Some FA Cup Finals occupy an enduring place in English culture. The White Horse Final of 1923, the Matthews Final in 1953, Sunderland’s victory over Leeds United in 1973 with Jim Montgomery’s famous double save. They all symbolise things we love about English football: popular fervour, individual brilliance, the joy of a giant-killing.
Those finals still move us now and in years to come, they will be joined in our football folklore by this FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester City. If we are to give it a name, we could do worse than the Fans’ Final because this was the moment when, after all the pain and disruption of Covid-19, football started to feel like football again.
After all the ghost games, after all those disembodied matches we have watched in echoing, empty stadiums when all that is to be heard is the shouts and cries of the players and the exhortations of the substitutes and staff in the stands, we got our game back. Leicester City won this match and that was a magnificent, moving story on its own but there were 21,000 winners inside Wembley and millions more watching on television.
Leicester City have won the FA Cup after beating Chelsea 1-0 in a cagey contest in front of 22,000 fans at Wembley Stadium
Leicester City star and veteran striker Jamie Vardy rejoices after the Foxes won the trophy for the first time in their history
The 34-year-old struggles to hold back the tears after his side secured a famous victory in front of returning supporters
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers celebrates after leading his side to a famous victory in London on Saturday afternoon
Rodgers is thrown into the air after becoming the first boss since Sir Alex Ferguson to win the FA Cup and Scottish Cup
Wilfred Ndidi celebrates with the famous trophy after starring in Leicester’s midfield alongside Youri Tielemans at Wembley
The Leicester squad gather around Brendan Rodgers to celebrate after delivering the club’s first ever FA Cup trophy
Caglar Soyuncu celebrates with Youri Tielemans and Timothy Castagne after Leicester defeated rivals Chelsea at Wembley
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, was on hand to pass the trophy to Leicester captain Kasper Schmeichel after their win
Meanwhile, it was heartbreak for Chelsea who were looking to make it a ninth FA Cup triumph in the club’s decorated history
Tammy Abraham consoles Christian Pulisic after Chelsea were denied a late equaliser by a controversial VAR decision
Timo Werner and Kepa Arrizabalaga stand alone and cut dejected figures after failing to get over the line in the final
This was a game, in the end, that had everything but it was worth so much more because it was full of the noise and the passion and the joy and the despair that fans bring to our national sport. Football without fans is not nothing but it is only a miserable fraction of the sport we love.
What a story this was for a Leicester side who have never won football’s most famous competition before, have lost four times in the final and had not appeared in it since 1969 when they lost to Manchester City and a solitary goal by Neil Young. After their fairy-tale Premier League title win in 2016, this was another moment to treasure.
High in the Wembley stands on the top tier, a giant flag had been draped over the seats with a photo of Leicester’s late owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who died in a helicopter crash in 2018. ‘Our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them,’ the words next to his image said and how Leicester battled to bear them out. After the game, his son danced on the pitch with the Leicester players, tears in his eyes.
Leicester won this match against a Chelsea side, who will play in the Champions League Final in a fortnight and were strong favourites, with a brilliant strike from man-of-the-match Youri Tielemans. They also needed one of the FA Cup Final’s greatest saves from Kasper Schmeichel to keep out a shot from Mason Mount and the intervention of VAR to save them from a scrambled Chelsea equaliser.
What an evening, what a wonderful, moving, evening. Never had Abide With Me sounded so emotional. Never had sitting in match traffic on the North Circular Road felt so reassuring. Never had seeing Leicester’s players throwing themselves to the turf in unrestrained joy at the final whistle felt so emotional. Never had the rescue of English football from the prospect of a European Super League seemed so uplifting.
When that final whistle went, Leicester fulfilled a lifelong dream of Gary Lineker who said before the game that he had been fantasising all his broadcasting life of being able to say on air that his boyhood team had won the FA Cup. He had measured out his life in occasions like this, too. His trip to see the 1969 final was the first time he had been to London. Now there was another occasion that will live with him and everyone who was here forever.
Youri Tielemans scored a goal worthy of winning any final with a sensational strike from distance that found the net
The Belgian wheels away in celebration after scoring one of the greatest goals in the history of the famous competition
Tielemans makes a love heart gesture to Leicester supporters who travelled to Wembley for the showpiece event on Saturday
Chelsea thought they had scored a late equaliser after Ben Chilwell helped the ball into the back of the net against his old side
The Englishman rallies the travelling Chelsea supporters who were jubilant after they scored late at Wembley Stadium
However, video technology intervened to overrule the decision and restore Leicester’s lead in dramatic circumstances
Chilwell was deemed marginally offside in the build up and Michael Oliver was instructed to disallow the late equaliser
Mason Mount looks to the heavens after Chelsea’s late goal was disallowed on a miserable afternoon for the youngster
Maybe we had started to take the FA Cup for granted in the time before Covid but tradition seems even more precious now. And so the biggest crowd anywhere in Britain since March 2020 became the latest landmark in the country’s attempt to emerge from the darkness of the coronavirus crisis.
The match had not started well. It took 15 minutes for either side to fashion even a half chance and it was Leicester who created it. Timothy Castagne ran on to a ball that caught out Marcos Alonso and crossed first time for Jamie Vardy who had peeled away from his marker 10 yards out. Vardy hit it first time but Reece James produced a fine block to thwart the danger.
Midway through the half, Mount, who has been one of the revelations of this season, span away from Caglar Soyuncu and ran away from Wilfred Ndidi before pulling his shot from the edge of the area just wide. Mount created the threat again five minutes later when he raced on to a pass to cross from the goal line. The ball flew across the area and when it was turned back in by Thiago Silva, Timo Werner flicked it on and Cesar Azpilicueta came within a hair’s breadth of applying the finishing touch.
Match of the Day host and Leicester fan Gary Lineker holds his thumbs up in celebration after the Foxes got the famous win
Over 6,000 Leicester supporters were ecstatic after watching their side win the FA Cup for the first time in their history
Supporters wave scarves and rejoice after Leicester upset the bookmakers’ favourites to win the FA Cup on Saturday
Three minutes before the break, Leicester went close again when Luke Thomas, who had been outstanding on the left with his energy and pace and a steady supply of curling passes into the inside left channel, whipped a free kick into the box. Soyuncu stole in front of his marker and tried to glance it past Kepa Arrizabalaga but his contact was too heavy and the ball flew wide.
On the stroke of the interval, Vardy, who has been struggling for form, missed another chance to give Leicester the advantage. When Youri Tielemans drifted a ball into the box, Vardy got between Silva and James ten yards out but could only get the faintest touch on the ball and it flew harmlessly wide. The half ended without either side having managed a shot on target.
But then, midway through the second half, came the explosion of joy. Chelsea tried to play the ball out of defence but Reece James’ pass was deflected by Ayoze Perez who threw himself at the ball. It cannoned off his knee, then his arm, and was worked to Tielemans midway inside the Chelsea half.
Timo Werner sees an effort on goal blocked by the imperious Wesley Fofana in the first half on Saturday afternoon
Cesar Azpilicueta was unable to direct a header goalwards in the best chance of the first half at Wembley Stadium
Mason Mount saw a superb strike tipped wide by Kasper Schmeichel to deny the Englishman a goal in the showpiece event
Tielemans ran towards goal and the Chelsea defenders backed off him until he was 25 yards out. At that point, he unleashed a right foot drive that rose and rose and evaded the desperate, flailing, clawing left hand of Arrizabalaga and bulged the back of the net. Tielemans set off towards the Leicester fans and slid on his knees in front of them while the rest of us prayed this moment was not ruined by VAR.
Chelsea pressed for an equaliser. A header from substitute Ben Chilwell was kept out by a combination of the post and Schmeichel’s right hand and then the Leicester goalkeeper produced his wonder-save in the dying minutes to write his own name alongside men like Montgomerie in Wembley folklore.
The drama was still not over. In the last minute, Chilwell raced forward on to a long ball and got to it before Schmeichel. It ran loose and as Leicester tried to hack it clear, it rebounded off Chilwell and into the net. Chelsea celebrated wildly in front of their fans but VAR showed that the Leicester left back was offside. VAR has never been cheered more wildly in a stadium in all its existence. It was that kind of night.
Re-live Sportsmail’s live coverage of the FA Cup final brought to you by OLLIE LEWIS.