The FA Cup final will hold very fond memories for every Manchester City fan. Whether you were there in 1969 when Summerbee pulled it back to Young, or in 2011 when Yaya Toure ended the club’s 35-year trophy drought, it’s always been a key date in the footballing calendar.
The 11th of May 2013, however, is a day no City fan will ever forget – for all the wrong reasons. It was the day Ben Watson engrained himself into FA Cup and Wigan Athletic folklore.
“It means everything,” Watson told the Manchester Evening News ahead of the FA’s 150th-anniversary celebrations of the FA Cup this weekend.
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“Winning it, scoring the goal. As a kid, it’s a competition you always want to play in, you’re brought up on the memories of FA Cup finals. So, to be able to play in one and score the winner in one, it goes to another level.”
Wigan’s hero – alongside the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Wes Morgan and John Moston – will be special guests at the final showpiece between Liverpool and Chelsea on Saturday, celebrating a selection of icons from the competition between 1870 and 2020.
Under Pep Guardiola, reaching the latter stages of the competition has become a regular occurrence, but the Catalan has only guided City to one FA Cup final in his nearly six seasons at the club.
Back in 2013, Roberto Mancini’s City had reached the final for the second time in three seasons by knocking out Watford, Leeds, Stoke and Barnsley, before winning a thriller against Chelsea in the semi-final.
That had all set up a final with Roberto Martinez’s Wigan, who were just three days away from their inevitable relegation to the Championship. It had been a tough season for the Latics, but a day out at Wembley more than made up for it – even if they had no clue what carnage was about to unfold.
There was a similar feeling amongst the City fanbase that day. They’d seen their team easily surrender their Premier League title to local rivals Manchester United and the build-up to this game was dominated by reports that Mancini was soon to be replaced as manager by Manuel Pellegrini.
Watson says his Wigan side were able to block out all that noise and focus on the job they had to do – which was buoyed by a previous performance against the Blues.
“We believed as a squad because we played them six weeks previously at the Etihad and got beat 1-0, but played really well.
“So, a lot of our build-up was built around that, knowing that if we perform like that again, we could cause an upset, we could get a result. I think we were under no pressure whatsoever, City were heavy, heavy favourites, but we just tried to treat it as a normal game.
“Don’t get caught up in the moment, enjoy it, but prepare in the same way we would if we were playing in the league. But there was a belief amongst the players and the coaching staff that day that we could win the game.”
Funnily enough, Watson’s only FA Cup appearance that season was in the final. The midfielder broke his leg in early November against Liverpool and was fighting tooth and nail to get himself fit. He was up against the sternest of tests, with Yaya Toure, David Silva and Samir Nasri all starting in midfield.
“They had Yaya, Silva, Agüero, Tevez, Nasri. They were defensively solid too; Joe Hart in goal, Kompany, Clichy, Zabaleta – they had special players,” Watson continued.
“The game plan had to go perfectly and they had to have a little off-day, but I believe they did that because we were so good in terms of controlling the ball and not letting them get into their rhythm.”
Martinez’s game plan did go perfectly. Zabaleta was sent off for City and Watson took advantage of a set-piece in added time, ghosting to the front post and flicking beyond the reach of Hart – causing wild celebrations.
It brought the first major trophy in Wigan’s 81-year history, the ultimate cup upset and a day no football fan will ever forget.
Watson recalled the post-match delirium: “City had superstars all over the pitch. And if it was a boxing match, they were heavy, heavy favourites, they said no way could ‘little Wigan’ win – it was near impossible.”
Moments like that are what make the FA Cup special. Stories like Ben Watson’s, stories like Wigan’s give every club from the National League, right through the footballing pyramid hope that just one day, it’ll be them lifting that prestigious trophy on the grandest stage.
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