I REMEMBER 1986 for two reasons, writes IAN RYAN.
It was a World Cup year — a tournament which introduced me to famous names such as Careca, Voller and Butragueno, while giving me my first taste of England failing gloriously at a major tournament, this time at the hands of Argentina and quite literally at the hand of Diego Maradona, who eventually went on to dribble past 18 players (it seemed that many to a seven-year-old) before making a fool out of Peter Shilton for the second time that day.
More importantly though, 1986 was the year Liverpool won the double which meant I got the chance to watch The Reds in an FA Cup final for the first time.
Saturday May 10, 1986 — what a day that was. I remember everything about it. From when the build-up started at, what seemed like the middle of the night, to Motty shouting: “Rush is on the far side, is this three? It is,” right through to Des Lynam calling time and saying: “The day belonged to Liverpool.” Fucking right it did, Des.
Reds and Blues may have travelled down to the twin towers together that day but we were the ones running round Wembley with the cup and that’s all that mattered, because the FA Cup mattered.
Back then, you could recall every single moment of every single game and not just because your team happened to be playing in the final. Fans would risk a 100-foot drop as they climbed and clambered their way into the ground, dragging their mates in with them, desperate to catch sight of the biggest game of the domestic season. It mattered that much.
I still remember my arl man, fuming on his return home from another famous victory when he realised the game had been recorded on ITV instead of BBC One. He was well within his rights to be fair, no-one likes adverts. It all mattered, every last bit.
Fast forward 12 months and I watched one of the best FA Cup finals of all time — the Sky Blues giving it two fingers to the flashy lads from North London as Coventry (yes, Coventry City) beat Spurs 3-2. Keith Houchen scored the best diving header I’ve ever seen, before Gary Mabbutt won it for the team from the West Midlands as he put one through his own net past big Ray Clemence.
There was something hugely satisfying about seeing the underdog triumph against all the odds although that theory was severely put to the test for me when Vinnie Jones and the ‘crazy gang’ sent me home from Wembley in floods of tears in 1988.
The FA Cup meant everything. I could reel off past finals from about 1965 — way before I was born — right through to the late ‘90s. Knowing which two teams were playing, the winners, the score and the scorers. Now, I’d be hard pushed to tell you who played in the last four or five finals, although it feels like Arsenal might have won all of them.
Lads my age knew all about famous games that happened well before our time. Leeds v Chelsea in 1970 was the football equivalent of a Tarantino film, bodies laid out everywhere. In the modern era, the game would have seen at least six red cards and 20 yellows, maybe it was just more fun back then? More sexy? More important?
A 2-2 draw meant Chelsea and Leeds had to go again and a British TV audience of 28 million saw the replay at Old Trafford, more than the last three cup finals put together. Further proof that many of us have fallen out of love with it. Imagine that day in May being that important again, that exciting. A day when nearly 30 million people all want to do the same thing.
This week, The Reds are at Plymouth and I’m genuinely looking forward to the game, more so than the first game at Anfield. If I had my way we’d have been playing at Home Park in the first place. Here me out on this, I’d love to see some form of seeding system introduced, maybe seed the 20 lowest ranked teams for the third round and let them play at home so they get the chance to take on one of the bigger boys from the top two divisions and potentially cause an upset, whether that be a win to advance to the fourth round or a chance at a replay at one of the big hitters. Let’s be honest here, the chances of a Plymouth or a Peterborough going to Anfield or Stamford Bridge and winning is pretty slim, even with The Reds rolling out the kids.
My memories of the FA Cup in those early rounds were David v Goliath type battles, legends playing on shitty pitches with mud up to their knees while some big lunatic of a centre-half tried to knock seven bells of shite out of the opposition. Sounds a bit more fun, doesn’t it?
There is no doubt the FA have a lot to answer for in allowing this competition to fall from grace so dramatically. Maybe they can stop overpaying an endless amount of shit managers and use some of the money to actually breathe some life into a once great cup competition? Decent prize money for the winner might be a start. After all, in the modern game, cash is king and probably always will be.
Some suggest a Champions League place could be awarded to the winners of the FA Cup instead of the team finishing fourth, but that doesn’t feel quite right to me after a long, hard season of 38 games. Although, the thought of that Wigan side managed by Roberto Martinez going up against Europe’s finest might have been a laugh.
However, it feels like something has to give if we are to try and make the FA Cup worthwhile again, otherwise we might as well write it off and call it a day. I hope that doesn’t happen because there used to be nothing quite like winning the FA Cup, just ask those lads from ‘86.