In the last of our extracts from Matthew Eastley's brilliant FA Cup book: 'FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When The FA Cup really mattered: Volume 3 (1980s)', it's a look back at the 1987 final between Coventry and Spurs. Enjoy!
COVENTRY CITY V TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
16 MAY 1987
In April 1986, Don Mackay was sacked by Coventry and replaced by George Curtis and John Sillett who kept the side up by beating Luton and QPR.
During the summer the pair added a couple of names to their squad including a journeyman striker called Keith Houchen from Scunthorpe who would, over the next 12 months, carve his name into the annals of FA Cup history.
In 1977, a schoolgirl called Jules Hague from Kenilworth had started watching Coventry in the Ian Wallace/Ian Ferguson era.
She, like other Sky Blues fans, could barely believe when a decade later, the team reached the FA Cup Final.
Jules says: “The build-up was amazing. It was a genuine Willy Wonka moment when we got our tickets.”
Coventry’s opponents were Spurs and fan Lee Burman, from Dartford, recalls feeling extremely confident: “Usually I was like any other football supporter, and certainly any normal Spurs fan, in that I never really expected anything good to happen but on this occasion, I just couldn't see us losing.”
Jules says: “It was absolutely jam-packed in the Coventry end at Wembley. The noise was incredible and we were barely able to see the players through the flags and raised scarves.”
At half time, Spurs led 2-1. It was an open, entertaining game. There was a sense something special was going to happen.
Steve Ogrizovic launched a massive punt upfield. Cyrille Regis used all his experience to nudge Gary Mabbutt away to win the ball cleanly, flicking it backwards to Keith Houchen who neatly controlled it before passing it to David Bennett on the right flank. Faced by the imposing figure of Mitchell Thomas, Bennett decided against trying to get past him and opted for curling the ball past him instead.
The ex-Manchester City and Cardiff man has chosen his spot to absolute perfection. Too far out for Ray Clemence to collect and right into the danger area. As the ball came across, Keith Houchen got between Hughton and Gough, launched himself forward at full stretch and, straining every sinew in his neck, bulleted the ball past Clemence with his head. It was a superb equaliser.
Jules says: “The euphoria had been building and then Houchen’s superb header, right in front of us, was pure textbook. In true terrace style we ended up about five rows down from where we were stood as everyone was just jumping in the air and leaping around.”
Lee Burman recalls watching Houchen’s goal from the tunnel end: “I saw him launch himself and I can remember the goal suddenly looking really big. It was at this point that my confidence, which had been sky high up to that point, began to drain away a little.”
For the fifth time in the decade, the Final went to extra time and just over five minutes in a Lloyd McGrath cross spirals off Gary Mabbutt’s thigh and over Clemence into the net.
Jules said: “We could feel the win coming but, as the watch ticked nearer to full time, everyone around us was in shock. Had we really nearly done it? Everytime a Coventry player touched the ball, we cheered.”
Neil Midgeley plays an extra minute and then, after Steve Ogrizovic punts long, the referee blows. The cameras go straight to the Coventry bench where Sillett and Curtis are up and embracing. It’s Coventry’s first major trophy and Spurs’ first FA Cup Final defeat in their eighth appearance.
“As we got near the final whistle, my brother had been hugging me in amazement,” says Jules. “Then, when the whistle blew, we all erupted into absolute rapture. I remember jumping up and down, punching the air and my brother mobbing me. People we didn't even know were just congratulating each other and shouting with joy.”
Spurs fans Lee Burman says: “I was shell-shocked to be honest,” he says. “I was stood there numbly looking down. I didn’t really feel anything, just an emptiness.”
Jules recalls the train journey back to the Midlands: “The mood was fairly quiet. I think we were all just coming to terms with what we had just witnessed and were all absolutely knackered as well. But, as our train reached the outskirts of the city people started waving at us, scarves were twirled out of the windows and, as we neared the station itself, the platform was packed with cheering supporters.”
For Lee Burman and the thousands of Spurs fans, it is a very different story: “Not much was said on the way back. We’d become sort of an irrelevance in the day. At five past three it had looked so good.”
The next day the whole of Coventry woke with a huge, happy hangover and a beautiful realisation that they were the FA Cup Winners. The city itself and surrounding towns like Rugby, Nuneaton, Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa, all home to many City supporters, were jubilant and wallowing in post-Final euphoria.
The Hague family travelled into the city centre from Kenilworth: “It felt like the entire population of the area was on the streets,” says Jules. “It was a truly wonderful sight.
“The Rhapsody in Blue continued well beyond Cup Final Day and, over the next 12 months, my dad, brother and I all managed to hold the famous Cup for ourselves.”
During that magical summer, Jules left school and went to college to do a YTS scheme in photography and later joined the RAF as a photographer, spending ten years at various stations, home and abroad. After coming out of the forces, Jules retrained as a horticulturalist and became a gardener at Warwick Castle before moving to Dorset at the end of 2013 and now works as a gardener in a private school.
Though Jules does not get to as many games as she used to, she has remained a true Sky Blue and 28 years on, since that fine match, her memories still burn strong.
“I don’t think I’ve read anything better on The Cup than these books. They really hit the spot.” - David Barber, FA historian
Out now! FROM RICKY VILLA TO DAVE BEASANT When the FA Cup Really Mattered, Volume 3 – by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing, £14.99).
Click here to read a free sample chapter http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/ricky-villa-dave-beasant
Or here to buy on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ricky-Villa-Dave-Beasant/dp/1785310232