As a Manchester United fan, I have a whole life-time of memories of the FA Cup to draw from, unlike some, whose recent history in the trophy only began 6 years ago.
If this was to pick out a favourite FA Cup game then it would be easily the FA Cup Semi Final at Villa Park back in 1999. A game which saw an amazing strike by Beckham, a red card for Roy Keane, a penalty save from Schmeichel and by a brilliant solo goal from Ryan Giggs. The significance of that game was huge, it showed United’s spirit of that season, saving the game at the death, a trait which would come in useful a few weeks later at the Nou Camp as United went on to win the Champions League and complete the Treble.
In case you need reminding of that FA Cup Semi Final then enjoy the below…
But as the brief is to identify my favourite moment then it has to be this….
Let me set the scene, Saturday afternoons were spent at my Auntie’s house and FA Cup final day was no different. My earliest FA Cup memory as a United fan was winning the FA Cup against Chelsea 4-0 in 1994. It was amazing as United were the second best side for the first half, yet in the second half they scored 3 goals in 10 minutes. I also remember my first heartbreak, in the FA Cup coming from the 1995 FA Cup Final where United lost 1-0 to Everton. I remember being at my Auntie’s house on that Saturday afternoon, watching the game and feeling absolutely gutted when Rideout scored and United spent an hour struggling to find a way back in to the game. So 12 months later to be in the final again, my 8 year old self was excited, and this time we had Cantona back in our side!
The Frenchman had been banned for the for most of the 1994/95 season following his ‘Kung-Fu’ kick on a fan at Crystal Palace. He returned to the side in October 1995 and carried the side. That season we won so many games 1-0 and the man who scored the goals in those games was King Eric. The season had been tough for United and at one point we were 10 points behind Newcastle in the title race, however the team made up of kids came good and went on to win the league by 4 points.
With the league won, the focus was on the FA Cup Final against our bitter rivals, which even as an 8 year, I knew a loss to would be even more painful than the year before. To get to the final United had beaten Sunderland, Reading, Manchester City, Southampton and Chelsea and I can remember feeling confident before the game that we will win it, as 8 year olds often do before a game of football. The build up was the same as before, we were at my Auntie’s house, in the front room, crowded around the TV. The build up beginning hours before the game and everyone was glued to the screen. Liverpool turned up in their cream suits and sunglasses, which I remember causing comment from those in the room.
The match in itself wasn’t great, it was a midfield battle with the best players being completely marked out of the game, but then the ball dropped to the leader of our football team, the greatest centre forward that the world has ever seen, and he didn’t disappoint. You could argue that David James in the Liverpool goal should have done better, but as the ball bounced in front of Eric, I remember the whole room moved closer to the television. Cantona moving backwards connected sweetly with the ball on the half volley and, before the ball hit the back of the net, the whole room was up and bouncing. The week after the game was spent with everyone at school pretending to be Cantona, everyone’s collars were up, trying to half volley every shot and of course every opponent had to be Liverpool even if they didn’t like it.
It’s a moment, which like the final few minutes of the Champions League Final in 1999, still brings goosebumps and makes me want to go and half volley every ball with my collar up.