Final countdown


The first FA Cup Final I can remember is the 1986 one. The day I started supporting Everton. Sometimes, I question that decision – at the final whistle that day, for example. Years later I bought a VHS recording of the game but never watched it, instead ‘lending’ it to a class mate. Paul Harris, you can keep it.


The following year I watched Tottenham v Coventry at my grandparents’s. My dad was doing their hanging baskets, it was a baking hot day, and I marvelled at 1) Tottenham’s kit and 2) Keith Houchen’s diving header, I think the first I ever saw. I also remember eating sweets. Then, in 1988 I knew the words to the Anfield Rap, rather embarrassingly, but cheered as Aldridge missed that penalty and didn’t understand Motson’s comment ‘the crazy gang has beaten the culture club’.


The next year, I made tickets for my friend and I which had to be placed in a tissue box before entry to our front room. My sister shouted through the window from our garden, “Jonathan’s doing headstands on the settee” which were prompted by Stuart McCall’s equaliser. I cried at the final whistle.


rush1989 Final countdown

McCall’s brace not enough; super-sub Rush at the double to win it for Reds


If I’m honest I don’t recall much of 1990. Glad all Overon Top of the Pops, maybe, feeling sorry for Jim Leighton, and other than that, only Lee Martin’s winner in the replay – the first I’d ever seen – who I was to meet during a tour of Old Trafford a couple of years later.


Whilst the Spurs v Forest final was being played out I too was playing out, at a friend’s eleventh birthday party. We came in from the field to hear rumours that Gazza had been taken to hospital. I was glad Spurs won though for Mr Midwinter, our Year 5 teacher.


And, the only things I can remember about ’92 are Liverpool’s ludicrously baggy shorts, and wondering how to pronounce ‘Vaux’. And I once stood behind Michael Thomas in Boots. He was buying toothpaste, and it wasn’t the goal against Sunderland that I recognised him from.


The replay between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal was the first match I ever watched wearing glasses. I sat with my Dad, thinking that somebody had drawn a black outline around all the players. As for Chelsea v Man United – it rained, Cantona scored, somebody slipped for Hughes’ goal, that’s about it.


Everton, FA Cup Winners ’95 – after, I bought a winners T-shirt


1995 – that was a good day. I sat and watched all the build-up, and took photos of the TV at the end, then bought five newspapers the following day, and travelled down with my mum to Liverpool to see the homecoming tour. I bought a t-shirt with Winners on it, and caricatures of the squad, which David Unsworth thought was brilliant when I met him at a pre-season friendly soon after.


The next year I remember bad suits and shouting CANTONA! at a Liverpool fan we drove past half an hour after the game had finished. Then, I think I watched the 1997 final at home, I was supporting Middlesbrough bizarrely because a friend was from there.


We had had our Leavers’ ball the night before the Newcastle v Arsenal final, so I was probably hung over, I do distinctly recall having a McDonald’s breakfast that morning though. I can see Pistone and Anelka, that’s all. I watched the ’99 Final in a café bar I worked at, with the chef Glen, who was a heavy drinker and Manchester United fan. Sheringham scored a great goal.


Whilst the Chelsea v Aston Villa Final was on, I was watching a friend abseil down the side of a JMU building. In 2001 I had the misfortune to be working in a Sports Bar, heavily populated by Liverpool fans. Stephane Henchoz should have been sent off.


fa cup final 2002 goal Final countdown

In 2002, Ljundberg scored a stunner; I mimicked his hairstyle


I watched the second half of 2002’s final having been shopping in town. Ljundberg scored a good goal and I copied his hair for our final student night out the following week, when I also pierced my nostril with a safety pin dipped in peach schnapps.


I think I was at home for the Arsenal v Southampton game, I can remember Pires scoring and that’s about it. I would have been counting down the hours to my shift as a kitchen porter that evening. In 2004 I watched a bit of the game, liked the look of that Australian fella, and the next year only the penalties, again I didn’t really care.


In 2006 my flatmate and I became West Ham fans for the day. We cheered then ultimately despaired and whilst I don’t agree it was the greatest final ever – many have still not seen the 1966 Everton v Sheffield Wednesday match, for example – it was certainly memorable. But it still wasn’t Wembley, where the final returned the following year. I watched Drogba’s winner from the bar of a golf club in the Lake District, again very hung over and with my mind on other things. And last year, Lisa and I went to visit the food festival and go shopping in Southport: I saw about two minutes of Portsmouth’s victory through the window of a pub.


whelan19891 Final countdown

At least on Saturday there will be a blue winner


As you can tell, the FA Cup Final is important to me. Even when I’ve not watched it or cared, I know what I did instead. This Saturday, I finally have the chance to experience a final for myself, and can’t wait. My ticket arrived via registered post, and I queued up to meet Graeme Sharp and get my Moysie mask signed, the thought of cup finals makes you do things like that.


So, Saturday then, and all that comes with it. Expensive programmes, Abide With Me, elaborate stitching on the shirt, and seeing the cup lifted by ‘JT’ or (hopefully) Neville Neville’s good son. What was once a boyhood dream, will become a reality. Having been to the ‘new’ Wembley already this season for a nailbiter, I hope this time to enjoy the day a bit more and, preferably, see a better game. The omens are good, but there is always the nagging doubt that Everton will be Everton – one way or another.


I can’t say any more, I’m genuinely too excited. David Moyes summed it up for me in his post-match interview this weekend. “I’ve never been there before, and I’m looking forward to it.”


Roll on Saturday.