Ten Great Cup Shocks


Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang Celebrate their Win in 1988
Photo: AFC Wimbledon

With the MLS sides about the enter the US Open Cup, we thoughtlessly ramp up the nervous tension by looking back on some of the great cup shocks across the world.

Major League Soccer, and indeed most American sports, do not do the David and Goliath thing very often.

Single entity leagues and enforced parity means underdogs are somewhat of a rarity in US sports.

Of course, cup competitions here and on the rest of the planet have no such restrictions, although the overload of group stages and second chances for the wealthier sides in the renovated UEFA Champions League has drastically reduced the chances of the little guy making it through to the final.

However, the parity which has been the bedrock of Major League Soccer, plays no part in the US Open Cup where teams from outside the elite line up against the MLS franchises.

Portland Timbers fans will not need reminding of this.

Last season, they pulverised Cal FC a team from the fifth tier of American soccer and could not find the net, even missing a penalty. In extra time, the unthinkable happened and their opponents a very plucky and talented Cal FC, scored. It was an elimination that prompted a virtual fan melt down in the Rose City.

Some still credit that night with costing John Spencer his job as head coach.

But Portland are far from alone. Sunderland beat Leeds 1-0 in the 1973 Cup Final from England’s second tier. 40 years later on the same ground, Wigan shocked English champions Manchester City days before being relegated by the same score.

West Ham United and Ipswich both won memorable English cup finals while deep underdogs, the Hammers from the second tier.

In European football, the onset of rigorous mini leagues to ensure the top sides can recover from a shock makes these less likely, as the number of elimination matches in global tournaments is reduced until only the game’s big names are left.

Previously we wrote in detail about five of the greatest cup final shocks previously including Dortmund’s last Champions League Final appearance, Liverpool losing to a side whose nickname were tv puppets, a score line the BBC announcer claimed had to be an error and a side who failed to qualify subsequently winning the tournament.

Here are those stories again (all open in a new window) with five more great cup shocks below:


Liverpool 0 : 1 Wimbledon 

Part 1: David beats Goliath: Wombles stun Liverpool in 1988 FA Cup


Borussia Dortmaund 3 : 1 Juventus

Part 2: David beats Goliath: 16 Seconds to Destroy Juventus


Manchester United 0 : 1 Southampton

Part 3: David beats Goliath: Saints March all over Man United


Celtic 1 : 4 Partick Thistle

Part 4: David Beats Goliath: The Score the BBC Wouldn’t Believe


Denmark 2 : 0 Germany

Part 5: David Beats Goliath: The Team who Failed to Qualify then Won the Cup


Five More Cup Shocks that Shook Nations:

Leeds 0 : 1 Sunderland 1973 FA Cup Final

Raith Rovers 2 : 2 Celtic (Rovers win 6 -5 on penalties) 1994 Scottish League Cup Final

Portland Timbers 0 : 1 Cal FC – US Open Cup 2012

Real Zaragoza 3 : 2 Real Madrid – 2004 Copa del Rey Final

USA 1 : 0 England – 1950 World Cup

There’s also North Korea 1 : 0 Italy (World Cup 1966), Hereford 2 : 1 Newcastle (FA Cup 1972), VfB Eppingen 2 : 1 Hamburg (German Cup 1974), TSV Vestenbergsgreuth 1 : 0 Bayern Munich (German Cup 1994), and Sutton United 2 : 1 Coventry City (FA Cup 1989).

Unless of course you have a favourite …..


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  1. Michael Ligot on

    July 13, 1999. The A-League (D2) Staten Island Vipers beat the MLS NY/NJ MetroStars in the third round. Granted, the MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) were easily the worst team in MLS’ early years, but to lose to a D2 team that folded after the season?

  2. sain d'esprit on

    “In European football, the onset of rigorous mini leagues to ensure the top sides can recover from a shock makes [underdog victories] less likely”

    This is why I love our playoff system. You have to be statistically good to get into the tourney, but you need that right here right now grit and determination to win elimination games. You can’t sit back knowing that it all comes out in the wash just because you are a rich well stocked team.

  3. Eric Gilbertson on

    Much as it amuses me, putting Portland on this list — when they have a history of losing to amateur sides (Hollywood United, anyone?) at home — seems a bit overboard. I think you’d find more than a few fans outside of PDX who weren’t a bit surprised by that result!

  4. Yes, but they were not a MLS side at the time. And judging by the reaction in PDX, a few there were more than surprised.

  5. Eric Gilbertson on

    Well, Roma SC (pub league team) over Chivas USA 5-6 years ago to me is a much bigger deal than Cal FC was. That was the the first time MLS team had lost to a team below PDL.

    For old times sake though, throw in Sounders Select (basically what would be the U-23’s these days) over Dallas Burn in the 90’s

  6. Matthew the proofreader on

    Just read your assessment of euro 92. How could you have failed to mention Peter Schmeichel’s performance that evening? I have watched replays of that beautiful final over and over. ( Kim Vilfords?!!) For me; healing football

  7. There are a litany of Arsenal stories here. Remember Wrexham? I also forgot York City beating Man United in the League Cup, though that was only one leg of a two legger and United played mostly reserves.

    The story goes that after the whistle in York, a graceless Ferguson said to the York City coach:

    “If that’s the way you want it, we’re going to play our best players in the second leg.”

    The York coach is alleged to have replied..

    “In that case, so will we!”