Aston Villa and Arsenal meet at Wembley on Saturday in the F.A. Cup Final and as a neutral I’m looking forward to watching it at home or in the pub as to me it is still a great sporting occasion and this final should be a cracker. Yes we say that every year and sometimes it turns out to be a bit of a bore, but with Villa safe for another season in the Premier and the holders Arsenal keen to hold on to the famous old trophy, I reckon both sides will treat us to an entertaining match.
The F.A. Cup though has had a lot of negative comments thrown at it in the past few years saying it’s lost its appeal and it’s not what it used to be. But I reckon it’s still the greatest cup competition in the world and that’s why Wembley will be full on Saturday. Millions will be watching the final all around the globe as it’s an institution and long may it continue to be so.
When I was a kid growing up in the sixties the day of the Cup final was the highlight of the football season. Us lads would be over in the field in the morning staging our own final pretending to be at Wembley and we’d be players from the teams playing that day. Then we’d be back home watching the build up to the big kick-off which went on for hours back then.
I would be staring at the telly dreaming of what it must be like to actually be there as a fan or player at this huge stadium in London? I remember asking my dad while watching one final: ” Will Coventry City ever get to a final?” And my dad ever the optimist replying: “Of course we will and we’ll bloody win it.”
But as we were just a struggling lowly club at that time I must have thought he’s only saying that to cheer me up. So year after year I’d be thinking could this be the one that the Sky Blues get to the Twin Towers? Unfortunately we always got knocked out in the third or fourth round and the only time we did any good was in the 62/63 season when we reached the sixth round losing out 3-1 to the mighty Manchester United at Highfield Road in front of a crowd of 44.000.
I pleaded with my dad to let me go with him to the game but he couldn’t get me a ticket as they were gold dust, so I had to make do with him telling me all about it when he came back after the match. Looking back, no wonder we lost that day as United had in their team Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Pat Crerand and Albert Quixall – big players for the big occasions and they went on to win the trophy, but my dad did say the City give them a run for their money.
So F.A. Cup rounds came and went with my team going out with a whimper instead of a bang and just when I’d given up on ever seeing my beloved Sky Blues play at Wembley the impossible happened in 87 when they got to the final where they would meet Tottenham. To say I was excited would be an understatement and my dad never tired of reminding me what he said all those years before about us getting there and winning it!
We were a top flight side in 87 but Spurs had the likes of Hoddle, Allen, Waddle and Clemence in their ranks so it was no surprise to see that the bookies made the Londoners red hot favourites and one writer in a newspaper reckoned we were going to be lambs to the slaughter.
I remember vividly walking down Wembley Way amongst thousands of fellow Coventry supporters in a sea of Sky Blue looking up at those famous twin towers and having to pinch myself that I was actually here at the home of football and about to watch my club play in the final. I’d gone from a small boy lying in front of the telly dreaming about being at Wembley to standing behind the goal packed in tight watching as my team put on the best performance I’d ever seen and these so called lambs turn into roaring lions and go on to win the game and lift the trophy.
That awesome day will stay with me for the rest of my life as it will no doubt all the other proud City fans who were there to witness history for our club, as it was the first and still only time we’ve won the trophy. So for all those who say the F.A. Cup has lost its magic and sparkle, go and say that to those Arsenal and Villa supporters who will be watching their respective teams on Saturday, as I know what their response to that would be and it would be the same as mine was back in 87:
“This is the best day of my life!”