The Giant Killers
1987 - 1989
The Wimbledon case
One of the most common question asked of this site is how on earth can Wimbledon's 1988 cup final victory over Liverpool not be one of the greatest giant killings of all time? Well the short answer is it simply wasn't one of the greatest giant killings of all time. It was one of the most romantic F A cup stories of rags to riches of all time however but that still doesn't make it a giant kiling. You, the reader can accept that stance, discount the opinion and leave it at that but I invite you to take five minutes to read on and see if I can change your opinion too.
In the 1988 F A cup final the crazy gang beat the culture club 1-0. there are so many iconic elements to the game. Imperious Liverpool, humble Wimbledon, Dave Beasant's penalty save and Denis Wise roaring an expletive loud enough for the TV microphones to pick it up as the cup was lifted right in front of Princess Di. Today no list of giant killings is complete without it yet it is missing from this site. So why?
The crazy gang they may have been in terms of limited resources, a tiny ground, small support but Wimbledon were by no means at all the only club of that nature to rise to the heights in the 70, 80s and 90s. Clubs like Swindon, Barnsley, Millwall, and Oxford all enjoyed fleeting glory days in the sun during the era and Wimbledon indeed proved the most successful of these new upstarts which also saw the emergence of the likes of Watford and Swansea too. 1988 was Wimbledon's second season in the top flight and it was a successful one to boot.
They were in the top five in early September but hit a rocky patch, which saw them drop down the table. They hit their marks at Christmas and never looked back. Tottenham were hammered home and away, Arsenal were easily beaten, title chasing Everton and Nottigham Forest were both held to stalemates home and away, Manchester United left Plough Lane empty handed and most importantly they were one of just four teams to score both home and away against Liverpool, drawing 1-1 at Plough Lane and very unluckily losing 1-2 at Anfield after having what appeared to be a good equaliser ruled out.
Wimbledon ended the season in 7th position and lost just five of their last twenty-one First Division games none of them by more than a single goal. They proved difficult to beat but if any criticism could be levelled against them it was sometimes an inability in the last weeks of the season to turn drawn games, in which they were the better side, into victories.
Liverpool steam rollered through the season, demolishing everything in their path until game number twenty-nine, a stuttering 1-1 draw at Derby County in March. The unbeaten Reds lost for the first time all season in their next game, of all games, The Merseyside Derby with Everton. Only Nottingham Forest managed to match that result and lower Liverpool's colours before the season's end and they were worthy runaway Champions, equalling the records points total playing two games less.
However that's not the whole story. The title was something of a foregone conclusion a long way from the finish line but Liverpool stuttered towards it. They won just four of their last twelve games that season. Manchester United, Southampton and Luton all came to Anfield and left with a point. Yes the Reds arrived at Wembley as Champions but Wimbledon went there as the team in better First Division form. Curiously, during the build up to the final, only Jimmy Hill, a respected deep thinker on the game, looked beyond reputation and told the public that if you looked purely on form, Wimbledon should win, provided they didn't let inexperience of the big stage get to them.
There are other reasons why the game shouldn't be classed as a giant killing. A true giant killing is such on its own merits. It shouldn't matter at what stage of the competition the game takes place. It's fair to say that every tie recorded on this site would have been a giant killing whether it had been third round or final. Can the same be said of Wimbledon '88 if their victory had come on a cold damp January afternoon on third round day at Anfield. Probably not, even though playing Liverpool in January would have been much tougher than the jittery Reds of May.
The proof of this is in the previous season's competition. In the mid 1980s Everton were the dominant team in the cup. In 1987 they were on the way to being crowned Champions, albeit not in the same impressive manner as Liverpool the following year. That said, Everton were just four points worse off than Liverpool of '88 and though they lost more games, they also matched Liverpool's twenty-seven victories over the season. In round five of the cup Everton went to Plough Lane having not lost a cup tie away from Wembley since a defeat at Manchester United in 1983. They didn't just lose at Wimbledon, they were taken apart. That game is now just a footnote and statistic in the history of the cup.
There were also bigger gulfs in class that were overcome in cup finals in the '80s. West Ham were in the Second Division when they defeated Arsenal in 1980, Coventry, so often battling relegation, achieved a rare top half finish in tenth when they beat Spurs in 1987. If your argument is that these teams were not of Liverpool's calibre then surely Wigan's victory over Manchester City in 2013 deserves more giant killing credit. Unlike 7th placed Wimbledon, Wigan were relegated.
In closing consider this. In 1995 the gap between Manchester United and Everton in terms of League placing and points was huge compared to that between Liverpool and Wimbledon. Unlike Wimbledon who had beaten Liverpool in the League the previous season, Everton had lost all their last four meetings with United in the League. Nobody would ever consider the 1995 cup final a great giant killing would they?
So I ask again. Winbledon 1-0 Liverpool 1988. Giant Killing or just a great rags to riches story?