long live the cup


The draw’s been made, the voucher is in the post, the short trip to Leicester is planned. Its FA Cup time again! I still love the third round but it has to be said that some of its magic isn’t there any more. No doubt Burton Albion are chuffed to bits at getting Manyoo at home, but which United will they play ?  George Best once scored six goals on his own when a full strength United team slaughtered Northampton 8-2.  That would never happen now.  Best and his like would be rested while the “shadow” squad took on the minnows.  I know the reasons, and if, please God, we at last make it in to Europe next season I would expect our cup team line-ups to reflect the new status of these competitions in the pecking order of things.  Sad, but that’s the way it is. 

The ease of getting a ticket for cup-ties is all such a stark contrast to the way it was. FA cup-ties were the season’s highlights to cherish and look forward to and when I started watching in the sixties and I and everyone else would have been amazed to know that 40 years on the league would be the big thing, with cup football a consolation prize only. I imagine that some younger fans can’t imagine the reverse being the norm and that’s a shame. They really have missed out on some incredibly intense dramas and occasions.  

“Spurs are a cup team.”  It’s been said over and over again so much its become a cliché (no…not a Clichy, pay attention).  Its true.  The FA cup has produced fantastic moments for us fans. Who can forget the Ricky Villa goal in 1981 or Gazza’s semi-final scorcher in 1991 ?  

For me FA Cup football began in 1964/65, with a thumping 5-1 third round replay against lowly Torquay United, in front of almost 60,000! On third round day In January 1965 Spurs had squandered a 3-1 lead at Torquay and conceded two late goals by the home side to force a replay at the Lane. There was much talk that Spurs had “eased off” on the day and been quite happy to rake in another payday in a replay. Cynicism is not a modern invention! The replay was scheduled for the following Wednesday. The heavens opened that evening. I watched the rain beating down on the windows and my old Dad gave me a look as much as to say “if you think I’m taking you out to stand on the terraces in this you’ve got another think coming!”. Much pleading and bargaining (yes I’d be good, yes I’d wash up all next week, yes, yes, yes) ended with a stand-off. I could only go, said Dad, if I wore my school cap to protect me from the rain. Even then, before the words “cool” and “street cred” had been invented I wasn’t sure I could take that humiliation. I’d only worn my Tottenham County cap once before, on the first day of school, and the thought of bumping into school friends with this thing on my head was too much to bear. Or was it? I think it was then I realised how much Spurs meant to me because, sod it, it dawned on me that I could stand the humiliation if it meant that I could go…and I did! The irony was that half-way to the ground we were met by a number of rain-soaked fans coming in the opposite direction who informed my relieved Dad that the game was off, pitch waterlogged. The cap came off immediately on hearing the news ! On a much drier night the following Monday we witnessed the aforementioned 5-1, with the G-men: Gilzean and Greaves, scoring all the goals between them.  

We were drawn at home to newly relegated Ipswich Town in the fourth round and the match was played, if memory serves me correctly, on the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral.  The match programme was bordered in black and it was the first time I had witnessed a minute’s silence.  Nowadays a minute’s silence is commonplace (as detailed in a previous issue of MEHSTG) but then it was very rare.  The sombre mood was broken by a scintillating 5-0 drubbing of the Town and I was convinced we were off to Wembley. 

It was an odd season though.  We won almost every home game (just drawing three from memory) but away from home we couldn’t win at all.  Just one pathetic 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest all season.  So it was with dismay that the old codgers in the FA rattled their balls (ahem!) and drew us away to Chelsea in the next round.  The draw is much too slick nowadays for its own good.  Real entertainment was watching the octogenarians dropping the home team, mispronouncing the opponents and totally ill at ease with the TV cameras when they finally replaced the radio broadcast.  Chelsea were the surprise team of the season.  With their fancy new kit (same shirts and shorts, woooo) and their outspoken manager (Tommy Docherty) they seemed so modern then.  Add to that the young team they had assembled (including Messrs. G. Graham and T. Venables) and you’ll understand it wasn’t a dream draw for us.  But after 13 goals scored in the first two rounds, surely we could do it.  I queued for five hours from 5 a.m. on the Sunday for a ticket (thanks again Dad) and got to Stamford Bridge on the day at mid-day for a 3 p.m. kick-off (silly me, they were all 3 p.m. then).  I perched on a crush barrier at the back of the ground and was totally absorbed by the atmosphere building as the time ticked slowly towards kick-off.  No segregation then and a season or two before hooliganism crept in.  Almost 70,000 at the Bridge, with almost half of them willing Spurs to win.  It was not to be.  The loudest noise I had ever heard greeted a goal from England international Barry Bridges to end our cup run.  I was sad but not devastated.  The occasion seemed the all-important thing then.  In any case some 17 years later I smiled when the hurt of that defeat was erased with our 3-2 quarter-final win there. 

So it was not to be in 1965.  Two years later we lifted the pot, but that’s another story for another edition.  For me the FA Cup is still special.  The memories and images created are unsurpassed in any other competition, especially for Spurs.  I hope it stays that way.

Long live the FA Cup !  

Alan Thatcher

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