Here in the UK, we have been living in lockdown for nearly seven weeks. There is no live sport on TV. The BBC and ITV are raiding their archives. We have had snooker classics on BBC, and ITV are about to show the entire Euro 96 tournament (football) on one channel or another. Yesterday the main ITV channel showed extensive highlights of the 1979 FA Cup Final, between Arsenal and Manchester United.
Although my wife and daughter are both Arsenal fans, neither of them had seen highlights of the game. I watched the whole thing when it was broadcast live, back in 1979. It was the first time I got drunk watching football. It was the first in a long line of FA Cup Finals that I watched with people I went to school with. We consumed rather a lot of drink on many of those Saturday afternoons. The last time I watched an FA Cup Final that way was in 2001, for the final between Arsenal and Liverpool. We were at the Hop Poles in Hammersmith, drinking Guinness. It was the last time I watched the final in a pub. It was also the last time Arsenal lost in a final. They have played six since then and won them all.
For the finals in 2002 and 2003 my wife and I were in the stadium (the Millennium Stadium, as it was called at the time, in Cardiff). Arsenal won both times. I had no real interest in watching the 2004 final (Manchester United beat Millwall) and kept an eye on it while dozing off on the sofa. In 2005, when my son was 6 months old, we were sat on the sofa to see a goalless 120 minutes before Arsenal beat Manchester United on penalties. Since then, I have only seen finals in the company of my children, and there are some that I missed completely. Last year, for example, we were having a celebratory meal in a local restaurant, following my son’s Confirmation, while Manchester City were hammering Watford 6-0.
Anyway, back to the 1979 final, and the 60 minutes of highlights that were shown at 5pm on ITV. I suggested that my wife and daughter watch the whole show as part of their “football education”. As Arsenal fans they should be able to recognize club legends such as Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton and Alan Sunderland. They were already familiar with Pat Rice and David O’Leary from their more recent coaching roles. They had never seen Joe Jordan or Gordon McQueen, the former playing without his top set of front teeth, as was his usual style. Both players had been signed by Manchester United from Leeds, the team that I had already been supporting for over 10 years by then. Jimmy Greenhoff was also ex-Leeds, and he came on as a sub late on. These days I mutter “Leeds Boy” when watching any of our former players, but not back in 1979.
We missed the start of the highlights show, but joined the action while it was still 0-0.
My wife knew what the final score would be, but not exactly how it happened. My daughter didn’t know the result, but she knows me well enough to know that I wouldn’t have suggested watching the game unless Arsenal were going to win. They did, 3-2, with a very late winner by Alan Sunderland. Before that, they had been cruising, 2-0 up at half-time, and still 2-0 up with five minutes left to play. McQueen and McIlroy scored late on to make it 2-2 before Sunderland settled it.
It all looked very familiar, but the commentary wasn’t. In the 70s and 80s the Cup Final was usually broadcast by BBC and ITV, and we opted for the BBC coverage. No adverts, for one thing. I didn’t hear Brian Moore and Brian Clough commenting on the action back in 1979 and it was good to hear them yesterday.
While pointing out players from both sides to my daughter I made a special point of telling her about the Arsenal goalkeeper Pat Jennings. He had joined the club from Tottenham and played internationally for Northern Ireland. He was one of the great keepers. I told her that if my brother were around he would tell her the following story, from an interview with Jennings back in the 1970s. The interviewer asked: “Pat, a lot of people say that you’re the best goalkeeper in the world. What’s your reaction to that?” Jennings replied, slowly, in his deep Northern Ireland accent: “The world’s a big place”. He pronounced that final word with two syllables, as you’d expect: “Plee-uss”.
We Skyped my brother earlier this evening, at his home in Spain (or “Spee-un” as Pat Jennings might pronounce it). I told him about the game, and about seeing Pat Jennings in action again after all these years. I asked if there was anything he wanted to tell my daughter about him. He didn’t let me down. He recounted the same story to her that I had, in exactly the same way.
The world’s a big place.