Success and failure: the history of attempts to do the double-Double

<span>(clockwise from top left) <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Arsenal;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Arsenal</a>'s Charlie George in 1971, Tottenham's bus parade in 1961, Alex Ferguson in 1994, Aston Villa in 1897, Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish and Steve Nicol in 1986, a Preston cigarette card.</span><span>Composite: Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Mirrorpix/Alamy; Chronicle/Alamy</span>

Caprice was furious. As were Ian Botham and Barry Norman. There was anger, too, from Tamara Beckwith and Darren Day, with Simon Weston perhaps putting it best. “Have they forgotten football is a game for the people?” said a man who sustained severe burns during the Falklands war and was now ready for another battle.

It’s important to keep a sense of perspective and sadly that was in somewhat short supply during the summer of 1999 as England lost its collective mind over Manchester United’s decision not to compete in that season’s FA Cup, captured best in the Daily Mirror’s front page of 14 July as an eclectic and, quite frankly, bizarre collection of people had their say on the matter. “I was shocked when I heard. It’s so sad,” said Frances Lawrence, the widow of the murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence. Truly, the 90s were a different time.

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In fairness, United opting out of the world’s oldest national cup competition in order to compete in the newly created Club World Championship in Brazil was surprising to say the least and also meant they would not be able to become the first English side to win the league and FA Cup Double for a second successive season, having done so as part of the 1999 treble. There was no guarantee Alex Ferguson’s team would have achieved that feat but given they won the 1999-2000 title by 18 points and beat Chelsea 3-2 less than a month before the latter won the Cup final, it’s fair to say it was a distinct possibility.

Fast forward and United’s task now is stopping their local rivals making that particular bit of history. They face Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday as a club in poor form and a state of turmoil after it emerged on Friday that Erik ten Hag will be sacked after the game regardless of the result and, as such, it would require something close to a miracle for United to prevent City following up a fourth title in a row with a second FA Cup on the bounce. The double-Double is very much on for Pep Guardiola’s men.

And it would be a notable achievement. In all, there have been 13 English Double-winning sides, with Preston North End’s class of 1888-89, managed by William Sudell, the first to claim the honour in the first season of the Football League. They won the title again the following season but lost 3-2 to Bolton in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. Aston Villa were next to try to repeat the Double, under George Ramsay, in 1897-98. But they got nowhere close, finishing sixth and exiting the FA Cup in the fifth round.

The next Double winners were the first of the modern era – Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham team of 1960-61, and they got reasonably close to matching that success 12 months later, finishing third in the First Division and retaining the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory over Burnley at Wembley in what became known as The Chessboard Final owing to the cautious nature of the contest. And it would be another 10 years, via another club from north London, before the Double was achieved again – Bertie Mee’s Arsenal doing so in 1970-71. The following season they finished fifth in the league and lost 1-0 to Don Revie’s Leeds in the Cup final.

Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool were next to fall short in the pursuit of the double-Double, finishing second to Everton in 1986-87 and losing 3-0 to Luton in the third round of the FA Cup. And that was the start and end of it in the 1980s, with Manchester United rising to prominence in the 1990s and twice falling just short in their own double-Double pursuit, in 1994-95 and 1996-97, before giving up the chance to do so at the very end of the decade.

Arsenal also failed to do the double-Double in the 90s, finishing second to United in the league and losing to the same opposition in an epic Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park – Ryan Giggs’s hairy chest and all that – in 1999, and it was arguably Arsène Wenger’s side that, up to now, have come closest to pulling off the achievement after missing out on a second successive Premier League title in 2002-03 by five points (again to United) while going on to retain that season’s FA Cup with a 1-0 victory over Southampton in Cardiff courtesy of a goal from Robert Pires.

Chelsea were next to miss out on a double-Double after finishing second in the league and losing in the fourth round of the FA Cup under Carlo Ancelotti in 2010-11 before Manchester City had their first go at it in 2019-20. However, they finished runners-up to Liverpool by 18 points and lost to Arsenal in the semi-finals during a season disrupted by the outbreak of the pandemic.

Now City go again, having won the Double as part of their treble last season. They should beat United in the Cup final for a second year in a row and, in the process, seal another landmark success in the Guardiola era. They would do so, however, with those 115 Premier League charges continuing to hang over them. You have to wonder what Caprice makes of it all.