On Sunday, Sunderland will make their first appearance in a Wembley final since the 1992 FA Cup final ended in a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson met up with the manager from 22 years ago, Malcolm Crosby, and former players Tony Norman, Brian Atkinson and Martin Gray to discuss their memories of the experience
THE CUP RUN
MC: We played Port Vale in the third round, and won that very easily, which surprised me. Then we drew Oxford away. Denis (Smith) had got the sack after we lost there 3-0 in a league game, but I went there with a game plan, and in the 90th minute we were 3-0 up and I was thinking, ‘This is easy, this’. Then we conceded two goals in the last minute of injury time and it didn’t seem so easy after all. I actually felt we were going places after we won that game. Because of the way we’d been hammered there not long before, it was a big thing to win like we did.
TN: When we went on that run, I wasn’t aware of it at all. It was always, ‘Who’ve we got next – oh, it’s Chelsea away in the quarter-final’ and you just got on with it because that was the next game. We had a good mix of young and experienced players and the young lads, when they played, like David Rush and Brian Atkinson, they had no fear, so everybody just rolled their sleeves up before every game, and went out to win it. And when we did, it was a case of, ‘That was great, who we got next?’ BA: It was just momentum. We had a bit of luck at times, but we had quality as well – John Byrne scoring in every round except the final and Tony Norman playing out of his skin in goal.
MG: David Rush and John Byrne were popping up and scoring all the time, and the team was very settled. Things would happen all the time – the same music would be played before the games, all those little things that stick in your memory. It was a special time for us all.
THE SEMI-FINAL AGAINST NORWICH
TN: Suddenly, it was totally different because you know as soon as that 90 minutes was up, you were at Wembley, or not. My personal recollection of that day at Hillsborough was there was a massive digital clock on the stand behind my right shoulder in the second half. I made a conscious decision not to look at it, but as the second half dragged on, I made the fatal error of looking at the clock. It was 86 minutes, and I was talking to myself, saying, ‘Just get through this four minutes’. I was fairly sure the four minutes were up, then I looked over my shoulder again and it was still on 86 minutes. It was like time stood still.
THE CUP FINAL BUILD UP
TN: As soon as we got to Wembley it just took off and it was nuts. I am sure it is the same today. There would be a knock at the front door, with a fella stood there. ‘Tony, you don’t know me, but could you get me a couple of tickets for the final?’ ‘Correct, I don’t know you, so I don’t see how I can help you out.’
MC: Graham Wood, the vice chairman, was fantastic. He took me away for two or three days and we looked at different hotels. We ended up in Marlow at a hotel right on the River Thames, and we trained at Bisham Abbey, which was five minutes up the road. Everything was done right. The preparation couldn’t have been any better, I just wished I could have picked a team to win.
BA: I used to room with Paul Bracewell and he used to have me doing all sorts, making him cups of tea and that. I remember on the night of the Cup final we had new suits for Wembley, and we never used to wear them. So we had these brand new suits, but I couldn’t iron. So Brace ironed my shirt for me. It made up for all the cups of tea I’d made him in the past.
MG: I didn’t play in the final but I was still a part of it. I got my Wembley suit and felt part of everything. That was one of Malcolm’s big strengths. That was his big thing, his man-management. He was a fantastic coach who knew how to handle people. They took us all to the team hotel, and I even came back on the open-top bus. That was huge for a scraggy-arsed kid like me. It was great. It was surreal how a young lad who had come out of non-league football two years earlier was going to an FA Cup final. Until then it had been the Durham Challenge Cup final for me.
MC: We didn’t have that many injuries, so we were fortunate that I didn’t have to change the team that much. One problem I had is that Don Goodman used to play in the league, but he was cup tied so I used to have to bring Peter Davenport in. But he always did well in the cup games. I lost John Kay and he couldn’t play in the final, but other than that, I didn’t really have any major changes to make.
TN: Two years before, we’d been to Wembley for the play-off final against Swindon. I always remember coming away after we’d lost that day wondering what Wembley would be like on Cup Final day. Then two years later, there we were. It was the first time in my life I’d never actually sat down at home and watched the FA Cup Final on the telly. It was tradition back then - my dad and brothers would sit in front of the TV from whatever time the coverage started, usually just before lunchtime, and not move. So the first time I wasn’t able to sit and watch it with my family was because I was actually playing in it.
BA: The first time I watched the final was probably two months ago. At one of the places I work, one of the lads found it on YouTube so we started watching it. I didn’t realise how well we did in the first half. John Byrne had an excellent chance. But the only thing I really remember was the second half. I just never got a touch. As soon as you got there, the ball was gone. Liverpool scored at the right times and their class and experience told. Wembley’s a big pitch if you don’t have the ball.
MC: We had a really tough run of league games before that cup final, and I think that probably took its toll a little bit. In the end, we were a bit outclassed in the second half by top-quality opposition.
BA: At the end of the game you went up to get your medals, and we got the winner’s medals by mistake. There were blue boxes and red boxes. The blue boxes were the winners, and the red ones were the runners-up. They gave us the blue ones. The Liverpool lads came over and asked us to swap. I can’t remember who I swapped with, but we had the winner’s medals for a bit. I didn’t notice, but Tony looked at his medal and he was the one that realised. He told Dean Saunders.
TN: We didn’t go there to have a nice day out. We went to win the cup final, but we lost. I didn’t go to any of the lounges afterwards - I just saw my mum and dad outside and got on the bus to go home. I couldn’t speak to anybody until about 11 o’clock that night. We had a function after the game we had to attend, but I couldn’t see the point, because we’d lost. There were people there dressed up, having a nice meal and a drink and almost celebrating as if we’d won. I just wanted to go home. Of course it’s a massive day out for the supporters and a huge occasion for the city, but what makes it really special is if you go there and win. You can go to as many banquets and parties as you like then. I would have gate-crashed anything if we’d won - but we didn’t and that’s that.