‘The Magic of the FA Cup’ is a saying that’s closely associated with ‘The Road to Wembley’ and surely plays a prominent part in the memory of every football fan. I used to love the FA Cup and it still holds a place close to my footballing heart.

In fact, a party piece of mine (a sad one at that) is that I can name all of the FA Cup Final winners since 1970. I fly from 1970-2000 and then I struggle but get there.

I am just waiting for this round to come up in any form of pub quiz. Oh, how my friends have marvelled at this fundamental life skill that is required for survival!

It is a magical competition that may have had its finest days and for me it is closely associated with my time following football throughout my lifetime.

There’s the argument that some people and some influential people at that say that the FA Cup does not matter and that it is a cup that’s dying a slow death. Who is going to argue with these pundits? Especially if they have had a distinguished footballing career.

There is the perceived belief that finishing in the Top 4 in The Premier League is a better achievement than winning the oldest football competition out there.

To the so called top clubs (Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, etc) the top 4 comes with the millions of pounds that Champions League Football brings. However, I am still of an age and belief that winning a one off cup final is still better than being fourth from top. Or sixteenth from the bottom.

Looking back at thirty-two years of playing football I can recall many brilliant football moments. The sad thing is that I have not won that many cups or played in many cup finals. As a youngster I was part of teams that were victorious in the Under 11 Dorset County Cup and The Under 12 Dorset Schools Cup.

Adulthood provided the 2000 Bankes Senior Cup and the 2001 Northern Universities Cup. I think that was the name. I went to Leeds Metropolitan University and that is most certainly up north.

Injury prevented me from playing in two out of three cup finals in the 2010/11 season and was absolutely gutted at missing out. In fact the injury happened whilst playing a Year 7 versus Year 8 football challenge. I was playing for the Year 8’s and our head teacher was playing for the Year 7’s.

Yes, I am a PE Teacher and I enjoy the footage from KES. I promise I am not like Mr Sugden, the legendary PE teacher that had the desire to win at all costs. Although I have scored some great goals against my students in football training.

Our visionary head teacher decided to try and build some bonds between both year groups that were causing mischievous behavior during lunchtimes. Football was deemed to be the answer to solve this behavioural problem. I think it worked.

These matches were fantastic in terms of the fun, bonding and team ethic instilled in the students. It was certainly the highlight of the spring term back in 2011. I loved the way the head teacher was committed to improving students’ behavior. This was achieved through using physical activity and playing the sport they all loved.

He was helping the lunchtime staff by taking them “off the streets” and engaging in some physical recreation to stimulate them. This avoided the often inevitable lunchtime boredom.

These Wednesday matches were extremely entertaining that involved about 26 students. This could not happen in this day and age with the health and safety police out there. The power of football hey!

My injury occurred when I stretched for a loose ball and my left knee twisted from left to right. The grinding sound of my patella rattling still makes me shudder. I know swearing in front of children should not be condoned but I’m sure something may have slipped out. Sorry pupils.

Hobbling into the staff room and launching my muddied football boots into the ground is a sad memory I recall all to well. At this stage I realised that I would be missing the first of three cup finals in seven days time. My first cup final for nine years. My equivalent to The FA Cup. I was gutted!

Youngsters these days dream of playing in The Champions League Final (always the European Cup to me). My dream was always to play in The FA Cup Final. Therefore, as a recreational footballer these cup finals are as close to Wembley I could ever be. That is why football dominated my weekends.

I cannot bring myself to write about the 1997/98 season where my Saturday team lost three semi finals in one season. Oh I just did. Well being 4-0 down after twenty minutes of The Dorset Senior Cup is still heartbreaking to think about. How do you recover? Well not conceding anymore throughout the rest of the match is scant consolation.

All those childhood memories flood back to The FA Cup and I feel it should still hold a place dear in people’s hearts. Unfortunately, commercial interests seem to suggest otherwise to the clubs from The Premier League and Championship. Negativity filters down to the fans through the copious amount of media outlets that broadcast football.

Playing outside on my own with a football was common. I would kick my football and commentate on various famous goals. These recreations were that of the goals scored by the great players of the 80’s and early 90’s. I was prolific at kicking a ball in between two tree trunks whilst talking to myself in a high pitched voice. Yes readers that was in the late 80’s and early 90’s and not in 2020.

I didn’t take into account that I had to go and retrieve my ball some 30 metres away as it rolled through the goal and down the subsequent hill. It didn’t bother me and I was happy to chase after the ball and then score another scintillating goal.


I would try and copy Norman Whiteside’s 1985 winner versus Everton but Keith Houchen’s diving header always proved difficult mind! We all have our memorable bit of football commentary and I used to repeat it all of the time. Funnily enough I still remember it to this very day. Cue the iconic football commentator John Motson:


‘And this fella Hughes is coming into it more and more. And Here’s Whiteside. Strachan is following up and Olsen is this side, that’s all he’s got. Whiteside shoots. It’s there. Norman Whiteside has done it again.’

‘Bennett. Houchen. Brilliant goal.’

‘Villa (pronounced Villia) and still Ricky Villa, what a fantastic run, he’s scored. Amazing goal.’

‘And Robson. That’s the goal that Manchester United wanted from their captain.’

Motson pauses to enable the audience to capture the atmosphere through listening to the ecstatic crowd cheering. Taking time to probably capture the correct words to describe the aftermath of the goal he has just witnessed. Pure poetry.

What do these goals and commentary all have in common? Yep, you’ve guessed it – The FA Cup. Now these goals were thirty plus years ago and football and society have changed dramatically since then. Losing the magic of the FA Cup would be a sad day indeed.

Ricky Villa’s goal for Spurs in the 1981 FA Cup Final Replay would not happen today. There is a rush to get the match finalised through the scrapping of replays. Nowadays the lottery of a possible penalty shootout decides the outcome instead. Can you imagine that goal never being scored? I suppose Manchester City fans can.



The FA Cup Final used to be an event. Now it seems that it is a guest that has out stayed their welcome at a dinner party. Personally, I think it is sad that the once great institution is becoming this burden.

Yes, I talk of nostalgia and how life was great back in the day but those days have formulated many of my footballing viewpoints. The FA Cup has created lasting football memories for me. This makes me feel sad it is not having the same memorable effect on the youngsters of today. I hope that I am wrong.

From 1987-1996 I video taped the build up and the final itself. Looking back I never really watched the footage I recorded but I was satisfied that I had an account of the season ending showpiece. All of the random interviews and special player profiles that accompanied the coverage were recorded incase I needed them.

I can still see Rod Stewart playing for Wimbledon in a celebrity match v Liverpool before the 1988 Cup Final. I bet playing football at Wembley was a bigger thrill than singing ‘Maggie May’ or dating Britt Ekland. He is a massive football fan after all. During this exhibition I can vaguely recollect Jimmy Greaves providing sarcastic co-commentary. I used to love the ‘Road to Wembley round up that was usually narrated by Gerald Stinstadt.

The final Saturday afternoon of the football season was dominated with various segments the broadcasters could conjure up. I was there ready and waiting with my VHS to record all of the random footage. The day was a great institution that took over the country, much like The Grand National still does today.

I still get that nostalgic vibe when I see some of the build up to the FA Cup Final in the modern day. It pleases me that broadcasters still try and make a day of this once great national institution.

I appreciate the FA have sold the FA Cup to sponsors resulting in matches kicking off at random times. This can lose the appeal. I get that it is now at the mercy of the broadcasters where FA Cup weekend usually lasts from Friday until Monday.

It’s a competition that’s diminishing in its value and decisions are being made to benefit the rich and mighty.  Replays are now scrapped from the fifth round onwards.

VAR (video assisted referee) is only used at Premier League Clubs. Surely it should be all or nothing? You cannot have a situation where some teams benefit from VAR and some don’t.

Replays should be either in place for all rounds or none at all. I am in favour of the replay. I used to love those replay marathons that occurred.

There is a distant memory of a Watford and Walsall marathon in 1987. Here it went to a second replay after a nail biting midweek 4-4 draw. I watched on my black and white television on a Wednesday night. The coverage was probably provided by the BBC on Sports Night.

I would like to remind the managers of Premier League Clubs that over seven hundred teams enter this great competition. For many clubs it allows the opportunity to dream big. Dreaming for that tie that secures financial security for another year or two. These clubs are usually at the lower reaches of the football league or non league.

I used to love the Third Round Day where I used to listen to all of the matches on my Matsui radio. I listened to non league Sutton United beating Coventry City in 1989.

My earliest third round FA Cup memory is recalling watching Manchester United beat Manchester City 1-0 in 1987. I can still see the frost or snow now that covered the Old Trafford pitch.

The highlights were shown at about 10.30pm on what I am sure was The ITV Match. I felt privileged that I was able to stay up late and tune in. I am sure it was broadcasted on The ITV Match. A vivid memory is Perry Suckling, the then City goalkeeper diving backwards to take a cross in the snow.

For weeks after I was out practising this goalkeeping skill. Once the snow fell in Dorset I was constantly trying this over and over again on the grass outside my house. This was in the days before the dreaded ‘No Ball Games’ signposts being erected all around town. This was to prevent youngsters from playing football outside the council estate houses. I suppose the residents were entitled to get irritated with us smashing windows with our footballs. These signs definitely ruined our fun. We were no longer able to play football on our doorsteps. Sad times indeed.

Little did I know that in a years’ time I would be playing as a proper goalkeeper for Hamworthy Royals. This was on the recommendation of my Dad stating that I dived around at home playing in goal. I went on to play for Royals for the next nine years. I went on to play in goal for the next thirty two years. A story for another time.

In reflection, I always knew that there would be a changing of the guard during my thirty years of watching FA Cup football. The Premier League took over. It changed the football world in 1992. With regular televised coverage meant the FA Cup would take a back seat. It meant all other football took a back seat. There was the revamped top flight league championship to get excited about. It certainly was a whole new ball game.

As a Manchester United fan, I began to focus on the Premier League Titles they were accumulating rather than winning FA Cups. However, winning the 1990 FA Cup is right up there with winning the first Premier League, the Cup Winners Cup and the Champions League.

Maybe The FA Cup means more to those clubs at the extra preliminary round in early August. I presume the players still have a little dream of an unlikely Wembley appearance some nine months later in May.

Maybe it is more important to those that are facing financial difficulty. Especially if they have been drawn away to play The Premier League Leaders’ Youth Team at their 50,000 seater stadium. Here they will share a cash windfall and a club can be financed for a couple more seasons.

Maybe there’s an equivalent to my younger self out there that has their own way of recording FA Cup footage. I hope so. They may dream of scoring the winning goal in the final at Wembley for their childhood team. Again, I hope so.

For me, The FA Cup had the power to make me go outside with a ball, dive around in the snow and dream about Wembley.