For about ten years of my life, this particular Friday, the second one in May, used to find me beside myself with excitement and anticipation.
At school, all of the talk – among the boys, at least – would be of the day to come, of what tomorrow would bring. Because tomorrow would be a day like no other in the year.
I am referring, of course, to the day before FA Cup Final day. If you were football mad and aged between about 7 and 14, the FA Cup Final was a day which you looked forward to throughout the year. It didn’t matter if your side was playing in it or not, because it was the only domestic football match shown live on television. For one glorious May afternoon, you could sit and watch football as it happened and in the comfort of your own home.
I loved it all. The build up in the press in the week before the game, the fact that ‘Grandstand’ would be only about one sport that day, the helicopter shots of the team bus approaching the grand old Wembley stadium. It was a novel and thrilling experience. There were three other live football matches shown during May, but none had the allure of the Cup Final.
I still remember my very first 0ne, watching Southampton beat Manchester United 1-0. Everyone who saw the game recalls the winning goal, scored by the late Bobby Stokes with eight minutes of the game left. I remember far more clearly the vivid yellow and blue kit that Southampton wore, a number of wonderful saves by their goalkeeper Ian Turner, and wondering – as the information was given by the commentator – how a man named Peter Rodrigues could be Welsh.
Of course, it has all gone now. There is so much live football on television that the unique appeal of the day is no longer there. Football as a spectacle has been destroyed by the preening prima donnas who play it, and even the FA Cup itself has been devalued to the point where the final is played on a regular Saturday in the calendar, rather than it being the only game of professional football played that day. I have happy memories of the day, and it saddens me that my son and others of his generation will not be able to look upon the day in the same way