Thirty nine years ago something truly brilliant happened – League 2 underdogs, Sunderland AFC, dominated and overcame England’s most feared and revered team, “Dirty” Leeds United.
However, three days ago something truly day-to-day happened – aging champions, Chelsea FC, out-huffed and out-puffed Merseyside’s most disillusioned team, Liverpool FC.
In fact, the game was so run of the mill, the most exciting thing for me about it was when my mate suggested we get a sweep-stake going to give the game a bit more edge. £2 a piece was decided upon (I suspect that may have been worth a lot more in ’73 than it was on Saturday) and we quickly drew up 6 players from each side and put them in a hat that was, unfortunately, not Bob Stokoe’s.
To my dismay I had pulled out Downing, Bellamy and Ramires, what I initially felt as a triumvirate of immediate financial loss. I felt like Greece, to be perfectly honest: investing insomething I was assured would eventually pay me massive dividends only to realise I didn’t have the “oomph” to back it up. I am so, so glad I was wrong (and that I am not Greece).
The whole event just didn’t feel like the final of English Football’s greatest, oldest, most magnificent competition. It was just like another regular, and frankly forgettable, Premier League fixture. In fact the Manchester Derby, which played just a few days earlier, was more exciting (at times) than this.
Where was the passion? The pride? The hunger to win? Nowhere. Or at least not at Wembley. Not even the fans who’d spent what was probably a significant portion of their wage packet to see the game live appeared all that into it as the stands seemed devoid of atmosphere.
I don’t know. Maybe, to use the words of a politician, I am mis-remembering events and it was actually an amazing game, but to me there was no flame, it seemed, other than the half-hearted pyrotechnics used when the players eventually dragged their feet onto the pitch.
One of the problems may have to do with the internationality of the teams (and before you ask: no, I haven’t been having tea with Nick Griffin) but you have to wonder if they properly appreciate the emotional investment there is behind the FA Cup? I’m not sure they do. Afterall their equivalent to the FA Cup is the Champions’ League and, you have to admit, that competition lives on a larger scale but in the same way that a P&O ferry from Hull to Rotterdam is larger than a vintage yacht. To me it doesn’t seem to have the same level of culture or history; in the end it’s just a load of people crammed together hoping to reach their final destination without contracting a verruca.
Sorry, I’m getting worked up and off the point. But I still think I’m right. How many non-UK players did Chelsea field on Saturday? Ten. How many did Liverpool field? Six. In the glorious ’73 final each team fielded a team comprised of 100% British players (I’m including Leeds’ Johnny Giles in that, because the Irish work for us now). All in all, on Saturday, there were twenty-two players who weren’t brought up with the excitement and heritage of the FA Cup.
I know, I know, the Premier League needs international players to make it as exciting and fast-paced as it is, and I’m not in anyway suggesting that we get rid of them or anything awful like that, far from it, I suppose just want people to care more, both about where the Premier League came from and the amazing history behind this wonderful sport of ours.
Re-watching our soon-to-be-repeated FA Cup victory you can still feel the pulse of the crowd, still feel how thick the atmosphere was, the thrill of the day has not been lost to time one iota. That moment when Ian Porterfield smashed that bright yellow leather cantaloupe through David Harvey’s hands and into Leeds’ net hasn’t aged one bit. Not even in the faded colours of the pre-HD TV Cameras can lessen that moment.
From talking to people about it, I’ve realised that the real glory of the FA Cup lies with the underdogs. There’s just something about the men who kill giants that people remember. Even after forty years.