Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Earning Your Stripes

It is the FA Cup First Round this weekend. Now, I simply don't need to be whipped up into an almost obscene fervour about the world's greatest cup competition, but I suspect that some of you might be, so I'm kicking off the preview early. This weekend, the clubs from League One and League Two join the party, and I daresay that there will be some established names that will get a bloody nose. Even in this cynical age, the First Round of the Cup can induce some of us to not far short of blubbering wrecks, and this season has been particularly kind to those of us that hold the spirit and tradition of the game above everything else. So it's worth celebrating. I'm away this weekend and I don't know how close I'm going to be able to get to a computer, so I'm going to write all of my blogs this evening, and hope for the best. Best get started, then.

The 1970s has held its place as the "cult" decade for English football. It was the last decade in which numerous different teams won the First Division (Everton, Arsenal, Derby County, Liverpool, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest won it over the course of the decade). The players became celebrities in their own right. And, particularly in view of the national team's decade of under-achievement, the FA Cup was the boss. In 1970, the TV audience for the replay at Old Trafford between Chelsea and Leeds United was an extraordinary 28 million people - one of the biggest in British television history for anything. And the Cup Finals of the 1970s were brilliant. In 1976, Southampton beat Manchester United and two years later Ipswich Town surprised Arsenal. They were tense matches, played in front of mathematically perfect 100,000 crowds at Wembley. Nobody ever failed to turn up. There was no need for fireworks or fake ticker-tape displays - all it needed was a marching band, "Abide With Me", and a referee with Brylcreemed hair and a kit looked like it had been made in 1949.

The definitive FA Cup final of the 1970s, and therefore the definitive match of the the 1970s, was the 1973 match-up between Sunderland and Leeds United. Leeds were arguably the definitive 1970s club. Seemingly perpetual failures during the early 1970s, the nation cackled with ill-disguised delight as they regularly shot their way to Cup Finals and the top of the League, only to blow it, and usually in spectacular circumstances. Sunderland may have been more in their contribution to the overall football scene in the early 1970s, but wow - just look at them! There can never have been a hairier team to win a major trophy. If the Holland 1974 team were the footballing equivalent of the hippie ideal, with their total football and beads, then Sunderland in 1973 were glam rock. Unsophisticated, unlikely and very, very hairy. The hairiest of them all was captain Bobby Kerr. Kerr, more of whom later, would make his own mark on the match in a very 1970s way. Other definitively 1970s aspects of this match included: (as seen above) a yellow ball, the squawking commentary of David Coleman (who superceded Kenneth Wolstenholme as the BBC's main football commentator in 1971 and stayed there until he himself was succeeded as the main man by John Motson), and Sunderland manager Bob Stokoe's unlikely outfit for the occasion, which consisted of a trliby, a dirty, brown looking mac, and rather-too-tight red tracksuit trousers.

The match started quietly, Leeds were stronger in the opening exchanges, but as Sunderland's confidence grew, they started to create chances. In the 31st minute, Ian Porterfield scored the only goal of the match (apologies for picture quality). Leeds swarmed forward, but Sunderland's defence held firm - just about. With 15 minutes to, it looked for all the world as if Leeds had levelled - I've featured Jimmy Montgomery's double save from Trevory Cherry and Peter Lorimer on here before, but it can stand to be watched many times over. Both commentators, Brian Moore on ITV and David Coleman on the BBC, thought it had gone and, as the above clip shows, poor old ITV summariser Jimmy Hill had to watch it about four times before he realised that Montgomery had even got a hand on it. At the final whistle, a canny director showed the final iconic image of the day, refusing to pull the camera back from focussing on Stokoe, as he ran (well, galloped) the full length of the pitch in his bizarre outfit to hug Montgomery. An hour or so, the final word was left with the aforementioned Kerr, who was interviewed in an enormously "tired and emotional" state by the BBC's Barry Davies.

If you have a spare £6, I can't recommend highly enough that you buy this match on DVD. If you want to know everything there is to know about the magic of the FA Cup, you won't find many better places to start than here.


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