Surely the FA Cup still means something?

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You thought of a white horse holding back thousands of spectators in scenes that must have been as scary as they were magnificent.

You thought of Stanley Matthews finally getting that winner’s medal. You thought of Manchester United in 1958 and how they lost in a final that the whole world, bar one club, wanted them to win.

You thought of a long-haired Charlie George lying down after that cracking winner against Liverpool.The memories are so vivid even if half are from old newsreel footage from before your birth.

That was the FA Cup final.

It was an international occasion, not a game. To have played in one meant elevation to mythical status. To have won one meant you were a god.I remember years ago buying a golf club in a Johannesburg warehouse of the sport and being served by a very pleasant dark-haired guy who seemed a bit familiar.

His accent was a weird mix of eastern Europe and East End of London.The deal done, we discussed life in general and, by chance, the upcoming FA Cup final.His talk had an air of the familiar and then it struck me – he was Milija Aleksic and he had played in one of the greatest finals of all time. He was between the sticks for Tottenham Hotspur when they beat Manchester City in a replay in 1981.

It was the Centenary Cup Final and in the replay, after a 1-1 draw, the sides served up a classic.In those days few players were from outside Britain and Ireland so the presence of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, Argentinian World Cup stars for Spurs, was a real talking point.

These days, the paucity of home-based players is the noticeable feature but there you go, times change. The score was 2-2 in the 76th minute and Tony Galvin passed to Villa 30 yards out from goal.

The bearded forward proceeded to beat four City defenders before slotting the ball past big Joe Corrigan and that was that. It was voted the Wembley goal of the century in 2001.

Even today it is breathtaking in the audacity of Villa’s skill and composure.I asked Milija about his memories of the game and he said there were few. Almost his only action was to pick the ball out of the net twice and to collect his medal.

He was modest to a fault.

However, he still loved attending the reunions with his old comrades. In my mind, he was Titan.Shame, a couple of years ago he dropped dead from a heart attack. I wonder, did they bury his medal with him?

On Saturday, Man United play Crystal Palace in a repeat of their final of 1990. That was also a replay win, for United, after a 3-3 draw in the opener.

However, today it is so different. United have missed out on the Champions League and are hopefully in the process of getting rid of their very strange manager.

The players will either be focusing on the European Championship or on summer holidays. The club makes more on a few league positions than on winning the cup, so who really cares?

For Palace it is huge as they are a small, unfashionable club. But even they know that the glory days when the whole world focused on Wembley are remnants of past days long gone.

Small teams have a chance these days as the focus of the giants has changed.It is sad because, for many, the magic still remains. The FA Cup is still a massive brand, as the marketing gurus would tell us.

Can it be rescued? Can it be returned to its former glory? Maybe an injection of massive sponsorship money might do the trick.

Maybe Uefa might decide to give a Champions League spot to all national cup winners, even though that is a contradiction in terms.

Mind you, these days teams that are not national champions get in, so where is the contradiction?

Tradition surely still matters in sport. The FA Cup is a warning to all sports that you cannot take continued status for granted. Once the slide starts, “fast falls the eventide”.

*Robbie hosts the breakfast show 6-9am weekdays on 702.

The Star

Original source: Surely the FA Cup still means something?

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