This is the fourth in the exclusive first 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 legend in the world of Non-League football and perhaps the biggest QPR fan on the planet.
SERIES ONE, No. 4
Connection to the world of Football: Football reporter for talkSPORT Radio and Sky TV
Tony is far more than a ‘football reporter for talkSPORT Radio and Sky TV’ as he is also affectionately known as ‘Mr Non-League’. Despite never missing a Queens Park Rangers home match for 40 plus years, Tony has also managed to watch more than 5,000 other matches whilst visiting more than 2,300 other grounds across the world.
First memory of the FA Cup: Tony says, “When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, FA Cup Final Day was the biggest day of the year. Apart from the England versus Scotland game and an end of season England Schoolboy international at Wembley, it was the only football match screened live.
So I would get up early and sit in front of the television all day from 9am watching the extensive FA Cup Final build up – switching to and fro from BBC1 Grandstand presented by Frank Bough to ITV World of Sport hosted by Dickie Davies.
The TV cameras would show: The teams at their hotels having breakfast, goals from the ‘Road to Wembley’, Cup Final songs by both clubs, Cup Final ‘It’s A Knockout’, Meet the players’ wives, Cup Final ‘Question of Sport’, the teams on their coaches travelling to Wembley with helicopters overhead tracking their journeys, players interviewed on the pitch in their suits before the game, and ‘Abide With Me’ sung before kick-off.
There would be home-made banners made from bed sheets on the old Wembley terraces. My favourite concerned Manchester United striker Stuart Pearson: ‘Jesus Saves But Pearson Nets The Rebound’.
A 3pm kick-off with live commentary by David Coleman on BBC1 and Brian Moore on ITV. Coleman’s best line was “Keegan 2, Heighway 1, Liverpool 3 Newcastle none” in 1974. Goals from the Scottish Cup Final at half-time and full-time, and post-match interviews with the winning players drinking from bottles of milk
After watching all of that, I would race out into the back garden to re-enact the FA Cup Final goals with a plastic football.”
Tony has an obvious affection with the FA Cup, with positive memories so deeply ingrained in his mind he can reel off not just one or two early memories of watching the FA Cup, but a whole day’s worth.
It’s difficult to imagine nowadays, with live football on TV almost 24/7, that the FA Cup Final and the day itself was a special event the whole country participated in, and stopped for! The build-up to the match was as important as the match itself.
Tony’s memories immediately evoke similar memories of my own, and I’m sure that’s the same for many football fans of a certain generation. That connectivity between watching the FA Cup Final and then trying to re-live it by recreating it immediately afterwards is something young kids did up and down the country. And it was always a glorious day weather-wise, wasn’t it, which certainly helped.
Favourite memory of the FA Cup: Tony says, “’THEY will be dancing in the streets of ___’ is a well-worn and totally inaccurate cliché after a team pulls off a famous football win. It is absolutely ridiculous to imagine supporters actually dancing in the streets. Or is it?
Let me take you back 38 years to when QPR beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at Highbury in the FA Cup Semi-Final in 1982. Rangers went into this Semi-Final as underdogs, sitting ninth in Division Two. Our opponents West Brom were 15th in the top flight. All the pre-match hype surrounded the form of Baggies striker Cyrille Regis. He was fresh from winning a first England cap and had already scored his 20th goal of the season.
Queens Park Rangers fans were allocated the imposing North Bank at Highbury for the Semi-Final. With our previous home crowd in the League amounting to 11,710, I was fearful that our support would look pathetic in that huge Arsenal home terrace. But I needn’t have worried. When I arrived at Highbury two hours before the game, there were Rangers fans everywhere. And by kick-off time, the North Bank was a heaving sea of blue and white. We had 25,000 R’s supporters present in the crowd of 45,015.
As for Cyrille Regis, he hardly had a kick. Totally marked out of the game by big Bobby Hazell, who gave one of the most dominant centre-half performances in the entire history of QPR. Then on 72 minutes, Clive Allen scrambled a scrappy deflection into the net for Rangers in front of the North Bank.
It was a horribly ugly goal. But a beautiful, beautiful goal at the same time! And it prompted unbridled celebrations amongst the army of R’s fans at that end of the stadium.
The remaining 18 minutes seemed to take an eternity to pass. I remember thinking that the iconic clock at the old Highbury Clock End had stopped ticking around. Then all of a sudden, referee Keith Hackett sounded his final whistle. Rangers had done it!
The North Bank became animated into a mass of leaping human bodies and the QPR players raced over to salute their ecstatic supporters.
The celebrations continued afterwards with hundreds of R’s fans partying in the street outside. I vividly remember seeing the magnificent naked torso of my favourite player Gary Waddock orchestrating the singing by hanging out of a dressing room window covered in shampoo.
It was one of the greatest days of my life. And I started dancing. I danced in the streets of Highbury…!”
The FA Cup. What can I say? Brilliantly described by Tony the emotions of watching your team play in a significant FA Cup game. It’s not just one memory and one emotion. It’s a cavalcade of experiences that live with you forever, and those memories and emotions are re-kindled every time the FA Cup comes around again.
Unfortunately, due to personal family reasons, Tony was unable to provide his thoughts on the future of the FA Cup. However, I am extremely grateful to Tony for taking the time to provide such detailed memories and experiences of watching the FA Cup. Do take time to seek Tony out on TV or radio, as his passion for the game as a whole is just as intense and is well-worth experiencing.
No. 5 in this FA Cup Memories series, the recollections from an award winning football journalist, can be found on this link: https://facupfactfile.wordpress.com/2020/05/05/fa-cup-memories-series-15-henry-winter/
No. 3 in this FA Cup Memories series, the recollections from a former England International and Football Writers Player of the Year, can be found 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.