Memories · Notes from West London · Sport

Cup Final Foolishness

My sleep patterns are flexible, much more so than when I was younger. I wrote about it last year in this piece, “Usually I’m Anthony Trollope, but not this week”. I am capable of staying up till 3am, or going to bed before 9pm and waking up between 3 and 4am. These days I’m usually in bed anytime between 10pm and midnight, up by 6am and out of the house by 7.15am to take my son to school. This time last year (when he was in Year 6, his last year of primary school) I would wake him at 8am and he still had time to eat breakfast, get dressed, brush his teeth and be on time for school. This year (Year 7, his first year of senior school) he has to be in his classroom by 8am, so we’re out of the house 45 minutes before that, and arrive at school in plenty of time.

I didn’t have to take him to school this morning, and I’d had over eight hours in bed on each of the previous two evenings, so I didn’t need an early night last night. Unfortunately I got caught up in some Cup Final Foolishness, watching nearly three hours of highlights from three Classic FA Cup Finals from the past 50 years. I got to bed at 2.15am, way too late for a school night. And this morning I discovered that the games are being repeated today, from 7pm onwards, which would have been a much more sensible time to watch them. They’re on the BBC Red Button and the three matches are: Leeds v Sunderland (1973), Spurs v Coventry (1987) and Arsenal v Chelsea (2002). I watched the last of those games first. This year’s Final is on Saturday (27 May), which explains why Classic Finals from previous years are being repeated. It may be hard for anyone under 30 to appreciate just how few matches were screened live on TV in this country before the mid-1980s. The only domestic club game that was broadcast live every season was the FA Cup Final. League games were first broadcast live in 1983. You can now watch more live football on TV in a month than people of my generation could watch in the first 18 years of our lives. This partly explains why I stayed up so late last night. I was revisiting three very different times in my life, watching games that I saw live at the time but haven’t seen in so much detail since then.

My wife and I were at the Arsenal v Chelsea Final in 2002, at the Millennium Stadium, and spent the whole weekend in Cardiff. We drove down on Friday night and returned to London on Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t seen the TV highlights in 2002, so that was my justification for staying up past midnight this morning to watch them. (The show ended at midnight but I paused TV a few times, as we do these days.) Apart from the two goals I couldn’t remember much about the game. The first half was quiet and the goals came in the last 20 minutes, cracking shots by Ray Parlour and Fredrik Ljungberg to give Arsenal a 2-0 win. I could remember the Arsenal line-up pretty clearly (though I had forgotten about David Seaman’s long ponytail) but many of the Chelsea players had slipped my mind (Melchiot, Babayaro, Gronkjaer) and I hadn’t remembered that they were still managed by Claudio Ranieri at the time. Watching the game triggered all sorts of memories, about what we were going through at the time rather than about the game itself. This was a time before we had children, the month of my wife’s second miscarriage. (There were four in all, and our experiences of miscarriage are covered in some detail in this 9,000-word piece.)

The second of the Classic Cup Finals, which I started watching sometime after midnight, was my team, Leeds United, against Sunderland in 1973. I remember the game well. I was a child at the time and watched every second of it as keenly as the previous year’s final, when Leeds had beaten Arsenal 1-0 and my hero Allan Clarke scored the only goal. I have seen brief highlights of the 1973 game over the years (Ian Porterfield’s winning goal, Jim Montgomery’s double save to deny first Trevor Cherry and then Peter Lorimer an equalizer) but no more than a few minutes. The 45 minutes of highlights I was watching in the early hours of this morning include parts of the build-up: “Meet the Teams” (Terry Cooper introduces the Leeds players, Sunderland captain Bobby Kerr introduces his team), Sunderland fans interviewed on the London-bound train, and four pundits giving their predictions to David Coleman. Bobby Charlton says that Sunderland have a real chance. I remembered that from 1973. Terry Cooper, Bob Wilson and Brian Clough all predicted a Leeds win. I was transported back to the 1970s. 44 years on and Leeds still haven’t made it back to Wembley for an FA Cup Final. I have seen the four Wembley appearances since then (Charity Shields in 1974 and 1992, the 1996 League Cup Final and the 2008 Play-Off Final, when we lost to Doncaster) but the wait for an FA Cup Final continues.

Those Leeds highlights ended around 1.20am and I really should have gone to bed, but instead I remained in front of the TV for Spurs v Coventry from 1987. I had seen all 120 minutes of the final in the British Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival and was rather drunk by the end of it. How on earth was that 30 years ago? I recall talking to Philip French, the greatest of Film Critics, about “Come and See”, a Soviet Film that was being screened at the festival that year, but I couldn’t recall any of the five goals. Watching these highlights, past 2am, the Clive Allen goal was familiar – I must have seen it since – but I couldn’t picture any of the others, even Gary Mabbutt’s own goal, which turned out to be the winner for Coventry (3-2 in extra time). At least I had the sense to switch off the TV at that point and not stay up even longer for the post-match analysis. It took a while to get to sleep, my mind racing between 1973, 1987 and 2002, between childhood, my twenties and our first year of marriage. Our lives are different now, and I will miss this year’s FA Cup Final. I’ll be on a day-trip to Ramsgate with my son.




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