Manchester United are one of the most famous clubs in world football and, whilst the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era has been far from rosy, their trophy cabinet is still impressively stocked. They have won the English league title more times than any other club and, for a while, held that honour in the FA Cup too. Arsenal’s impressive haul in the 21st century has seen them usurp the Red Devils as FA Cup top dogs but United still have a rich and massively successful history in this competition. But just how successful have they been over the decades? Let’s take a look.
When Did Manchester United Last Win the FA Cup?
As noted, and as almost every English football fan knows (and many are taking great joy in), since Fergie left Old Trafford, United have not been the same. Since he left they have won the FA Cup just once, their most recent success coming back in 2015/16. Achieved under Louis van Gaal, that was the 12th victory and drew them level with Arsenal on 12 FA Cups, though the Gunners now have 14 (as with all stats, that is correct as of the completion of the 2022 FA Cup).
FA Cup Finals
No side has lost more FA Cup finals than Man United, who have tasted defeat in the big one eight times (level with Chelsea and Everton). However, with their record of 12 wins they have appeared in 20 finals, with only Arsenal (21) making the showpiece occasion on more occasions. Those 12 wins from 20 give them finals win/loss percentage of exactly 60% to 40% and a summary of all finals can be seen below.
|2016||Crystal Palace||Won||2-1 (AET)|
|2005||Arsenal||Lost||0-0 (AET & 5-4 on penalties)|
|1990||Crystal Palace||Won||1-0 in replay after 3-3 draw|
|1983||Brighton||Won||4-0 in replay after 2-2 draw|
Stage of Elimination
As one would have expected, United have reached the latter stages of this competition on many occasions and have fallen short at the semi-final stage many times. A full summary of their stage of elimination is shown below, including the 20 finals already noted.
|Stage||Number of Times||Percentage|
|Qualifying Round 4||1||1%|
|Qualifying Round 3||1||1%|
|Qualifying Round 2||1||1%|
NB – the information above is correct as of the end of the 2022 final. The total percentage may not equal to 100 because of rounding up or down. Some of the earlier rounds were only played prior to teams from the top two tiers being granted automatic entry at the third-round stage in the 1925/26 season. * The batch of 10 semi finals includes one third-place finish (1970) during the brief period when there was a third-place play-off game between losing semi finalists.
Times Manchester United Won the Cup
United have won the FA Cup 12 times, as said, with almost half of those coming under Sir Alex Ferguson. They had won the FA Cup five times when he took over and he took that tally to 11 before finally deciding to hang up his hairdryer.
Sole Post-Fergie Triumph – 2016
Since the fiery Scot left United have struggled and though they are yet to win the league, they did claim the FA Cup under Dutch boss Luis van Gaal. They beat West Ham in a replay to make the semis, where they saw off Everton to book their spot in the final against Crystal Palace. They looked in trouble but in the 81st minute Juan Mata scored to cancel out Jason Puncheon’s strike and take the clash to extra time. Jesse Lingard subsequently got the winner in the 110th minute
Five for Ferguson – 1990 to 2004
Ferguson may well be the greatest manager who has ever lived, although of course there are so many names in contention, comparing across eras is difficult and there is no definitively “correct” answer. Nonetheless, the Glaswegian was a winner, breaking the Old Firm dominance north of the border and well and truly knocking Liverpool “off their perch” in England.
His last FA Cup triumph came in 2004 when his side beat second-tier Millwall with ease, running out 3-0 victors thanks to a strike from Cristiano Ronaldo and a brace from Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Reds had beaten Arsenal 1-0 in a fractious semi thanks to a Paul Scholes strike, this clash being one of many huge games in the big rivalry between the two teams during this period.
United’s previous triumph was a hugely memorable one, coming in 1999 and completing the Double for them. They would add the Champions League just a few days later to land a historic Treble. United eased past Chelsea in the quarters (2-0 thanks to a Dwight Yorke brace) and then once again got the better of Arsenal in the semis. They needed a replay, the first game ending 0-0 but the return was worth the wait and was a true classic.
United took the lead with a 30-yard Beckham special before Dutch ace Dennis Bergkamp equalised via a deflection from a similar distance. The Gunners then had a goal disallowed for offside and shortly after Roy Keane earned a second yellow card late on. United were clinging on but when Arsenal won a penalty in the dying seconds of the game their Double hopes seemed over. However, Peter Schmeichel had other ideas, saving Bergkamp’s spot-kick to spar delirious scenes. The delirium went to a whole new level when Ryan Giggs scored perhaps the greatest goal in FA Cup history after 109 minutes, sending United through to the final.
The Red Devils beat Newcastle 2-0 in the final in comfortable fashion but forget that, check out that Giggs stunner from the semi! Just three years prior to claiming the Treble, United had already done the Double, winning the FA Cup in 1996 thanks to another stunning FA Cup strike. This time it was French talisman/maniac, Eric Cantona, doing the business, adjusting his body miraculously to score a volley from the edge of the box in the 85th minute. His side won 1-0, having seen off Man City in the fifth round and Chelsea in the semis.
Twelve months before this they had been upset by Everton in the FA Cup (see below for more info on that) but they had also made the final 12 months before that. Again that completed a Double, United hammering Chelsea 4-0 in a very one-sided final. Fergie’s fledglings beat Sheffield United, Norwich, Wimbledon, Charlton and Oldham to make the final. They needed a replay to beat the Latics, only earning that thanks to a stunning volley from Mark Hughes in the last minute of extra time. In the final Cantona scored two penalties, Hughes getting the third and Brian McClair adding a fourth in the final minute.
In 1994, they had waltzed through each round, banging in the goals but it was a very different picture this time around. They beat Nottingham Forest and Hereford 1-0, then beat Newcastle by a single goal in the fifth round. Another 1-0 win (over Sheffield united) booked their spot in the semis and again they needed a replay (and extra time in that!) to see off Oldham. They had to fight all the way in the final too, drawing 3-3 with Palace in extra time before scraping a 1-0 win in the Wembley replay.
It had not been all plain sailing for Ferguson at United in his early days and there were times when he was very close to being sacked. In 1989, they finished 11th in the league and the following year they dropped to 13th but, crucially, they won the FA Cup. That was the first trophy the Scot helped United win and arguably the most important of them all.
Trio of Wins – 1985, 1983 & 1977
United had been a decent cup team, even though they endured a very long wait between league titles in the 1970s and 80s. Ron Atkinson led them to the 1985 FA Cup where they defeated defending champions Everton who were arguably the best team in the world at the time. The Toffees had just won the league and, three days prior to the FA Cup final they had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Fatigue told and the Red Devils nicked the win, 1-0 in extra time courtesy of a brilliant curled finish from a very young Norman Whiteside.
United had won the Cup prior to Everton too, beating Brighton in 1983. The first game between the two finished 2-2 but United, managed by Atkinson, romped to a 4-0 success in the replay. Bryan Robson got two, either side of a goal by Whiteside who had only just turned 18. Arnold Muhren completed the rout from the penalty spot.
A good period for the Red Devils in this competition had begun under Tommy Docherty in 1977. They beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley in front of just under 100,000 spectators. Again United defeated perhaps the best side in world football and again denied a Merseyside team a treble. Liverpool were league champions and four days after the FA Cup would go on to lift the European Cup.
First Three FA Cups – 1963, 1948 & 1909
In 1963, United won their third FA Cup, beating Leicester 3-1 in the final. Denis Law was among the scorers and the Scot had bagged a hat-trick in the third round, adding further goals in the fifth and the semi.
That win ended a 15-year wait for FA Cup glory, the Reds’ last triumph having come back in 1948 when they beat Blackpool 4-2 in the final. Again there were officially around 100,000 packed into Wembley and they got to see a young Stanley Matthews, in his first season for the Tangerines. Pool’s Stan Mortenson had given his side a 2-1 lead after 35 minutes, meaning he had scored in every round. It wasn’t to be though, as three United goals in the last 20 minutes brought them the cup. The final is considered a classic and the standard of play was superb, both sides playing exciting, attacking football.
United’s first FA Cup triumph was even more distant and came in 1909. Back then the final was held at Crystal Palace (the venue, not the football club) and the Red Devils won 1-0, beating Bristol City, a top-flight side at the time. It was the first FA Cup for both sides but obviously over the years the clubs took very different paths.
Manchester United’s Worst Upsets
The funny thing about sport is that even the most successful teams and players often lose more than they win. In a sport like golf, for example, even greats like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods lost well over 70% of the tournaments they played in. And, so it is that Man United, though they are the second most successful side in the history of the FA Cup, have had to endure several exits in the first round they have taken part in, as well as a number of upsets against teams they were fully expected to beat. Here are their worst FA Cup upsets.
1995 FA Cup Final – Everton 1-0 Man United
Either side of this defeat to Everton, Man United completed double-winning campaigns and were among the very best sides in the world. It was a season of “almost” as they were runners-up in the league too but they were huge favourites against the Toffees. On the last day of the 1993/94 season Everton controversially escaped relegation thanks to some sub-optimal goalkeeping from Wimbledon keeper Hans Segers. A year later, they took just four points from their first 12 games and looked doomed. Joe Royle took over and performed a miracle, guiding the Toffees to safety and silverware but in truth they should have been no match for this dominant United side.
Norwich on the Double – 1967 & 1959
In 1959 Norwich, then in the third tier, hammered United 3-0 in the FA Cup. Coming just under a year after the Munich air disaster this was somewhat understandable, though their defeat in 1967 was far less so. By then Norwich were in the second tier of English football but Man United had very much rebuilt and Busby’s Babes were one of the best sides around. In 1966/67, they won the league and the following year they would lift the European Cup. However, in February 1967 they were beaten 2-1 by the Canaries, the defeat coming at home to make matters even worse!
Harry “Greatest Day” – Bournemouth FA Cup Third Round 1984
On the 7th of January, 1984 third-tier Bournemouth, led by a young Harry Redknapp, dispatched the cup-holders United 2-0. It was a huge upset in front of just under 15,000 fans at Dean Court and the manager declared it the “greatest day of my life”.
Manchester United 0-1 Leeds United, FA Cup Third Round 2010
The rivalry between these clubs probably means more to the Yorkshire side and this result is one their fans just loved. Leeds didn’t have much to cheer in those days, down in the third tier and watching United winning league after league. The Red Devils had won the Champions League in 2008 but thanks to a superbly taken goal from Jermaine Beckford they were no match for Leeds who held on for a famous victory.