Sunday, April 15, 2007

Villa Park FA Cup semi final memories...(happy days!)

The United v Watford game yesterday marked the end of United's happy days at Villa Park in FA Cup semi-finals, because it will no longer be an FA Cup semi-final venue as the new Wembley will hold both the semi-finals and finals. Yes folks, prepare to be ripped off even more by the robbing FA, the fans were always going to be the one's who footed the bill for those totally ridiculous reconstruction costs.

I digress. United have had some belting FA Cup semi-finals at Villa Park, my favourites all involve Arsenal.

In 1982-83, stormin' Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson scored for the Reds as we disposed of the Gunners in style. Whiteside's goal was a bit special, it was a full blooded thunderbolt which gave their keeper no chance, it was in his first full season and he notched in the final replay against Brighton as the Reds went on to win the cup 4-0.

My other favourite semi finals were in 1998-1999 as once again we faced the North London club en-route to that never to be forgotten treble. I had taken my son to the first game and of course United were robbed of victory by one of the worst decisions that I can recall, when that clown of a referee David Elleray ruled out Roy Keane's brilliant effort for off-side. It wasn't offside at all, he was on-side by a couple of yards. And so thanks to Elleray Arsenal were spared that day and then we made the midweek trip back to Villa Park for the replay.

My son was deadly keen to go to the replay, I wasn't sure at first because I thought our chances of beating Arsenal had gone and I really thought they'd win the replay. Going back to Villa Park that night was without doubt one of the best decisions I've ever made concerning the beautiful game.

The following week United were due to meet Juventus in the second leg of our Champions League semi-final and that tie was in the balance and so knowing Fergie's rotation system, I just knew he'd be changing his team around to face Arsenal for the cup replay. He did change it and out went Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke, in came Ole and Teddy. I was actually having a pee in the North Stand toilets at Villa Park when the team news came over the loud speaker, there was a huge collective groan from within the toilets, it wasn't someone in the cruncher, but the collective sigh of Reds all thinking the same thing 'oh no, we are going to lose this game'. Oh ye of little faith...

Just 17 minutes into the game and Teddy Sheringham set-up David Beckham to score, the United fans erupted, our collective rotation reservations were blown away in that moment and in retrospect the rotation system really did help United secure that treble.

The drama that followed will never be forgotten by those who saw it. Bergkamp made it 1-1 on 69 minutes, Roy Keane was sent off in the second half and then in the dying moments Arsenal were awarded a penalty, but Scmheichel saved it quite brilliantly and I have to admit I couldn't watch that penalty, it was too much for me. The tension was almost unbearable as we headed into extra time and with us being down to ten men, the odds were stacked against us. We expected the Arsenal to come at us like the Zulus did at Rorke's Drift.

However, it against all of the odds it was United who eventually went on to win in extra time when Ryan Giggs scored that fabulous goal, and in doing so beating half the Arsenal team.

Giggs collected the ball after a bad pass by Vieira and the United winger went forward jinking past one player and then another. I remember thinking he's going to lose that ball any second now, but he didn't and as he went further and further forward the fans excitement gathered momentum, until Giggsy rifled home that brilliant drive that left David Seaman and half the Arsenal team on their backsides. The United fans couldn't believe it and all hell broke loose as fans celebrated with each other, it was one of those occasions when you were hugging complete strangers.

After scoring Giggs ripped off his shirt and round down the touch line revealing his fireside rug like hairy chest. Reds fans had spilled out onto the pitch, such was the excitement, but once order was restored, there was no way back for Arsenal. Against all of the odds Giggs had single-handedly destroyed their resolve with that brilliant solo goal, the Gunners were dead and buried.

Our fans were on the pitch at the end of the game and the players were hoisted above the fans shoulders. It was quite simply brilliant.

That match is actually my all time favourite game, because as they say it had everything.

IF you have any memories of Villa Park semi finals then drop me a line.

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