Liverpool will play Chelsea in what used to be the final game of the English season and what was once the showpiece event of English football. The game is no longer a stand-alone fixture on cup final Saturday and a case could be made that it is not even the biggest game in England this weekend let alone the biggest of the season. The FA Cup Final has lost its luster and its standing in the game. The kick off time has been moved from its historic 3:00 pm time slot to accommodate television a further sign of the demise of a once great competition.
The UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League have eroded the aura of the FA Cup. Throw in the morally bankrupt decision by the FA to force Manchester United to forgo the 2000 tournament, in order to play in the World Club Championship, and it is easy to understand why the FA Cup and the FA Cup Final are no longer put on a pedestal by players, clubs, and the fans of some clubs.
We watched Cup Final Swap Shop on the BBC followed by Cup Final Grandstand and Football Focus. If you were more of an ITV viewer it was #73 followed by Dickie Davies and World of Sport and Saint and Greavsie. Both covered the team breakfast at the hotel, the bus ride to Wembley, the drive down Wembley way, and the view of the original Twin Towers. We followed the players as they walked on to the field waving to the crowd and reading the catchy banners that the fans had made up for the day. We heard Abide With Me, Wembley’s anthem, and a tune I want played at my funeral, before the teams came out. The cameras were in the tunnel as the two teams walked out on to the hallowed turf side by side behind their respective managers and captains.
The game itself was almost secondary to the buildup, but once it was played the memories the FA Cup Final have provided will always live long in the memory. Who can forget Alan Sunderland’s last minute winner for Arsenal against Man United in ’79? Or Ricky Villa’s mazy run and the orgasmic commentary of John Motson as the ball entered Man City’s net in ’81? Or Ian Porterfield’s winner for Sunderland against Leeds in ’73 and that stunning save by Jim Montgomery in the same game?
I still get misty eyed when I see old black and white British Pathe News reels showing FA Cup Final highlights. Jackie Carey being carried by his Man United team mates in 1948. Spurs doing their lap of honor after completing their double in 1961. And the images of the Matthews Cup Final in 1953. I always felt sorry for Stan Mortensen who scored a hat-trick in the game for Blackpool, but was overshadowed by his legendary teammate.
I was at the 1987 FA Cup Final when Spurs lost to Coventry City. I cried my eyes out when we lost. The trip back to Holyhead on a train full of City fans was not pleasant, but I would not swap those memories for anything. Going to Wembley to see Spurs in a cup final meant something. It still means something. I am envious of the fans of the two teams playing this weekend and wish Spurs had beaten Chelsea and were playing Liverpool instead of making a league trip to Aston Villa. The FA Cup will never be the competition it was in my youth, but at the final whistle in this year’s final try telling Liverpool or Chelsea that winning the cup means nothing.