There's been much talk of the FA Cup being devalued in recent times. We've discussed it ourselves on our podcasts and covered it in posts and it could just be our own sense of nostalgia...we'll probably never know...
One thing we are certain of, however, is that 'in our day' (whenever that was), the FA Cup Final was something to cherish, something which occupied the whole day, with coverage starting around 3am (probably) and ending with the playing of the national anthem and closedown (maybe).
So what better way to relive those glory days than by diving into a book brimming with the recollections of those of a similar age? Time travel? Oh shut up!
Conveniently for both us and you, Matthew Eastley has created such a book - a series in fact, covering the 60s, 70s and now, with his latest release, "From Ricky Villa to Dave Beasant", the 80s!
My copy arrived last Friday and naturally I dived straight into '87. The chapters are comprised of fan memories and I can genuinely say it brought a tear to my eye, especially recalling the evening when we'd won, just hearing all the car horns and cheering across the city, even out in the suburbs as I was at the time. For anyone whose team won the cup during the decades covered, it's a must-read, but even for football fans in general, the sense of nostalgia will transport you right back to your childhood.
We spoke to Matt and asked what compelled him to start such a project...
I can remember precisely when we got our first colour television. It was Saturday 30 March 1974 and the first thing I watched was the Hanna-Barbera produced Josie and the Pussycats. I was seven years old and spent the entire day glued to this magic rectangle. Before acquiring the Bush-manufactured set, with its three clunky channel buttons, we’d had to go to our friends across the street to watch colour essential programmes like Top of the Pops or Jeux Sans Frontieres but now we had our own box. Yet, one more thing from that bright spring morning stays with me. It was my older sister coming into the room and saying: ‘Just think. Now you’ll be able to watch the Cup Final in colour, here.’
It was no coincidence that my sister had cited the Cup Final. It was the showpiece occasion of the year, an unmissable televised event. Deep in the recesses of my mind I had memories of watching the 1971 Cup Final in colour at some friends of my parents. I recall being spellbound by the green pitch below a glorious blue sky and the polychrome brilliance of red-shirted Liverpool against the yellow of Arsenal. I’d then watched the extraordinary 1973 Final between Sunderland and Leeds on a tiny portable black and white set at my grandparents but, come 1974 and the one-sided clash between Bill Shankly’s Liverpool and Joe Harvey’s Newcastle, our house was the meeting point.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, FA Cup Final Day was, alongside Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night, one of the most important and exciting days of the year.
It didn’t really concern me who was playing, it was the occasion that mattered. And it wasn’t just football fans like me either. The FA Cup Final had all the trappings of a state occasion with royalty, marching bands and the national anthem. That meant it drew in people who would never dream of going to a live game or tuning in to Match of the Day, The Big Match or On the Ball.
We hummed along with ‘Abide With Me’ and smiled at pun-laden banners like ‘Osborne Takes the Biscuit’ 'Channon Strikes More Times Than British Leyland’ or 'The Name is Bonds: Billy Bonds."
Whether you were lucky enough to be there or watching at home, it was a yearly ritual that transcended football.I heard on countless occasions people say they did not like football but they always watched the FA Cup Final. My granddads both used to wear a suit on cup final day because it felt special, different and important.
As a football-obsessed lad, FA Cup Final Day was sheer nirvana for me. The moment Zorro or Champion the Wonder Horse finished around 11am and the TV coverage began, I was there. FA Cup Mastermind, It’s a Knockout, interviews from the team hotels or the coach were the norm and I loved every second.
In the 70s, the matches themselves usually delivered as well with memorable victories by Sunderland, West Ham, Southampton and Ipswich and players like Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery, Alan Taylor, Bobby Stokes and Roger Osborne becoming household names. They, like the matches they played in, are indelibly printed on my brain.
I was moved to write about the FA Cup, and specifically the Final, because I was saddened and frustrated to see the gradual decline of a competition which was woven so integrally into our social and footballing fabric.
Despite valiant attempts in recent years to breathe life back into the competition, I believe irreparable damage was done, chiefly during the 1990s, when the competition was mismanaged, under-marketed and devalued.
It’s fair to say that the media landscape has changed dramatically over the last quarter of a century. The FA Cup Final enjoyed its heyday when live broadcasting was comparatively rare.Apart from the FA Cup Final, the only live football matches shown were the England v Scotland Home International clashes, World Cup games and the occasional match such as England’s showdown against Poland in October 1973, which required complex negotiations on behalf of the broadcasters to screen.
I believe the 1980s represented the last great decade of the competition and that the dramatic Wimbledon v Liverpool final of 1988 is the last great classic of that era.
There have been some excellent matches since of course but a number of factors had already conspired to diminish the competition – and particularly the final.
The establishment of the Premier League, in 1992, is of crucial importance.It brought with it unprecedented financial rewards. Live matches became the norm, accompanied by clever, intense marketing (which some might say equated to ludicrous hype), which helped establish the Premier League as the only show in town.Whereas in the 1970s we had, at most, two or three live matches during an entire season, by the 1990s, that number was regularly being shown in a single week.
It’s also important to say that, over the preceding decades, no team had been able to exert a stranglehold on the competition so we were able to enjoy a whole host of so-called smaller clubs competing and, in several cases, actually winning, at Wembley.
Sadly, that largely disappeared in the 1990s and 2000s and a predictable succession of winners – for me a series of uninteresting finals invariably involving Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal which all merge into one – did not help.
The competition began to lose its romance.Winning the cup final became a ‘nice-to-have’, not a ‘must-have’.
As Mike Collett says in his indispensable The Complete Record of the FA Cup, it is wrong to suggest there was ever some kind of ‘golden age’. The top teams of the day frequently did reach the FA Cup Final but there was a perception that the competition was more open and the victories of clubs like Sunderland, Coventry and Wimbledon prove that.
Of course, there have been victories by so-called, less fashionable clubs in the new millennium and I take absolutely nothing away from the achievements of the likes of Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic for winning the competition and teams like Millwall, Cardiff, Stoke and Hull for reaching the final.
For me, however, the gloss went from the final many years previously. It was unthinkable that I would ever miss the FA Cup Final and, for every match between 1971, when I was five, and 1996, when I was 30, I could tell you exactly where I was and who I was with.It gets more difficult after that because, to my great regret, to me the FA Cup Final is now just another game.
One last thing is that I have never been to the FA Cup Final. Like millions of youngsters I sometimes dreamed of scoring the winner at Wembley.I thought if players like Ian Porterfield, Alan Taylor, Bobby Stokes and Roger Osborne could do it, then so could I.
I could play a bit but it was never going to happen.The next best thing for me was to see my team (FA Cup winners in 1947) play in the final.That has not happened either and, realistically, does not look very likely..
So I started living the experience vicariously.
A mammoth and hugely enjoyable project started when I began talking to a Chelsea fan who had been at the classic 1970 final and replay. His eyes lit up as he remembered the time.He could remember what life was like, what he was wearing, what songs were in the charts (Bridge Over Troubled Water) and what was in the news (the Apollo 13 crisis). He could recall minor details of the day, getting to the ground, seemingly trivial incidents and snatches of conversation that were still fresh after more than 40 years.That fascinated me and I found myself searching for more memories.Over the last six years, I have encountered in the region of 700 football fans all over the globe who have attended FA Cup Finals since 1960 and they, like that Chelsea fan, can recall it as though it was yesterday.
The third and final book of this series is the 1980s and I hope you will enjoy an unashamedly nostalgic trip down memory lane to a time when the FA Cup Final was still the only show in town.
A big thank you to Matthew for sharing his story with us...
"From Ricky Villa to Dave Beasant" is out now, priced £14.99 from Pitch Publishing...
-- Rich Johnson
-- Rich Johnson