It is FA Cup day today as fourth place Chelsea take on third place Leicester in front of 20,000 fans. Chelsea are looking for their 9th FA Cup win, while Leicester are the side that have made most cup final appearances (4) without ever winning the trophy.
The FA Cup is the oldest football competition in the world and was contested for the first time in 1972 when Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1-0.
When I was growing up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, FA Cup day was like Christmas.
Friends would gather mid-morning and we would be glued to the TV from 11am, switching between the BBC and ITV to see the teams at their hotels, watch the Road to Wembley, interviews on the team coaches, the pop records, celebrity guests, Anneka Rice in a helicopter and in 1975 an FA Cup final It’s a Knockout.
When I was 18, my dad got me two tickets to see the 1985 cup final, which was Man United v Everton.
My friend and I jumped in the car with a packed lunch and several bars of chocolate and were on the road by 9.30. My mum’s family is originally from west London, so coming in on the A40 we parked in Acton and took the tube up to Wembley.
Happily, our tickets were in the thick of United fans and we couldn’t believe the noise as we walked into the stadium.
This was the game where Kevin Moran was sent off for a professional foul on Peter Reid, and Everton were on the verge of winning the treble.
But in extra time, Mark Hughes sent Norman Whiteside scampering up the right wing and right in front of where I was sitting, well, standing at that point, we could perfectly follow the flight of the ball as he curled a left foot shot past the reach of Neville Southall and in off the post.
It was bedlam with grown men leaping all over each other and we struggled to remain upright.
I remember the constant abuse shouted at the police for nothing more than strolling past on the other side of the wire fence. I remember rising panic in the tunnel on the way to the underground after the match as we were caught in the middle of a huge crowd with no way out if it surged from behind.
But most of all I remember the swearing of the fans around us. I had never heard so much bad language and a real undercurrent of violent intent. This was a week after the Bradford City fire, and eleven days before Heysel, where Liverpool fans charged Juventus fans before the kickoff of the European Cup final and 39 people died with 600 injured.
My first FA Cup final memory was West Ham v Fulham in 1975. I can still remember Bobby Stokes’ late goal for second division Southampton breaking Man United hearts a year later, United beating Liverpool the year after that and then the wild finish in 1979 where United came back from two down against Arsenal to no avail as Graham Rix crossed it over for Alan Sunderland to put it in at the far post and United went down again. And I remember the following year and THAT foul.
Second division West Ham were one up against the mighty Arsenal thanks to a rare Trevor Brooking header.
With minutes to go, the youngest player ever in a cup final at Wembley, 17-year-old Paul Allen, was clean through and a glorious moment in FA Cup history beckoned. Until Willie Young chopped him from behind in a cynical professional foul.
This was the foul that changed the rule that would see Moran sent off in front of my eyes in ‘85. Young received a yellow card but such was the outcry that if you foul the last man, it is now a sending off offence for denying a goal scoring opportunity. There was an outcry after that one too as Moran became the first player ever sent off in an FA Cup final on the day I learned a whole new vocabulary.
Chelsea are on something of a roll having beaten Man City in the league last week in a warm up game ahead of their Champions League final which will now take place in Porto. But the most important trophy of the season is in the hands of Cheltenham Town, winners of league 2 for the first time in their history. Well done the Robins.