This is the second in an exclusive series of FA Cup Memories from all across the football spectrum.
Every day from May 1st, 2020, a new set of FA Cup memories will be published via this FACupFactfile blog and today is the turn of a leading voice in North-east football.
SERIES ONE No. 2
Connection to the world of Football: I am a freelance football writer and cover non-league football for several titles in the North East as well as the Non-League Paper. I have also written for the likes of Four Four Two and The Set Pieces website.
Mark is a passionate promoter of football in the North-east, as dedicated to covering the non-league game in the region as he is in sharing the ups and downs of Newcastle United.
First memory of the FA Cup: Mark says, “My first memory of the FA Cup was actually my first live game. I was at Newcastle United’s 5-0 win against Swindon Town in the fourth round of the competition in 1988. I was five at the time and all I can really remember is the noise and the fact it was bloody freezing. Clearly it made an impact on me though because that was the start of my life as a match-going supporter and the FA Cup has always been special to me ever since.
That season also provided my first memory of a final and watching Wimbledon shock the mighty Liverpool! A memorable final littered with some many remarkable moments. From Vinnie Jones almost cutting Steve McMahon in half within the first 20 seconds to Dave Beasant’s penalty save and Lawrie Sanchez’s winner – all in the baking hot sunshine at Wembley – it remains one of the best finals I have seen.”
It’s a brilliant first memory of the FA Cup. The first live game ever attended at the ground of the club you support. And a stonking victory to boot. And witnessing Paul Gascoigne not only play, but score two goals as well. Future match experiences would have to go some to beat that debut ‘live’ experience.
Video of Mark’s first ever match can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-GWwDjAhIw
Newcastle United are one of the great FA Cup clubs, number seven in the competition’s all time rankings. It’s hard to believe that when the club last lifted the Trophy in 1955, not only were they then regarded as the best FA Cup team of all time, but that they would not have yet gone on to lift the Trophy again. Just three more Cup Finals in the next 65 years to show for their efforts.
That 1988 FA Cup Final will always be remembered for John Motson’s line, “The Crazy Gang has beaten the Culture Club”. Wimbledon had only been a League club for 11 years whilst Liverpool had dominated the English game for the previous 15 years or so. A truly unforgettable first taste of an FA Cup Final.
Favourite memory of the FA Cup: Mark says, “I have to say as a supporter it would be Newcastle United’s semi-final wins against Sheffield United and Spurs in 1998 and 1999. I was at Old Trafford for both games with my Dad and the sense of achievement and anticipation of a visit to Wembley will live long in the memory. I would love to be able to say the finals were every bit as remarkable but apart from the “cup final” experience, they were instantly forgettable.
In a working capacity, I would say I was very fortunate to get my first media role with Blyth Spartans, a club famous for their FA Cup heroics. I was the club’s press officer when they embarked on a remarkable run to the third round in 2014/15. People will remember the 2-1 win at Hartlepool United and the 3-2 defeat against Birmingham City and will probably assume one of those would be my favourite – but the fourth qualifying round tie at Leek Town is the greatest game I have witnessed live. Spartans were two down at half-time and it could have been ten! They battled back to lead 4-2, then Leek got back into it at 4-3, but then missed a penalty in the sixth minute of added-on time! Remarkable!
If I can be greedy and add another, Dunston UTS’ run to the fourth qualifying round and their outstanding 4-3 win against Chester was another highlight. Being at the UTS Stadium to report on a Northern League club send a strong Chester side out of the competition was a real experience.”
That’s the thing about the FA Cup. It produces so many wonderful memories that it is very difficult to limit it to just one. And those memories are not just about witnessing your side lift the Trophy, it can be a whole myriad of different things as Mark describes.
The game Mark signifies as ‘the greatest game I have witnessed live’ won’t even have been noticed by 99% of followers of football, given that he was one of just 1,047 spectators to witness it. It sounds like a terrifically exciting match which obviously has had a lasting impression on Mark because of the gamut of emotions he must have gone through during the game.
Alongside Mark’s experience watching Blyth Spartans is that other 4-3 win by Dunston UTS in the FA Cup Qualifying Rounds. It highlights how important the FA Cup is to towns and villages across the length and breadth of the country. I follow the FA Cup from August to May each season, and the passion for the competition exhibited by players, fans, volunteers, coaches and board members at these small clubs is second to none.
Last FA Cup match attended: Mark says, “My last FA Cup game was Newcastle’s Third Round replay win against Rochdale in January. Hard to say what it was memorable for other than a fine performance from Matty Longstaff, and another youngster, Tom Allan, making his first-team debut.
In terms of working, it was Gateshead’s first round defeat against Oldham Athletic. That was slightly more memorable because the Heed put in a hell of a display against Football League opposition and to this day, I don’t know how they didn’t go through. It was a great day for a club that almost went out of business just five months earlier.”
That win by Newcastle United was only their third in the competition in seven seasons, but with Steve Bruce having more affinity with the competition, it seemed to trigger a belief in the Geordie faithful that this season could be their year. Still in the competition with a home Quarter Final match against the Cup holders to come, it would be a devastating end to their FA Cup hopes should the 2019-20 season be abandoned.
It was the third successive season that Gateshead had reached the ‘Proper’ Rounds of the FA Cup, a remarkable achievement considering the turmoil the club had gone through the previous season, almost going bust, suffering relegation and having to start two rounds earlier in the competition. Not only does the FA Cup provide fantastic memories for fans and players alike, but it has the power to deliver a boost to a club and a community as a whole. Who in Gateshead could have imagined that less than 6 months after the end of the previous season they would go toe-to-toe with a Football League club?
Thoughts on the future of the FA Cup: Mark says, “Sadly, I think we will see a continuation of the attitudes shown to the competition by a number of “big” clubs. For me, it should remain a priority, it should be one of the competitions that every club wants to win, but the prize money on offer in the Premier League and European competitions means that they are the priority. For me, the FA Cup is now a competition for non-league clubs to chase a day in the sun and shock a bigger club, before reaping the financial rewards that can change and mould their future. You could even argue that is the case for Football League clubs these days too!”
I agree with Mark that it is a real shame that some top level clubs do not see the FA Cup as a priority and that it can seem to be a competition for the lesser clubs. The reality is that it is top level club owners who do not treat the FA Cup as a priority, and this permeates down to some of their managers and a small proportion of their fans.
My own research and personal interactions suggest that the FA Cup is still a major priority for most people involved in the game. Not just for the financial benefits it can deliver for the smaller clubs, but also for the memories it can provide whatever level your club plays at; a fantastic unexpected Cup run, getting one over on your local rivals, an amazing comeback, a terrific giant-killing, the anticipation of the next big game – these all generate the same kind of passion and great memories as can be experienced by winning the Trophy itself.
Many, many thanks to Mark for sharing his personal memories and thoughts about the FA Cup. Mark is a terrific advocate of the game, a wonderful representative of North East and non-league football, as well as a passionate commentator on the game as a whole. I can highly recommend following him on Twitter.
No. 3 in the FA Cup Memories series, the recollections of another person heavily associated with the North-east, a former top-flight and international footballer who was once voted the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year, can be read on this link: https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/03/fa-cup-memories-series-13-chris-waddle/
You can read this FA Cup Memories series from where it all started with BBC 5 Live Commentator John Murray by clicking on this link https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/01/fa-cup-memories-series-11-john-murray/
Follow @FACupFactfile on Twitter for news of when future memories are published.