BY DAVID MARPLES
Remember when the FA Cup meant something? No – I mean really meant something?
It would be all too easy at this stage to wax lyrical about waking up on FA Cup Final day and watching extended coverage on the stupidly small television after a heated argument with your older sister since she wanted to watch Going Live! But there was always more to it than that. Lifting the old trophy was an actual footballing achievement and what’s more, anyone – really, absolutely and truly any old shambling bunch of fumblebums could actually lift the darned old thing. Little old Wimbledon went and did exactly that just a year after this ramshackle collection of players decked in beautiful sky blue stripes went and made themselves immortal heroes in the Coventry area.
Steve Phelps’ book is the story of the 1987 FA Cup run – the year that Coventry City won their first major trophy after defeating red-hot favourites Tottenham Hotspur in the final. Arguably, this was the last absolute stonewall, bona fide Wembley classic FA Cup final encounter. Some might point to the 1991 clash between Spurs and Nottingham Forest, what with Paul Gascoigne and all that jazz, and there’s probably only a Greg Downs’ hair‘s breadth between them. Of course, the 2006 showdown between Liverpool and West Ham United had pretty much everything… but that was at the Millennium Stadium, as you well know.
Each game in the legendary run is dissected and reflected upon by players, management, media, supporters, songwriters, club staff and even mascots, documenting a magical time in City’s history. Such a format, switching between different viewpoints, really favours the players who genuinely come across as a good bunch of blokes who you would quite happily spend an evening with down the local, shooting some pool, throwing some arrows and splitting into groups for a pub quiz.
At the same time though, this approach can be a little grating and anecdotes occasionally favour insight. Maybe the telling of this tale would be better suited to an extended documentary with talking heads spliced in amongst the action. Easy access to a video search engine would certainly be recommended in order to witness the moments about which the subjects speak. Nonetheless, the inclusion of fan viewpoints alongside players and reporters succeeds in articulating the human element of this wondrous and highly unlikely tale.
The journey back in time is a treasure trove of lovely little nuggets. Ticket prices are faithfully documented – you could stand on the Kop for £5 for the semi final at Hillsborough. The recording of the then obligatory cup final song took place in a semi-detached house, fuelled by copious amounts of cans of lager. On a more sombre note, fans of both Coventry and Leeds United tell of frightening surges of people on the Leppings Lane terraces in the quarter-final and the semi-final. Just two years later, Hillsborough happened.
Turning the pages is a nostalgic retreat back to 1987. Sure it’s myopic. Of course it’s sentimental. But football is about the glory – it’s always been about the glory – and glory should be celebrated with every fibre and sinew of our bodies.