The theme of FA Cup redemption is one that has been with me since the days of my youth when I was forever burdened with the gut-wrenching reality that my beloved Liverpool could get to what was then the most glittering day in English football, and contrive to lose to a despicable team like Arsenal!
The date was May 8th 1971 and I was fast approaching my thirteenth birthday. I was, for all intents and purposes, addicted to football - it was all I did, all I talked about, and all I could think about. Name a team in the old First Division, and I could tell you their starting lineup (and most of the reserves), their manager, which players were internationals, their hometowns, and so on. I was in love with Liverpool Football Club, and took any and every chance I could to see them on television because seeing them in person was financially impossible. I also lived hundreds of miles away. Contrary to today’s ease of access to the top clubs in the world via satellite television, there were seldom live games shown on either of the two TV channels in the UK at the time. It was a measure of the importance of the FA Cup Final that it was shown live by both channels at the same time.
It is hard to quantify the significance of Cup Final day for people in this country because there really isn’t anything quite like it. Super Bowl Sunday has some similar qualities, but doesn’t seem to get into the pores of the populace in quite the same way. Needless to say, in 1971 there was a 12 year-old kid who was giddy with the excitement, stress, and anticipation of having his own team playing in the big game at hallowed Wembley. I watched all the televised pre-game hype and build-up that preceded the 3:00pm kick-off.
The game was played in blinding sunlight with the contrast of Liverpool’s bright red jerseys and the stark yellow of Arsenal seemed to only amplify the game’s intensity. Ninety minutes of thrust and counter-thrust resulted in a 0-0 score. The teams went into two 15-minute periods of extra time. My heart nearly burst with joy when Liverpool got the opening goal in the beginning of extra time, and it sank like lead when Arsenal equalized nine minutes later. I thought we would find a way to win the game, after all Liverpool were the good guys - they just HAD to win.
Arsenal took the cup, and my day was ruined. I knew there could be no redemption until we won the FA Cup ourselves and erase that ghastly experience from my heart. Liverpool won it three years later and have won it several times since, but my youthful scar from 1971 has never quite healed. Try as I might, I cannot find total redemption for that sunny day in May.
This Saturday the tension and excitement will be present as always, and I’ll be willing Liverpool to overcome Chelsea to put some kind of sheen on what has been a rough season. It has been forty years since my first Liverpool FA Cup experience, and my more mature self is hoping they will play well and win in style, but I suspect that feeling of juvenile injustice may well surface at some point, because there can probably never be sufficient success or redemption to eliminate that image of Charlie George salting our wounds all those years ago. I just hope Fernando Torres doesn’t get the winner in extra time!