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