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New Article: A Charlton fan's story of love and betrayal at the hands of The FA Cup...

When I was a kid I was infatuated with the FA Cup. It was the classic femme fatale - kooky, self-assured and unpredictable. Once a year she would brazenly flirt with you, drawing you in. You knew the risks in falling for her charms - she did the same with everyone else, after all - but you just couldn’t help yourself.

Sometimes one brief encounter would lead to another and perhaps even another and the promise of something momentous. Then she’d push you away, her head turned by someone else; the same guys always got the girl.

These days I have grown up. I’m more cynical, less romantic, less easily charmed. The cup isn’t the same as it used to be, I tell myself. For those clubs threatened with relegation it’s a distraction. For the heavyweights it represents nothing more than a consolation prize when the Champions League and Premier League are out of reach. For those clubs outside the top flight, well, forget it.

There are other reasons to hanker for the good ole days. Penalties have been introduced to decide the first replay, so we are deprived of those epic contests that run and run until players and fans are sick of the sight of each other. The semi-final is played at Wembley, devaluing the final. Then there is Wembley itself – stylish, modern, functional, but shorn of its iconic twin towers and those Roman Colosseum style arches and colonnades that made the old stadium the most unique and beautiful in the world.

The first cup final I remember was the Brighton - Manchester United classic of 1983, and I never missed one until the mid-nineties when The Premiership was born, my adolescence had faded and a more hormone-driven idea of romance had taken hold.

During my “FA Cup years”, the routine would remain unchanged. I would turn on Grandstand at midday and lose myself completely to the occasion, watching right through until the famous trophy was lifted. Like the cup’s traditions, the BBC’s coverage never seemed to vary. I used to love those overhead shots of the coaches as they crawled through the capital from the team hotels. Later on we’d see the players mooching around on the hallowed turf wearing tight suits and even tighter smiles. The cup really, really mattered.

My dream was to see my team, Charlton Athletic, run out at a seething, combustible Wembley. I recall the cruel injustice I felt when my Dad refused to take me to the Full Members Cup Final in 1987. “It’s not the FA Cup” he had said. “It’s a Mickey Mouse cup. The ground will be half empty.” He was right. We lost 1-0 to Blackburn Rovers in front of 43,000 fans, only 15,000 from Charlton spread all over the stadium.

My Wembley moment finally came in 1998 and it didn’t disappoint. It wasn’t the FA Cup but the Division One Play-Off Final. Sunderland were the opposition, Clive Mendonca the hero. Extra Time. 4-4. Penalties. Sasa Ilic. Pandemonium.

Promotion, to most of our fans, meant days out at the cathedrals of English football. For me though, this was overwhelmingly trumped by our naturally increased chances of a cup run. Cup romance belonged to the minnows, I reasoned, but the latter stages were the domain of the footballing elite, an exclusive club to which we now belonged.

To my eternal disappointment our cup performances remained unremittingly awful. For Premiership games, the home atmosphere was charged, The Valley a bear pit, but when the cup came around and Walsall or Blackpool or Dagenham and Redbridge rolled into town, everything was colder, greyer, flatter. It was as if we simply couldn’t adapt to being the giants.

Since 1984 and my first trip to The Valley we’ve been to the FA Cup quarter finals just three times and never beyond. For my whole life it has seemed that a cup run, like a lottery win, is something that only happens to someone else.

Three decades on and, despite our wretched league form, we find ourselves in the quarters once more. This Sunday we take on Sheffield United of League One at Bramall Lane. Just as in 2006, we are a poor side that has been given a favourable route to the last eight and a tantalising opportunity to reach Wembley.

In Chris Powell we have a manager who not only has a deep connection with our club but who shares my yearning for FA Cup glory, for it proved a cruel mistress during his time as a player. Though the spectre of relegation has hung over us all season, he has fielded his strongest side in every round. When we won at Sheffield Wednesday in Round Five I felt a kind of delirium that I thought had died in me long ago. Chris felt it too, swinging like a kid from the Hillsborough crossbar.

Whatever happens this Sunday, I am grateful for this reawakening of my passion for the cup. It may have sacrificed a little of its once untouchable grandeur in adjusting to its new niche amongst the commercial leviathans that surround it, but it still has an emotional hold over me, pushing aside much of the cynicism I feel towards the modern game.

I can’t speak for other Charlton fans but I can honestly say that, given the choice, I would take relegation and a day at Wembley over Championship survival and defeat at Bramall Lane. Teams go up. Teams go down. Life goes on. But a fan’s life story is told not in terms of league positions but of individual moments in time, tales of heroism and heartbreak that will survive the generations. Perhaps this Sunday will provide another.

My name is Nick, I am thirty seven and I’m still addicted to the FA Cup.

https://twitter.com/nickallbury
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Comments

  • Thanks for that, a great post!
  • Beautifully written
  • Very Good indeed.
  • Top stuff. Brings it all back, that whole day excitement as a kid and always, at some point before the game, going into the garden with my brothers to play our own preview of the big match.

    Arsenal 3 Man Utd 2 in '79 was my first final, which we watched on ITV because the picture was slightly brighter. And I think the following year Arsenal (and England) coach Don Howe actually drove the team bus to Wembley, if memory serves.

    I used to be able to remember all the finals, results and scorers going back to 1973. Now I can't even remember who won the year before last.
  • Great stuff Nick.
  • With this passage of purple prose, Nick firmly puts to be the rumour that he's really a Spanner in disguise.

    Seriously, very well written and a good read.
  • ohh yes those days of Grandstand coverage of the FA Cup Final with David Coleman - iconic sports broadcasting

    thanks Nick
  • The FA Cup coverage used to be the highlight of my season. Starting around 11 and it was a great spectacle. Nowadays it's very much low key - until we get there!
  • Nick,

    Thank you for that posting. Very well said.

    The FA Cup is really not held in the same esteem as it once was - it used to be something that people went out of their way to watch on TV, and the TV used to take delight in covering. The Premiership - where average players sell for more than a Championship football club does and the focus is all about the money that's generated - has changed English football so dramatically; the biggest relegation since then is of the FA Cup to a lower league of footballing status. Watching teams, whether big or small, battle through the rounds to get to the Cup Final is seen as a distraction to many, but the reality is that it's where the heart of football truly lies.

    Thanks again, Nick. Top man.
  • Always liked the bit when they were with the fans travelling to Wembley and of course the It's a Knock Out between the two clubs.
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  • I remember the Friday night programme previewing the final too, loved those times when you sat there from the minute you woke up til after the programme had finished then rushed out the back with a ball to recreate the final!
  • Do you remember when they would surprise a ticketless fan on Wembley way with a ticket?
  • Fantastic post, Nick -excellent writing.
  • I am now going to show my age, but all my cup final memories were in black and white, until about 1968, when I persuaded my wife we could afford the extra rental (YES RENTAL), and get a colour 14 inch TV. Only later she realised I wanted it for the cup final. I am sure Arsenal was one team and it was a bore, but a colour bore.
  • Great article, Nick.

    Keeeeep writing !!
  • edited March 2014
    Excellent post. I feel the same way about the FA Cup. I vaguely remember the '77 final, but '79 (superb Final) is the first one I remember properly. My other great memory is of '87 when they decided to show the semi-finals. I came home from camping around midday on the Sunday to find golfaddick engrossed in Leeds v Coventry - that was some match! The Final that year is probably my favourite ever.

    The other thing that makes me chuckle when I look back is that my Boys' Brigade company always decided to have our 'display' the same evening as the Cup Final and it was always a mad rush to get there, especially if there was extra time. The two events just seemed to go hand in hand and my memory of these days gives me the same magical impression of timelessness as listening to St Etienne, with the window down, driving on a sunny, carefree summer's day.
  • @jimmymelrose‌ which bb were you in?
  • 6th West Kent. Don't tell me that you were in the 14th.
  • 6th West Kent. Don't tell me that you were in the 14th.

    14th always won everything, but the 18th was where it was at.


  • edited March 2014
    What a great read! very well written @leightonaddick it took me back to times gone by when the FA Cup final day was the day most, if not all, football fans looked forward to....I always watched on The Beeb, ITV and adverts were a poor second in my opinion. The team coach journey, players on the pitch, the wonderful singing of "Abide with me", the teams coming out, National Anthem, kick off and then in quite a few games (not all) the anti-climax of a poor or at best boring game!! Outside many high streets either deserted or full of just footballing widows "getting out of the house coz he's watching the FA Cup final thingy!!"
    Used watch at first from about 1965 with my Dad and Grandad, then as I grew up used to watch at a mates house who had colour TV!! Then I moved to the pub to watch the game as the years went by. Now sadly it has lost its magic, although (I think I'm right in saying) its back on The Beeb from next season and I think in some way that might help restore some of its magic, if only on cup-final day its self.
    Thanks @leightonaddick for rekindling some fantastic memories that had been locked away for more than a decade!!
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  • Excellent stuff. The FA Cup provided great memories. Watching Grandstand and then the teams getting on the bus with a celeb supporter.
    West Ham beating Preston in the last minute 3-2 in 63/64 with Alan Kelly the Preston keeper hardly able to stand.
    Liverpool beating horrible Leeds 2-1 a year later and many more.
    In later years my mates would come around to watch it. We would get the beers in and the missus would make a big pile of sandwiches.
  • Nice one Nick, really enjoyed that. Captured it beautifully.
  • Great piece and very well written. You have rekindled my memories of how I used to watch the final on BBC when I was a kid.
  • @jimmymelrose‌ @shrew I was in the 22nd. I think we did the same camp as the 14th or 6th. Did you play Saturday morning footie?
  • I have vague memories of WHU winning the Cup Winners Cup, and I watched the World Cup in '66. Up until then I didn't know football was on the telly. The first Cup Final I remember is Spurs 2 Chelsea 1. At that time I didn't even know there had been other games leading up to the final. That game was the first where my brother and I watched the final and each picked a team to support during the early part of the day's programming. My choice of Chelsea was the first of quite a few where I consistently picked the losers.
  • As you can imagine my memories of the FA Cup go way back. Arthur Caigher (I think) in his white suit leading the singing of Abide with me, TV going to the two team Hotels. My favourite Final of all time will always be the 1953 Stanley Matthews Final, the dodgy goalkeeping, the brilliant forward play, the most exciting ever.
    Strangely, on Sunday United will be favourites playing at home with 8 straight wins behind them under a very good young manager. I have a feeling that it might go to the team that scores first. I really hope that CP does not set us up to just avoid defeat, but we will see. Whatever happens the cup run is adding some brightness to an otherwise largely miserable season.
  • Talking of World cup 1966, I was celebrating my wedding anniversary and my wife and I had been treated to 2 tickets to see a show in London that evening. I lived a 5-minute walk near a railway station, and the train left ar 5pm. I got ready before the game and thought I would be able to see the game and get to the station on time. Obviously I had not thought of extra time. I got off the main line and onto the underground and asked a worker if he knew the score, when he told me, I must admit I did not believe him. They did not have a lot of replays in those times, and I think it was about a year before I saw the extra time.
  • edited March 2014
    As a kid, I used to love the associated programmes on cup final day - such as it's a cup final knockout - it felt a bit like Christmas. Now the final is just another game......unless a team like Wigan are in the final - it meant so much more to them than Man City and you have somebody to root for. Then the magic of the cup is re-ignited. And I doubt any of the other quarter finals will have that same bit of magic as our one. Two teams where the outcome of the match and the ocassion means everything!

    Typically, the tie with the most magic, is the one the TV companies seemed less interested in - says a lot about football today.
  • Really good read, and though most of the comments here are about the cup final, the original post also summed up the (former) fascination with the whole tournament, not just finals day. Back in the day, the cup got your attention even when your own team wasn't involved (i.e. R4 onwards most of the time, for us). I recall shouting myself hoarse at a fantastic Spurs v Derby replay even though I supported neither team (Derby won 5-3 having been 3-1 down).

    I think the main solution to restoring the cup's status would be to put the winners in the Champions League (but only winners, not runners-up to a team that finished top 3). That way, a lot rests on the outcome, same as play-off finals.
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