Sepia memories of when Cup final day won us over

ANTON RIPPON looks forward to Saturday’s FA Cup final with a few sepia-tinted memories of the days when the showpiece occasion was the only live football on television

In 1953, we didn’t have a telly. Nor did many. So, one Saturday in May, I went over to my mate Colin Shaw’s house, just across the street from us in Derby. His parents had bought a set for the Coronation. That was still a month away, though. This was more important: FA Cup Final Day.

In the Shaws’ darkened middle room, crammed in with the other neighbours, I watched Stanley Mortensen (as pictured) score three times to help Blackpool beat Bolton in the game that, despite Mortensen’s heroics, still became known as the Matthews Final. Football’s funny folklore, eh?

That was 57 years ago. This Saturday, I’ll be watching the Cup final again as bankrupted, recently relegated Portsmouth try to overturn the formbook against mega-rich table-toppers, Chelsea.

This time, though, I won’t be peering at a 9in-screen set in a walnut cabinet so bulky that it made the grainy black and white picture appear even smaller. Another pal’s father used to watch the Cup final on their television through a pair of binoculars.

No, on Saturday it will be in glorious colour, on a widescreen, and in high definition. Which just about parallels how far football itself has travelled in the intervening years. And not always in the right direction, I have to say. Then again, I’m at that age. Nothing is as good now as it was “then”.

No, like a lot of old codgers, I liked the game of football better when the only match televised live was the FA Cup final. When Arthur Caiger DCM, an Islington school headmaster known as “the Man in the White Suit”, conducted the Wembley crowd in community singing.

When scorers were congratulated with a pat on the back, not badly choreographed dance steps from the entire team.

When the season began in late August, finished with the Cup final (it was always just “the Cup final”, we didn’t bother with “FA”) on the first Saturday in May and ” World Cups every four years aside ” the sporting summer was left to concentrate on county cricket, athletics and the like.

When football’s local heroes caught the same bus as the fans and, their playing days over, most had to find ordinary jobs in the community.

You can’t see Frank Lampard coming round to paper your front room in 10 years’ time. But that was the trade taken up by Derby County’s 1946 Cup-winner Reg Harrison when his football career ended. Over a pot of tea ” or a bucket of wallpaper paste come to that ” Reg could hold you spellbound with tales of the game as he played it. Especially that first post-war Cup final (us Derby fans are a long-suffering lot; we’re still waiting for a reappearance in what should still be the showpiece of the season).

Alas, those days now seems as distant as when manufacturers of early TV sets began to sell magnifying glasses that were supposed to make the picture on those tiny screens larger, but succeeded only in distorting it.

Or the first attempts at colouring television pictures. Again, no great scientific breakthrough was involved: just another screen to place in front of your set. This one had three coloured bands: blue at the top, brown in the middle, green at the bottom. All of which added a crude novelty value when film of the countryside was being shown. Otherwise viewers had to get used to newsreaders and actors with blue hair, brown faces and green torsos.

Today, the sky ” or Sky ” seems the limit. Goals are instantly replayed from half a dozen different angles (and, more often than not, still nobody can say for certain that the ref was wrong). And now they’re even offering us 3D pictures of football matches, although at the moment you’ll have to visit a selected pub to enjoy it. No real hardship there, then.

It was in the pub last Friday that we were talking about those Cup final days of yore. The obvious consensus was that Europe and the Premier League rule and that the FA Cup final is now afforded far less importance than was the case even a few years ago.

Personally, I preferred it when the whole day was dedicated to the match, in later years, probably starting with a Cup final edition of It’s A Knockout. Bring back Stuart Hall.

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