Is it still special, when you are playing Monday night, two days after one might have hoped to play in the FA Cup, and when you will probably know your next round opponent, should you beat Bournemouth? Hell yes!!
I bloody love the FA Cup have done since I first remember watching a live final on the Beeb in 1973. I could lie and say I remember 1971, but I was not quite 5 and I would be fibbing.
Has it changed for the better, with less replays, being played over 4 days for TV, with semis at Wembley, rather then at a neutral ground and with the final no longer at 3pm? No of course it hasn’t but for supporters of my age (old) it has been, is and I hope always will be a major trophy that every fan dreams of witnessing their team win at Wembley.
I once wrote about the whole childhood experience of FA Cup Final day, which modern TV has also robbed us of, but they are still memories I cherish, and those boyhood Saturdays are what made me fall in love with this beautiful game. A sprint to the sweet shop at the end of the road, with extra pocket money because it was FA Cup Final Saturday, no normal Saturday. Returning laden with a bag full of the best variety of penny chews, sweet cigarettes (I know!!) shrimps, bananas and Bazooka Joes, ready for the Beeb’s Cup Final TV Marathon.
Yes, for in those days there were about 5 hours of television build up to what was then, barring the odd England match and major international summer tournaments the ONLY football match live on our domestic screens. From pre-recorded midweek player interviews, to chatting to fans on the old Wembley Way, intermingled with the humour of an FA Cup Final Mastermind or player snooker match. There would be footage of the players breakfast, at their hotel (probably a full English!), a camera on the coach trip and the players filmed arriving and then examining the playing surface in their special suits. Of course, this would prompt the full back story of the design and tailoring of the suits or perhaps blazers and we most not forget the recording and Top of the Pops video of each team’s Cup Final song. Lastly there might even have been the sad story of the player or players who had played a heroic role in their team’s run to the final but who might not make the match-day 12 – Yes folks only the starting 11 and one sub back in the day when footballers could tackle and play 70 games a season on donkey field pitches!!
I had been taken to Arsenal in 1976/77 but it was the dramatic events of 12th May 1979 that saw me begin my persistent nagging of conservative parents to allow me to start making the trip from SE London on my own. That incredible Topsy Turvey final, that saw The Gunners coasting against Man United, only for the Red Devils to seemingly ruin a 13 year old‘a life, pulling 2 goals back, only for my hero Liam Brady to begin a move finished by Alan Alan Alan Sunderland, to win our first trophy for 8 years, at the death. Admittedly the entirely opposite set of emotions would ensue a year later when my beloved team fell at the last hurdle to West Ham but the obsession with the world’s oldest cup competition was deeply seated within my supporter’s psyche.
I had to wait thirteen more seasons to see my team win at Wembley, with the television build up diminished but secondary, replaced with a few pints. Still however, in 1993 the FA Cup Final if unresolved after extra time, went to a replay, which Arsenal needed to overcome Sheffield Wednesday. That crazy and wonderful tradition has been removed in the modern Premier League era, along with the unlimited replays, as required in the earlier rounds.
Arsenal are not only the team to have one this great competition the most, but they are also the team along with the great Liverpool team to boast the longest FA Cup marathon, in 1980. The tie went to 3 replays before Arsenal overcame one of the greatest club teams ever seen. I recall being sat on the floor next to my radio each week for three draws, and a league draw between the same sides thrown in between, for Brian Talbot to finally clinch a 1-0 win at the fourth time of asking. Even more sickening to beat Paisley’s mighty Liverpool, to then lose to The Hammers, who were not even a topflight side in 1980.
Under Wenger we had that incredible early run, followed by the period in which he disrespected the competition for may years, which I hated, then culminating in the incredible run of 3 triumphs in 4 years, finished off with an absolutely wonderful denial of a Chelsea Double in 2017. The 2014 final, however, will always be special, when an Arsenal team led on the pitch so wonderfully, by our current coach, broke Wenger’s nine-year trophy drought. The roller-coaster of emotion that day and the crescendo of Ramsey’s winner in extra time, left me drained and weeping with emotion, as I watched Wenger hold the old trophy aloft in front of me. 35 years later this was my 1979, armchair experience, to a degree, but this time live and in the stadium.
I could go on and one about my devotion and love of this wonderful cup competition, but I am guessing you are getting my drift by now! So, no matter how they dilute, lessen, shorten or break with the historic tradition of this incredible competition it will always hold the most special place in my heart.
I was fortunate to go with my son to the F A Cup Final, in 2016, which will always be an enduring a treasured memory and in a way it is Liam that has prompted me to write this today, rather than an obvious time such as before the third round or prior to Wembley (this May??). Liam spent two seasons at Bournemouth between the ages of 14 and 16, so this Monday’s trip, one I am fortunate to be making, has drawn my head to these thoughts and my fingers back to the keyboard.
Monday will be an emotional journey for me, and I sincerely hope it will prove a springboard for Mikel Arteta and this young Arsenal side. Go strong Mikel and let this match be the true start of yours and our road back to Wembley and FA Cup glory!