TRUST ME, GUN­NERS HAVE IT ALL TO LOSE IN FI­NAL Un­der­dogs can make Wem­b­ley so dif­fi­cult

The Football League Paper - - BIG INTERVIEW - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Ar­se­nal face un­der­dogs Hull in Satur­day’s FA Cup fi­nal, Steve McMana­man knows ex­actly how the Gun­ners play­ers will be feel­ing. Back in 1992, McMana­man was part of the Liver­pool side that took on First Di­vi­sion Sun­der­land at Wem­b­ley, with ev­ery neu­tral des­per­ate to see Mal­colm Crosby’s boys up­set the odds.

“They were in the old First Di­vi­sion, a level be­low us,” says McMana­man, who went on to play for Real Madrid and Manch­ester City.

“We were big favourites to win the game, and we knew it.We had ev­ery­thing to lose, they had ev­ery­thing to gain. We all had to be men­tally strong enough to be­lieve in our­selves and get the job done.

“Be­cause no mat­ter what any­one says, ev­ery player is happy when a ‘lesser’ team comes out of the hat. You’d much rather face a team you know you can beat rather than one you know will make things dif­fi­cult.”

Then aged just 20 and the youngest player on the pitch, the Scouser was awarded man of the match as Liver­pool tri­umphed 2-0. Which is why that day comes out at No.1 in Macca’s top FA Cup mem­o­ries. Liver­pool 2-0 Sun­der­land – FA Cup fi­nal 1992 AS a kid grow­ing up in Liver­pool, the FA Cup was the one you al­ways wanted to win.Yes, you dreamed of sign­ing for a pro­fes­sional team, but it was the Cup that cap­tured your imag­i­na­tion.

In the 1992 semi-fi­nal, we’d beaten Portsmouth in a re­play. But I dis­lo­cated my kneecap and got car­ried off at 0-0. As I was ly­ing on the stretcher, I thought,‘That’s it for me, the sea­son is over’.

That kind of in­jury is nor­mally a big one. Luck­ily for me, the kneecap popped out and went back in again. I had an oper­a­tion, but I was quite skinny at the time so my weight and fit­ness weren’t a prob­lem. As soon as I could run I was pretty much back up to speed.

I didn’t even train prop­erly un­til three days be­fore the game and I prob­a­bly shouldn’t have been any­where near the pitch. But it was the Cup fi­nal, my first ever chance to play at Wem­b­ley, and I wasn’t go­ing to miss it.

The game it­self is a bit of a blur. The first half was re­ally tight but we dom­i­nated af­ter half-time and in the end won it quite eas­ily.

Af­ter we’d lifted the Cup, we re­alised we’d been given the losers’ medals. So when we got onto the pitch, we had to swap over with the Sun­der­land play­ers. They were good enough to give us the medals back, but I sup­pose they didn’t re­ally want to keep them! Ever­ton 2-0 Wat­ford – FA Cup fi­nal 1984 THOUGH I signed for Liver­pool, I was a big Ever­to­nian when I was young. I had the shirt, the posters, ev­ery­thing.

When we got to the fi­nal my fa­ther went out and got us tick­ets. Since then, I’ve been to Wem­b­ley many times, as a player, as a fan and as a pun­dit.

But when you’re 12-years-old, and you’re go­ing with your dad and all his friends on the coaches down froom Liver­pool, and ev­ery­body is singing and en­joy­ing them­selves, then you win the game and sing all the way home, it’s a very, very spe­cial mo­ment. I still re­mem­ber those goals from Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray.

At that age, you think you’ll never get the chance to go to Wem­b­ley again and lots of fans never do.You have to cher­ish it. Liver­pool 3-2 Ever­ton – FA Cup fi­nal, 1989 IT was five weeks af­ter the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter and a very emo­tional game for ev­ery­body who was there. It went to ex­tra time, and Liver­pool even­tu­ally won it 3-2.

I was in the crowd that day, a sec­ond year ap­pren­tice at Liver­pool. It was a strange game, very friendly for a derby. The city just came to­gether. Gerry and the Pace­mak­ers sang You’ll Never Walk Alone be­fore kick-off. It didn’t even seem to mat­ter who won.

I re­mem­ber the crowd be­ing all round the pitch, in­stead of be­hind the bar­ri­ers. They weren’t set back at all and a lot of them were able to climb over. When Ever­ton scored, there were people all over the pitch.

It didn’t nor­mally hap­pen at Wem­b­ley but, af­ter Hills­bor­ough, a lot of the nor­mal rules went out of the win­dow. It was just such a spe­cial game.

And one not so fond mem­ory: Man United 1-0 Liver­pool – FA Cup Fi­nal 1996 WE al­ways talk about win­ning in foot­ball but it wouldn’t feel as good with­out a few de­press­ing days.

Los­ing an FA Cup fi­nal was cer­tainly one of those and los­ing it to Man United is as bad as it gets for a Liver­pool player.

It was an aw­ful game, re­ally bor­ing, and then Eric Can­tona scored a vol­ley right at the end. It was the kind of thing that made you never want to see Wem­b­ley again. I’ve lost big games with Eng­land, Cup fi­nals and Cham­pi­ons League semis

with Real Madrid. But with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the pain of those de­feats, all the suc­cess wouldn’t have tasted so

sweet. STEVE McMana­man hopes Sh­effield United’s run to the semi-fi­nals of the FA Cup will fi­nally bring man­ager Nigel Clough some over­due recog­ni­tion.

Clough, 48, spent three years at Liver­pool with McMana­man be­fore mov­ing into man­age­ment with Bur­ton, Derby and now the Blades.

When he took charge at Bra­mall Lane, United were bot­tom of League One, but re­cov­ered to fin­ish sev­enth and come within a whisker of the Cup fi­nal be­fore go­ing down 5-3 to top-flight Hull.

“It was stun­ning, a great achieve­ment,” said Mcmana­man.“And I hope it’s opened ev­ery­one’s eyes to the won­ders Nigel Clough has worked since he got there.

“Fin­ish­ing sev­enth is a feat in it­self, but to make it to Wem­b­ley and then play with so much credit, it’s tes­ta­ment to the spirit Nigel has in­stilled. Some of those play­ers will never get to Wem­b­ley again in their ca­reers, but they can leave know­ing they put on an ex­hi­bi­tion and came so close to beat­ing a Pre­mier League team.

“If they can take this form and con­fi­dence, add to the play­ers they’ve got, they should be one of the favourites for pro­mo­tion next sea­son.

And McMana­man say United’s re­vival is re­ward for the hard, but largely un­her­alded, work Clough did in his five years at Derby.

“Nigel’s a lovely per­son, of course he is, but he was a quiet lad who was very stu­dious about the game,” added McMana­man.“He wanted to learn all the time.

“He did very well at Derby and was prob­a­bly one of the most un­der­rated man­agers in the di­vi­sion dur­ing those five years.

“Most people don’t know the sto­ries be­hind clubs. They don’t know if man­agers have to get rid of play­ers or cut wage bills. They just see where a side fin­ish in the ta­ble and if that’s lower than the year be­fore they think ‘fail­ure’.

“But it’s a dif­fi­cult busi­ness and Nigel had it harder than most. I hope he gets a lit­tle bit more credit at Sh­effield United. I’m thrilled for him and I hope he goes on to big­ger and bet­ter things.”

VOL­LEY UP­SET­TING: Eric Can­tona and Alex Fer­gu­son cel­e­brate vic­tory for Manch­ester Utd in 1996

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