Robbie Fowler, Steve MacManaman and Jamie Redknapp suit up for the 1996 final (Picture: Getty )
There’s so much about tomorrow’s FA Cup Final that sets the nostalgic sporting heart aflutter.
For starters, it’s a traditional three o’clock kick off for the first time since 2011. Let’s gloss over the fact that it’s because the Metropolitan Police have classed it as a ‘high risk’ fixture. I refuse to let the truth get in the way of my trademark whimsy writing.
More importantly, there are no other English football distractions to cheapen it. No other games to update you on, or a single thing in the domestic football calendar to be decided. That’s proper. Also, it’s back to back with the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Stick that in your TikTok and smoke it!
That’s how it used to be, kiddos. The FA Cup final was the only show in town, and your entire day was built around it, no matter who was playing.
It’s also worth noting, as if your retro soul could soar any higher, that it’s the 100th anniversary of the first FA Cup showdown at Wembley, known as the famous White Horse final between Bolton and West Ham.
I think it’s amazing the same travelling conditions of a century ago have been recreated to mark this centenary celebration. For those fans currently making their way from the North West to London, I hope you are enjoying your walk.
For most, however, it was the TV coverage that made the FA Cup final so special. There’d be the regular birdseye view of the coach making its way to the stadium, a fashion segment on the suits worn by each team, and a feature on a local butcher who named a sausage after one of the players. Don’t ask me why. That’s just what happened.
The good news is, you can watch wall-to-wall FA Cup on the BBC from 12noon, although we will have to wait to see if they serve up an old-school banger.
It starts with Football Focus, followed by a ‘road to Wembley’ 35 minutes, taking us through the different rounds with a retro video-game theme thrown in for good measure. Then, it’s a wink from Gary Lineker and off we go.
John Aldridge scores for Liverpool in the 1989 FA Cup final against Everton (Picture: Action Images)
ITV are going for a straightforward 4-4-2, only coming on air from 2.05pm, but there’s a very good reason or this. It’s the Epsom Derby, live from 12.30pm, so if they could just thrown in one squash match, a single period of ice hockey from Bracknell and the closing stages of the World Rally Championship, it would give us some proper Grandstand goosebumps.
Either way, it’s uninterrupted free-to-air sport on BBC and ITV all afternoon and that’s fine by me.
In terms of history, there’s the prospect of City achieving something very special, something that has only been done twice before in the FA Cup, not including the days when the trophy winners were automatically in the final the following year.
In 1889, Preston lifted the title without conceding a single goal along the way, which Bury then emulated in 1903. That would make City only the third club to do this, should they keep a clean sheet tomorrow, and the first ever on the hallowed Wembley turf.
They’ve been massive favourites in every tie since the fifth round, scoring 12 and conceding none, but when they faced Arsenal in the fourth round, they didn’t write it off. The last of seven games that month and they still started with Mahrez, De Bruyne, Grealish, Haaland and more.
Manchester City are looking to make a slice of Wembley history (Picture: Getty Images)
I know, City have a strength in depth to rival the United States Navy, but they consistently show an acceptable level of respect for the domestic cups. There’s a reason why they’ve won six out of the last ten League Cups.
As for the game itself, asking a Liverpool fan to pick between Manchester United and Manchester City is like asking Prince Harry to chose his favourite in a car park punch-up between Piers Morgan and Rupert Murdoch. However, it’s the FA Cup final and I’m all in. I always am.
Back in October, City wiped the floor with their rivals, even the 6-3 final score flattered the red side of Manchester. In January, at Old Trafford, they gained their revenge, coming from a goal down to win 2-1 in an epic second half.
Tomorrow, in the first Manchester derby in an FA Cup final, under the arches and in the three o’clock sun, I genuinely believe anything could happen. I’ll leave the in-depth analysis to ex-footballers with snappy suits. Instead, I’m going to wire up that old tube TV that’s been gathering dust in the attic. I’m going to go down the bookies in person and place a £5 double on Military Order and Man City. I’m going to grab some Ice Cream Soda and Fizz Wiz.
Oh yes, I’m going to watch the FA Cup final like it’s 1985.
I’m going to watch the FA Cup final like it’s 1985.