Sunday, 21 May 2017

1980s: FA Cup final tackles

Thankfully some FA Cup final traditions remain, but it is probably just as well that tackles like the ones discussed below are no longer part of the game.

1980: Willie Young on Paul Allen

Believe it or not, kids, but Arsenal were once not as entertaining on and off the pitch as they are today. Labelled lucky and/or boring by opposing fans, functional old Arsenal would often attract a lot of criticism on the terraces and in the press due to their approach, sometimes justifiably, often not. So, you can imagine the feeling of hatred projected towards centre back Willie Young when he ruined a fairytale moment towards the end of the 1980 FA Cup final.

As an exhausted Arsenal side - playing their 67th match of the season - pushed for an unlikely equaliser, West Ham's 17-year-old midfielder Paul Allen found himself through on goal with just Pat Jennings to beat. The youngest player to have played in the FA Cup final (at the time), was about to complete his boy's own story. Yet Willie Young had other ideas.

Young revealed all to Jon Spurling in his fine Rebels for the Cause book. "Paul was put through, about 20 yards outside the box. I had a split second to make up my mind. Either he would have most probably scored, or I had the chance to at least keep us in with a shout. So I thought 'Son, you've gotta go.' I was a defender and I defended. It wasn't a brutal foul - I just tapped his foot and he went down. Paul was very good about it and said 'I'd have done the same, big man.' I never lost any sleep over it."

Although Nick Hornby admits in Fever Pitch that he felt embarrassed at the time as he stood on the Wembley terraces, he also comments that "part of me actually enjoyed the foul," going on to explain why. "It was so comically, parodically Arsenalesque. Who else but an Arsenal defender would have clattered a tiny seventeen-year-old member of the Academy?" As everyone had their say - Young was described as cynical and callous in newspapers - talk turned towards introducing a professional foul law to football, in order to curb incidents like Young and Allen.

By 1982/83, the English Football League announced that any such foul should now result in a dismissal, with Everton's Glenn Keeley one of the first to suffer the consequences. Come 1985, we would all be talking about professional fouls in the FA Cup final once again.

1983: Jimmy Case on Ray Wilkins

Jimmy Case appeared to be a man on a mission during the first half of the 1983 FA Cup final. He had already given Bryan Robson an indication of his presence with one robust tackle, but it would be his challenge on Ray Wilkins that sparked controversy and a lot of debate. Launching himself towards the United midfielder, Case got nowhere near the ball. Even in the world of 80s football, it was a terrible tackle.

As the boos echoed around Wembley, co-commentator Jimmy Hill gave his views. "I don't think you can accuse anybody really of going for the man and not the ball, because with the slidey surface that's part of the game of football, and everyone accepts that." As Wilkins recovered from his Case-inflicted injury, it seemed that he was finding it very hard to see it the same way as Hill.

The Daily Mirror's Frank McGhee was one of many to lambast Case. "Some of his tackles seemed more like attempts to dismember rather than merely dispossess. He should certainly have been booked, perhaps sent off." Luckily Wilkins did recover, and he would go on to score a fine goal. McGhee stated that he was lucky to still have his leg intact to do so.

It wasn't one-way traffic, though. In the second half, Norman Whiteside went completely over the top of the ball, with full back Chris Ramsey forced off the pitch, and putting him out of the replay five days later. Referee Alf Grey had warned both sets of players before the match that if they stepped out of line he would have no hesitation in sending them off. After seeing some of the tackles in that 1983 final, it makes you wonder what Grey's definition of stepping out of line was.

1985: Kevin Moran on Peter Reid

Having already written about this incident before, I did have second thoughts about including it in this blog. But I thought if I didn't then quite rightly there have been a few comments suggesting that I'd lost my senses. The following is an extract from my piece on the 1985 FA Cup final:

A mistake from the otherwise impeccable McGrath was seized upon by the tireless Reid, and as the midfielder drove forward, all of a sudden there was just Kevin Moran between him and United's goal. Moran mistimed his tackle, sending a flying Reid sailing through the air, and although Everton's fans began chanting for Moran to be dismissed, no one expected what was to follow.

Indeed Brian Moore, commentating on ITV, indicated that Moran was about to go into the book, before he and the whole watching world realised that referee Peter Willis had other ideas. "Oh! He's sent him off. He's sent Moran off," spluttered a stunned Moore, with co-commentator Ian St. John equally as surprised: "I really do find that incredible Brian. I think the referee is 100 percent out of order."

A bit of context: looking at the challenge in today's footballing world, you would probably expect Moran to be dismissed, but back in the 1980s, the decision made by Willis was truly jaw-dropping. After the match, journalists and pundits rounded on Willis. Mick Channon did not hold back, declaring that "the game was nearly ruined by an imposter calling himself a referee". Jimmy Greaves hinted that, as this was Willis' last ever match as a referee, "he wanted to get his name in history before he retired."

Frank McGhee called the decision "a savage injustice", Steve Curry called it "an impetuous decision", and, writing in the Times, Stuart Jones expressed his displeasure on the incident: "The one figure who should have remained anonymous in the background had unwittingly taken a leading and seemingly decisive role in the play." Only former referee, Clive "The Book" Thomas backed Willis post-match, and that was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Willis, who received £43 for officiating the final, was adamant that he had made the right call, informing the press on the day after the match: "I have no second thoughts about sending off Kevin Moran. I believe I was right at the time and I still believe I was right. But that doesn't stop me feeling terrible about it."

1987: Brian Kilcline on Gary Mabbutt

Both players involved in this tackle would experience a mixed day to say the least. Tottenham's second goal was officially awarded to Gary Mabbutt, although Coventry skipper Brian Kilcline may well have got the final touch. Come the end of a pulsating 120 minutes, there could be no disputing that it was Mabbutt's own goal that had decided the contest, enabling a limping Kilcline to collect the trophy and end 104 years of hurt for Coventry.

That the Coventry captain was off the pitch before the end of normal time and had to hobble his way up the 39 steps at Wembley was all his own fault. With the match level at 2-2 and creeping towards an extra half hour, Mabbutt went on a surging run through midfield, only to be upended in spectacular fashion by Kilcline, sending Mabbutt skywards.

In a fine match that was officiated well by Neil Midgley, Kilcline got away with just a talking to when he eventually got to his feet. But as Stuart Jones in The Times put it: "The one disciplinary measure was taken by justice. Kilcline, as he committed the only ugly sin of the attractive afternoon, injured himself and later limped off." Unable to recover from his injury, Graham Rodger would come on in the 89th minute to replace Kilcline.

"I knew what I had to do," Kilcline reveals in this article. "I went straight through him. It was a horrendous tackle, I admit, and the ref was standing over me giving me a right lecture while I was indicating that I was hurt, not him." When even Coventry legend Jimmy Hill stated, "I'm afraid that Kilcline knew what he was doing there....he's taken the man," then you knew something serious had taken place.

1988: Vinnie Jones on Steve McMahon

On to a famous FA Cup final tackle, with two tough midfielders involved. Steve McMahon had already suffered the misfortune of taking a clearance full-on in the face, when Wimbledon's Vinnie Jones decided to leave a reducer on him nine minutes into the 1988 final. Late is one adjective that could be used to describe Jones' assault, but according to the man himself, the tackle had been in the pipeline a long time in advance.

Speaking on BT Sport's Crazy Gang documentary, Jones recalls the incident. "I smashed Steve McMahon early on. That was a real like 'Yeah, we don't give a shit'. That tackle was planned weeks before. He'd go over, get the ball from the full back, as the ball come he'd open himself wide up. I was waiting. First time he'd done it. Bang. That set the tone." McMahon may have elbowed Jones on the way down, cutting the Wimbledon man's cheek in the process, yet in subsequent years, this has been forgotten as the legend of Jones' tackle has grown.

"I think in the modern game he could have been the quickest man ever to get sent off," John Aldridge said in the same documentary. "He absolutely went through Steve." Jones admits that even at the time it could have been a red card. Commentators Brian Moore and John Motson respectively described Jones' tackle as "a nasty challenge" and "the sort of challenge that Wimbledon are reputed to produce", although referee Brian Hill didn't deem it violent enough for a booking.

That tackle, along with the pre-match tunnel shenanigans, play a big part in the folklore surrounding Wimbledon's shock victory back in 1988. Depending on which side of the fence you sit, the cries of "Yidaho!" in the tunnel, and Jones' challenge, were either significant moments in the psychological warfare on that famous day, or completely irrelevant to the outcome of the match.

Either way, come the celebrations, we would be talking about Jones' tackle once more, as he thrust his penis towards the face of manager Bobby Gould, apparently to emphasise that Wimbledon did possess the balls to pull off the unlikely win. Weird and wonderful; perhaps Motson was right after all.

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