Take a look at some of the Black trailblazers from the history of the FA Cup

Sunday 01 Oct 2023
Ian Wright celebrates winning the FA Cup for the first time with Arsenal in 1993

It's Black History Month during October and as the 2023-24 Emirates FA Cup campaign heads towards the fourth round qualifying and first round proper stages over the next few weeks, we've compiled a list of some of the most iconic Black players and managers to have made a splash in the competition from down the years.

Albert Johanneson

Escaping the awful Apartheid regime of South Africa, Albert Johanneson became Don Revie’s first Leeds United signing in 1961 and in the coming years lit up Elland Road with his dazzling skill and flamboyance from the wing.

Johanneson top-scored with 15 goals in 41 games as Leeds won promotion in 1963-64 and the following season became the first Black footballer to play in an FA Cup Final, as Revie’s men struggled to recreate their best form against Liverpool and lost 2-1 after extra-time.

The pacey and skilful winger would also go on to become the first Black player to feature for an English side in the final of a major European cup competition, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

As former England striker Brian Deane put it: “As young, football-crazy lads growing up in Chapeltown, Leeds, in the early 70s, Albert Johanneson was a name we were all familiar with.

"He had been an inspiration for the next generation of footballing talent in the city.”

Albert Johanneson was a big star during his time at Leeds United and also the first Black player to feature in an FA Cup Final

Mike Trebilcock

It’s not an exaggeration to say Michael Trebilcock was one of the FA Cup’s most unexpected Final heroes – after all, he wasn’t even listed on the matchday programme!

Having only joined Everton at the start of 1966 and a foot injury hampering much of the remainder of that season, his selection for the Final ahead of England centre-forward Fred Pickering, who was recovering from injury, came as a surprise to everyone on the Friday afternoon. Including the player himself.

But manager Harry Catterick’s decision to select the Cornishman proved to be inspired as with Everton 2-0 down, the 21 year old bagged a brace in the space of five magical minutes, before Derek Temple completed the remarkable comeback and secured the Toffees’ first FA Cup win in 33 years.

Trebilcock’s goals made him the first Black player to score in an FA Cup Final and secured cult status among the Everton faithful.

Mike Trebilcock (centre) celebrates winning the FA Cup with Everton at Wembley in 1966

Ruud Gullit

Widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play the game, when Ruud Gullit joined Chelsea in 1995 he had already achieved more than most players could ever dream of: world’s most expensive signing, Ballon d’Or winner, two-time European Cup winner, captaining your country to their first major trophy…that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Gullit’s arrival helped revolutionise Chelsea and in his first season as player-manager, he became the first Black manager to win the FA Cup when the Blues beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in 1997.

The Dutchman was English top-flight football’s first Black manager and had helped guide the Blues into Europe and was second in the table when a falling out with the board saw him sacked and replaced by another footballing great, Gianluca Vialli, who would finish the season by lifting the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup.

Chelsea's Dutchman became the first Black manager to win the FA Cup

Roy Essandoh

Remember Ceefax? For those of a certain age, it was where we would get our football scores on a Saturday afternoon. Or play Bamboozle.

But for Wycombe Wanderers, it was also where they found FA Cup heroes.

Ok, that was very much tongue-in-cheek and factually incorrect. But Roy Essandoh was a much-travelled striker without a club when his agent saw an article on Ceefax stating that third-tier Wycombe Wanderers were desperately looking for a forward for their upcoming FA Cup quarter-final with Leicester City after a spate of injuries.

Essandoh ended up signing an initial two-week contract with the club and after just two previous outings for the Chairboys, the then 25 year old came off the bench to score a dramatic injury-time winner against Premier League Leicester and book a semi-final spot against eventual winners Liverpool.

Essandoh’s time at the Second Division club would end that summer and his header would be his only goal for the side but it made him a Wycombe and FA Cup cult hero.

Speaking after his playing days were over, Essandoh said: “You can look back and I could have scored 500 goals in the league, done this, that and the other but this one thing will live on.

"To be a part of the [FA Cup’s] history and tradition is amazing. Even if it is only a little part of it, you can always look back on it and think ‘yeah that is great’.”

Roy Essandoh became one of the Cup's most famous goalscorers in 2001

Ashley Cole

Only four clubs have won more FA Cups than Ashley Cole in the 150 years of the competition… let that sink in for a moment.

One of the greatest left-backs of all time, Cole was an integral part of the Arsenal and Chelsea teams who dominated the competition between 2002 and 2012, as he lifted the trophy seven times.

England’s sixth most capped player of all time, no individual has won the men’s FA Cup more times than Cole.

Ashley Cole won the FA Cup with both Arsenal and Chelsea and is the only player to have lifted the Cup seven times

Didier Drogba

Chelsea’s success in the FA Cup during that time was partly down to the incredible record of their striker Didier Drogba. Drogba’s record of 12 goals in 29 FA Cup outings would probably not have been worthy of inclusion in a list like this but when it came to the big occasion, Drogba generally turned up.

The Ivorian striker scored nine cup final goals for Chelsea, including in their Champions League success in 2012, and no other player has ever scored in four different FA Cup Finals.

Fans of Liverpool, Portsmouth, Everton and Manchester United were all left cursing the iconic striker after crucial FA Cup Final goals helped the Blues to victory at Wembley.

Drogba became a serial winner of the FA Cup during his time with Chelsea

Kelechi Iheanacho

But while no one can match Drogba’s record in finals, the striker is not the highest African goalscorer in the competition’s history.

While Kelechi Iheanacho has not always been able to tie down a regular starting place up front for Manchester City and Leicester City on a consistent basis, he has scored regularly in the FA Cup and is the current active top scorer in the competition

Iheanacho scored four times in three outings in the competition for Manchester City and following his big-money move to Leicester, that record has gone to 18 goals in 24 FA Cup games across both sides.

Iheanacho broke Drogba’s record when he scored a brace in the 3-1 quarter-final win against Manchester United in March and when he then bagged the goal which booked Leicester’s place in the Final against Southampton, he increased the most goals scored by an African player to 14.

Kelechi Iheanacho is the highest-scoring African player in FA Cup history

Ian Wright

And finally, few players can sum up the magic of the FA Cup quite like Ian Wright.

After constant rejection from clubs in his teens, Wright found himself playing non-League football in his early 20s, where he featured in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup.

But finally his talent was recognised by Crystal Palace and he almost rewarded Steve Coppell with an FA Cup win in 1990, when he came off the bench to first score the equaliser and then put the Eagles in front during extra-time against Manchester United.

Mark Hughes ended up forcing a replay and United won the return 1-0 but Wright was to complete the meteoric rise and lift the famous trophy three years later, when he scored for Arsenal in both the initial match and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday as Andy Linighan secured one of the most memorable winners in FA Cup history in the 119th minute.

Wright was also part of the Arsenal squad who lifted the trophy in 1998. The south London kid who went from playing in the FA Cup qualifying rounds to scoring at Wembley Stadium and walking up those famous stairs to lift the old trophy. A story which dreams are made of.

By Frank Smith