The latest Steve Mitchell blog for ‘Got, Not Got’…
When I was a kid there were two dates in the sporting calendar that really stood out. One was in April for the Grand National meeting at Aintree and the other was of course, FA Cup Final day.
Whether your team was involved in the big day at Wembley or not, for the football fan this was a rare chance to see live football on a Saturday afternoon as both BBC and ITV went head to head to provide the perfect accompaniment to English football’s big day.
The Cup Final build up for me always started on the Thursday before the game when both teams would usually appear on Top of the Pops to sing their Cup Final songs. As dawn broke on Cup Final Saturday, the arrival of the morning newspaper (Daily Mirror) complete with FA Cup Final pullout, the primary feature of which was usually a cartoonist’s view of the two teams on the centre pages, heralded the start of the most exciting day of the year.
With breakfast scoffed it was into the front room to assume the position in front of the telly that would remain mine for the next nine hours or so. On BBC, Swap Shop would usually do a live link up to Wembley where Frank Bough or David Coleman would be waiting to greet us. Over on ITV, the Tiswas team would be throwing custard pies and water over caged fans of both the teams represented in the final.
As lunch (usually sandwiches and crisps so as not to have to leave my vantage point)was eaten, Cup Final Grandstand and Cup Final World Of Sport would start almost simultaneously with the two channels having already decided between them which of the two teams they would primarily be following in the build up to kick-off. The late, great Tony Gubba or Bob Wilson would be Auntie’s representatives with Jim Rosenthal and Martin Tyler taking care of business for ITV.
As the afternoon wore on and before the two teams left their respective hotels bound for the Twin Towers, Cup Final It’s a Knockout or Cup Final Question of Sport would keep viewers entertained on the Beeb. Cup Final Wrestling, Kent Walton and all, was always the staple diet over on ITV. The light entertainment kept on coming and here was the first real choice of the day – which team bus should we follow to Wembley (or helicopter if you were a Brighton fan in 1983)? If your team was in the final the choice was simple of course but as a neutral it was different. I always went for the underdogs whose players always seemed more relaxed on route to the famous old stadium.
By the time I had devoured more crisps and a Soda Stream Cola, the two teams would be out on the sacred turf in their brand new whistle’s to sample the pre-match atmosphere. Reporters from both channels would be stalking the pitch looking to get that all important sound bite from one of the main protagonists and by the time the clock ticked round to 2.15pm, the main choice of the day now had to be made – BBC or ITV for the match itself? 80% of the country (myself included) opted for the Beeb despite ITV having the mercurial Brian Moore behind the microphone.
Abide with Me, the walk from the tunnel, the singing of the National Anthem and the two teams meeting the day’s guest of honour all came and went too quickly, as did the next 90 minutes, as heroes and villains were made. The thought of having to do it all again the following Thursday as the Cup Final went to its first ever Wembley replay in 1981 was almost too much to contemplate for an 11-year-old boy who lived for the beautiful game.
As the Football Association continue to destroy the greatest cup competition in the world, I feel so lucky to have grown up in an era when winning the cup was far, far better than winning the first division championship, when television brought football and families together for one Saturday in May every year. Apart from Manchester City and Wigan supporters, will anyone really care let alone really remember what happens in the FA Cup Final of 2013?
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