Five English cup upsets in recent memory

By on December 16, 2014

The Football League Cup was founded in the shadow of the FA Cup in the 1960s, when its competitor was at its peak, as a consolation for the teams knocked out of the FA Cup. Back then, some of the worst teams in English league football could make it farther in the competition. Now, however, with the rise of the Premier League and the FA Cup’s fall from grace, the FA Cup actually delves deeper into the hierarchy of English football, letting non-league clubs qualify. Perhaps in football’s commercialization, this is why both cups went out of favor. Everywhere else in the world nobody could care less about your local league three side, which, in part, is why the cups aren’t viewed as the biggest events in the country any longer, instead as a place where your local side will be able to play the big boys. Where a third division side can knock out a Premier League club.

Today that is exactly what happened in the League Cup as Sheffield United, from all the way down in the third division of English football, beat a Southampton side currently sitting fifth in the Premier League. At this point in time, this is exactly what people now love about the FA Cup, and this particular match hardly even ranks in the extraordinary list of cup upsets in recent memory. To name a few…

Luton Town 1-0 Norwich City
Luton Town were the FA Cup runners-up in the 1958/1959 season, at which point Norwich City were in the third division of English football. When they met just last season in the FA Cup Fourth Round, the roles were rather reversed, with Luton at their lowest point in club history in the Conference Premier, and Norwich all the way up in the Premier League. However, Luton pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory away at Carrow Road – the first for a non-league side over a first division club in the FA Cup since 1989. Their run unceremoniously ended the next round, though, being dumped out with a 3-0 loss to Millwall.

Manchester United 0-0 Exeter City
For Exeter City, now in League Two but then a non-league club, simply playing at Old Trafford, the Theater of Dreams, against FA Cup holders Manchester United in the 2004/2005 FA Cup Third Round was and incredible occasion. Up against a side containing Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, and Gerard Pique on the night, there could only be one result, right? Not in the FA Cup. Exeter pulled off an incredible 0-0 draw to force a replay, but again the story ended on a sour note as United won 2-0 at Exeter.

Liverpool 1-2 Barnsley and Barnsley 1-0 Chelsea
Though Barnsley were hardly unknowns in 2008, sitting in the second division, the English Championship had hardly caught onto the commercialization of the Premier League, so when club club faced Premier League giant Chelsea in the 2007/2008 FA Cup Quarterfinal, their entire squad was worth more than 600 times less than that of their opponents. Nonetheless, they stunned Chelsea, as they had Liverpool with a late goal in the previous round.

Bradford City 3-1 Aston Villa
The fact that Bradford City, at the time in the fourth division of English football, had made it all the way to the League Cup semifinals in 2012/2013, disposing Arsenal along the way, was ludicrous. However, with an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Matt Duke and some nice Route 1 football, Bradford beat Villa 3-1 in the first leg, and held on just enough in the second as to qualify for the final, which they would lose to Swansea City. Yet still, this represents the true spirit of the cups, at least in these days.

Liverpool 2-2 Northampton (2-4 pens)
Northampton Town were and still are flirting around at the top of League Two and bottom of League One. Were, referring to when they met Liverpool in the 2010/2011 League Cup third round. Northampton only barely got a memorable win, having been tied with their Premier League foes at the end of regulation time and extra-time; Abdul Osman had to slot the winning penalty in the shoot-out that occurred.

Honorable Mentions
Nuneaton 1-1 Middlesbrough – 2006
Southend United 1-0 Manchester United- 2006
MK Dons 4-0 Manchester United – 2014
And of course, many many more. Who knows when the next may be – Yeovil Town are set for a Third Round FA Cup tie with Manchester United in January.

About Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, founder of Football Every Day, lives and breaths football from the West Coast of the United States in California. Aside from founding Football Every Day in January of 2013, Alex has also launched his own journalism career and hopes to help others do the same with FBED. He covers the San Jose Earthquakes as a beat reporter for and his work has also been featured in the BBC's Match of the Day Magazine.