted two of the best teams of that era against each other. 

Both Liverpool and Leeds started the 1960s in the Second Division, but by the end of the decade they were the dominant forces in England.

Between 1963 and 1970, Leeds won one league title and were runners-up three times, as well as runners-up in the FA Cup twice and Liverpool won two league titles and were runners-up once as well as collecting their first FA Cup.

And to think they came close to being knocked out in the Fourth Round by the worst team in the entirety of the Football League.

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