The magic moment that I’ve been patiently waiting for since the 1990s. I’d been predicting that this draw would happen to anyone who would listen to me over the last couple of months, and I admit that I’d imagined it actually taking place in the third round of the FA Cup. To see it pop out as the first two balls of the fourth round draw was surreal to say the least, and to think of some of the hugely unsavoury things that I’ve sung and shouted at Martin Keown down the years… You see, I’m one of those despicable people that support two football teams. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur.
I come from a long line of Tottenham fans, my Nan was born and bred a goal kick away from White Hart Lane, whilst my other Grandparents lived up the road in Edmonton. One of my early memories is playing football in the back garden there and being able to hear the crowds at Spurs, the perfect back drop to my attempts to plant the plastic football in the bottom corner of the washing line post that played the part of the goal. My Dad has told me all about his regular outings to the Lane to watch Bill Nicholson’s double winners and it was his love of the game that took me and my brother to our first ever live match in January 1987, Wycombe Wanderers v Bromley in the Isthmian League. We had moved to High Wycombe a couple of years before and I remember wandering up to Loakes Park, wondering why that part of town always smelt of chocolate. The game was a tempestuous affair which The Chairboys won easily, with Bromley having a player sent off. The sights, the smells and the swearing ensured that I was hooked, whilst watching Declan Link whip corners in was a thing of beauty to my young eyes.
The next few seasons really were a golden age for the beautiful game for me. Later that year, I got an early dose of galling disappointment when Spurs somehow lost to Coventry City in the FA Cup final, a superb diving header from Keith Houchen breaking my heart. I carried that disappointment around with me until January 1989, when I was delighted by lowly Sutton United unceremoniously dumping the Sky Blues out of the third round. This, coupled with Wimbledon winning the cup in 1988 guaranteed that I fully understood the magic of the greatest club competition in the world.
After the thrillingly brilliant Italia 90 World Cup, it was all about Gazza and I was taken to see Spurs play for the first time, an away game at Loftus Road where they drew 0-0 with QPR. On leaving High Wycombe that day, I’d been cruelly informed that Gascoigne was injured and wouldn’t be playing, so I sat in silence the whole way down the A40, already acutely aware that an afternoon of observing Steve Sedgley lumber around the midfield wasn’t going to be great. The joke was on me as Gazza shone in a tight game with the cauldron like atmosphere of Loftus Road ensuring that I’d extended my vocabulary too.
I was by now a complete football obsessive, getting my fix from televised games, Sports Night and Match Of The Day, whilst tracking the Wanderers in the pages of Midweek and The Bucks Free Press. Take it away Barry Davies…
“Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is you know. OHHH I SAY…” It’s still one of my favourite commentary moments ever. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported back home dancing around the living room. Perfection.
I didn’t have to wait long to experience the FA Cup in the flesh either. Queuing up in the rain with my Dad outside the new home of The Chairboys to secure tickets for the second round clash against West Bromwich Albion. We were not to be disappointed… (WARNING – this video contains some awful ‘say what you see’ style punditry)
Next up, I got a paper round and some disposable income which was largely spent on season tickets to get me into Adams Park at every opportunity. Wycombe Wanderers became the focus for six wonderful years until I went to university in London and started to go and watch Tottenham and experience the dizzy heights of the Premier League.
2000/2001 really did set the bar high for FA Cup magic. Wycombe Wanderers and Tottenham both marching to the semi-finals, only to avoid each other and both get knocked out (yet more heartbreak!) The Chairboys run was simply magnificent though, and the fifth round replay against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park is one of the best games I have ever been to for pure drama. Over to you Alan Parry…
I wasn’t at Filbert Street as I had to work, so I listened to the game on the radio. I just couldn’t believe it when Roy Essandoh scored, mainly because I’d seen him make his debut for Wycombe the week before and I had decided that he made Trevor Aylott look like Roberto Baggio by comparison. A free agent, signed after the club put a plea out on teletext for a striker who wasn’t cup tied, he scored only one goal that season and it knocked high flying Premier League Leicester City out of the cup. Unbelievable.
Since then, there has been very little for me to speak of in terms of romance in the FA Cup. I remember getting up in the middle of the night in Beijing to watch Tottenham get beaten by Portsmouth, another semi-final defeat. Another low point was the then non league Fleetwood Town brushing Wycombe aside 2-0, despite having a man sent off in the first half. I was away in Albania and 5Live had the game as their main commentary match and I’ll never forget Mark Lawrenson summing up the performance.
“This is the worst display from a Football League side in the FA Cup that I have ever seen.”
Ouch. The magic can go both ways.
Last season, Wycombe took Aston Villa to a replay before bowing out in the third round. This was a great achievement, but with Villa going through a horrendous season it lacked the sparkle of previous cup endeavours.
Since falling into commentating a few years ago, Wycombe Wanderers have provided me with a real rollercoaster ride to describe. From survival at Torquay to losing on penalties in the play off final at Wembley, I’ve loved every single minute of it. With White Hart Lane being demolished at the end of this season, I knew that the FA Cup with Wycombe was my only realistic shot of being able to commentate on a game there. Somehow, I just knew it would happen.
Thirty years have passed since my first ever game at Loakes Park and I’m delighted that both my dad and brother will also be at White Hart Lane to see our two teams walk out side by side. I just I hope I can hold it together on the commentary…