MIKE HOPPER

EXPERT ANALYSIS

It helps to be sports mad!

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FOOTBALL

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES

CUP FINALS
Mike Hopper

I took to counting yesterday and concluded that I'd been to a Cardiff/Wembley Cup Final on a dozen occasions with a mixed record of success.

By far the most hurtful was the defeat by Wimbledon in 1988, and yes, worse than losing to The Mancs in 1996. My reasoning is due to the complacency we, as supporters, felt in advance. We only had to turn up. But if we felt it was a bad day at the office, what about poor Aldo? He took 18 penalties for the Reds and missed just one -on that infamous day at Wembley. For all his deserved legendary status as a Liverpool player, that one isolated moment in a hugely successful career blights his memory, and always will.

Birmingham in 2001 could so easily have sat alongside 1988. Having dominated the team from the lower division at 1-0 for three quarters of the game, but then failing to capitalise in terms of goals, we were inevitably subjected to a grandstand finish from the Blues and gave it away in injury time. We could so easily have lost it altogether in extra time until Didi pulled us together and brought some decorum to our play.

But for me that game was a salutary lesson and one which every Liverpool supporter from near and far, spectator or telly watcher, should heed ahead of the game against Cardiff. Cup finals are one-offs (remember also West Ham; even Birmingham against Arsenal last year) and in matches of this nature underdogs are rarely fazed and the subject of intense nerves. Nothing to lose.

On February 26th Kenny's men have to play like the game was against Manchester United. Nothing less will suffice. Defeat is unthinkable and yet, on the basis of 90 minutes' play, a perfectly feasible outcome.

Furthermore, when I look back at the victories, the least satisfying was Sunderland in 1992, simply because the world and one expected a Liverpool win and it ultimately worked out just as the formbook said it would -although even then it was still the second half before Michael Thomas and Ian Rush pretty well silenced those extremely noisy Wearsiders!

The win over Arsenal in 2001 ought to be a massive memory high, but it certainly wasn't totally right up there, at least on the day. Why?

I guess because first of all, most of us truly admired that wonderful Arsenal side and in all truth, for 82 minutes, they'd given Liverpool the runaround. Michael Owen's two goals created a travesty of a result and while we'd have loved committing such grand larceny against quite a few not very nice opponents, somehow I don't think we disliked the Gunners anything like enough to feel brilliant about it. Not that we weren't happy to take the trophy; oh no, we didn't respect them that much!

I think the second factor associated with that match was the shadow of the UEFA Cup Final just 4 days away, and even after that, a crucial must-win game on the Saturday at Charlton to guarantee a Champions League place for the next season. When you reflect back, quite how those players got through that week is nothing short of remarkable!

All things considered, I think I'd have to place the 1986 win over Everton as the best personal moment. Kenny's first season as player-manager; the league and cup double.

I cannot recall hardly raising a cheer for the best part of an hour. Lineker had scored inside 30 minutes and the Reds had hardly strung two decent passes together. The next thing was that Grobbelaar and Beglin were having an altercation while the Blue Noses were in total control and their supporters in full cry.

Then out of absolutely nothing Molby put Rush through on goal and we were level. Absolutely extraordinary. And in that one single moment, Everton were beaten. Their heads went down as quick as sagging willies after sex and the whole complexion of the match was altered. At 3-1 and totally coasting it was almost impossible to recall even half an hour back and to realise how much Liverpool had been out of the game. However, unlike the final against Arsenal, it was easy to enjoy the demise of the Everton supporters who'd been given us so much stick before Rush's leveller.

At the precise moment of the first Rush goal, I was seated with my body stooped and my head nearly between my knees. The effort of suddenly soaring skywards in sheer jubilation all but caused me to pass out and for sure on the train back to Lime Street, that rush of blood led me to suffer a migraine attack which, on and off, was to last a full three days.

However, since this is about cup final days out, I must pass over to you a piece I wrote three years later for the local freebie newspaper to whom I was a regular contributor. It was a second all-Merseyside Cup final in 1989 and followed the Hillsborough disaster, which almost certainly contributed to a togetherness and an overall bon-ami. But for sure much of what I wrote then now carries a massive amount of irony when it comes to the present-day relations between red and blue.

Go to:  Our Cup Final Day Out

 
     

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