If there is any magic left, it has been diluted to such an extent that what used to be at a David Copperfield – making the Statue of Liberty disappear level, has now morphed into Matthew Corbett shouting ‘Izzy Wizzy lets get busy’ as Sooty taps his wand on Sweep’s head, level.
Not so long ago, the FA Cup held more grandeur and prominence than the league. Teams would rest players in league fixtures to save them for the cup. Cup final day was the highlight of the football calendar.
Getting up extra early as dad had two newspapers delivered that day, especially for the occasion. Cup final pull-outs. Comparing the player rankings. Poring over every detail of their roads to Wembley, trying not to drop cornflakes on the paper – these were to be kept for years.
Then the real fun would begin. A pre-match trip to Wembley with dad, to get a programme and take in the atmosphere. To enable this trip to happen, I had to agree to cut the grass on Sunday morning. This was the 1980s. Lawn mowers had been powered by petrol and electric for some years. Not in our house.
Dad was still using the mower that had been passed down from his father. There was no brand name on it as my grandfather had MacGyvered it together from spare parts, shortly after the war. There is a more than fair chance that the cutting blade was originally part of a propellor from a German bomber that had been shot down, whilst trying to bomb Northolt airport.
Several hours on Sunday pushing the ridiculously heavy Messerschmitt mower around the garden was still a fair exchange in my eyes.
Bus to Wembley triangle (92 – not the special bus that the family of Roger Osborne came on). Hot dog from the stand outside Wembley Sports. Having read that John Motson always had a hot dog before the cup final, it was added to the family tradition. I doubt Motty ever ate any that were stored on the floor in a cardboard box and had a rather unique flavour that was unlike any meat I have ever tasted.
Looking back, the cat collars next to the cardboard box on the floor, may have been more than coincidental. A walk up to and around the outside of the stadium. Programme purchased. Another walk around the stadium, hoping for the huge double doors to be opened so I could catch a glimpse of the pitch it the distance.
Bus back home in time for Cup Final ‘Question of Sport’ with David Coleman. The mystery guest would invariably be someone associated with one of the teams. It seemed that Freddie Starr featured every time Everton appeared in the final. BBC showing live pictures on the team coaches when they left their hotels. Card schools at the back of the coach.
Peter Reid sitting next to Mooncat lookalike, Alan Harper. Howard Kendall not even bothering to hide his hip flask at the front. Players on the pitch in their special suits. Teams in the tunnel. Managers leading their players onto the red carpet. Abide with me. Wembley packed close to bursting. Terraces way over capacity. Turnstile operators were allegedly very easy to bribe.
Motty informing us that the game was being shown live in over a hundred countries and that a village in Nicaragua had bought their first-ever television, just to watch the final. Norman Whiteside curling the winner. Keith Houchen’s diving header. John ‘Snoz’ Sillett dancing on the pitch with the cup. Dave Beasant saving a penalty…
(I should mention James Logan’s hat-trick for Notts County to beat Bolton Wanderers in 1894 – Peter Rogers will be happy to talk you through the build-up to every goal in depth).
Those were the halcyon days. The FA cup is no longer special. Replays stop when the big boys enter. Latter rounds are played midweek. The final doesn’t even have the day to itself now Kick-off times change every year to suit TV schedules. The competing teams get less than half the tickets. The posh seats behind the benches are empty for the first 20 minutes of the second half as the corporate guests are more interested in finishing their pan-fried scallops with citrus foam.
The romance still exists at our level. Today’s opponents, Bracknell made it to the 1st round proper last season. Going down 3-0 to 1978 winners Ipswich Town. That game was played in front of a sell-out crowd of 2150 (2006 more than in attendance for today’s game) and shown live on national television. The last time Borough appeared on national TV in conjunction with the FA Cup was when the legendary Tony Booth popped up in the front row of the audience attending the draw, smiling like a Cheshire cat who had a secret set of keys to the Whiskas factory.
Bracknell had knocked Harrow out at the same stage last season and if truth be told, made light work of doing the same today. Elliott Poley deputized at right-back for the suspended Mirtahmasebi. Kandolo paired alongside Yorke at the heart of the Harrow defence. Two new signings had been registered on Friday. Rony Mfinda (Chesham) made the bench. Harry Seabrook (Son of former Borough player, Darren) unavailable.
A sweltering afternoon no doubt contributed to the slow pace in the initial stages of the game. Bracknell settled and stepped up a gear. Unfortunately, from a Harrow perspective, they remained in first gear for most of the afternoon. Bracknell was first to every ball. Harrow players waited for passes to reach them. Closing down opposing players with the ball appeared an afterthought.
Tobin made a good save to his left in the 9th minute to deny Joe Grant. It’s no exaggeration to say that Bracknell had close to 90% possession in the first 40 minutes. Despite all their possession, Bracknell were being frustrated by sheer numbers behind the ball. Reece Yorke, heading a corner out from under the bar – the closest call on the Harrow goal.
The visitors took the lead in the 27th minute. Joe Grant unleashing a right-footed shot that was still rising as it flew to the right of Tobin from 25 yards. Going a goal down still didn’t appear to wake Harrow from their September hibernation.
In the 40th minute, Harrow forced four corners in a row. The fourth being worked to Lonit Talla, who’s shot only troubled the caretaker at Earlsmead Primary School. In the 43rd minute, Harrow had what would turn out to be their best opportunity of the afternoon. Muhemba set Ibrahim away down the right. The ball was worked to Reece Mitchell on the left. His goal-bound shot was blocked a couple of yards out and cleared to safety.
HT 0-1. Bacon Wheat Crunchies (Hula Hoops are a league game snack) consumed in the newly refurbished press seats. Good work Alan James. Conversation in the press box was that appearing so sluggish in the first half of the game, must have been a plan to keep it tight and then release the hounds in the second half.
If any hounds were released as the game resumed, they were regrettably closer to Droopy than Spike. Borough huffed and puffed but still never got out of that first gear. Possession was a lot closer to parity. Bracknell was still looking more confident with the ball. Muhemba and Hale were rightly looking frustrated, forced to feed off scraps and chase long balls on a hot afternoon.
Borough nearly created an opportunity in the 66th minute. Muhemba won the ball on the right side, close to the halfway line. Harrow players outnumbered the visitors four to two. However, Excellence’s pass attempting to set Harlem Hale running free behind the left-back was too strong and the chance was gone.
Rony Mfinda came on for his Harrow debut in the 75th minute. Muhemba headed over from a Ross Oulton cross, but there was still a lack of urgency from Harrow. More bodies were pushed forward in the search for an equalizer. This left more space for Bracknell to attack. Yorke and Kandolo stood firm and repelled anything that came their way. Referee Kyle booked 5 Bracknell players in the last 20 minutes of the game as cynical fouls were made to stop Harrow attacks. It was good to finally see a referee who ran the game with common sense and wasn’t looking to brandish his cards at the first opportunity for a technical breach of a law.
As the game entered stoppage time the ever-industrious George Franklin shook off the attention of 2 Harrow defenders and placed a left-foot shot past Tobin to seal to tie and put Bracknell into the next round. There was talk in advance of the tie of this being a ‘free hit’ for Harrow, away from the rigors of league football. The attacking performance was closer to Sunil Gavaskar’s 36 not out from 174 balls in a ODI than Liam Livingstone’s 42 ball century for England a couple of years ago.
I’m sure that most of the Harrow players and coaching staff will have woken up on Sunday morning thinking that they may have missed an opportunity. Cup ties are supposed to live long in the memory. This one will be forgotten by the time I’ve finished cutting the grass this afternoon. Bosch not Messerschmitt these days. We resume league hostilities at home to Sholing next Saturday.
FT: Harrow Borough 0 – 2 Bracknell Town
HARROW BOROUGH: Tyler Tobin, Elliott Poley, Mack Miskin, Ross Oulton, Reece Yorke, Prince Kandolo, Harlem Hale (sub – Mfinda 75), Nagheeb Ibrahim (sub – Dembele 84), Excellence Muhemba, Lonit Talla (sub – Walters 63), Reece Mitchell.
Bracknell Town: Michael Eacott, Liam Tack, Gabriel George, Darryl Harrison, Ola Osu, George Franklin, Kameron English (sub Harvey 77), Ashley Lodge (sub – Jackson 90), Joe Grant, Zidan Akers (sub – Liam Ferdinand 77), Nana Owusu.
Referee: Stuart Kyle.