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Twenty years ago...
The 1984 FA Cup run
Dancing at Villa Park
By Colin Wiggins

It was twenty years ago today....give or take a week or two....that we played in the second of our four (to date) FA Cup semi-finals. And we won. We reached the Final of the FA Cup. For the first time. And not even Alzheimer's will erase the memories of sun-drenched Villa Park, for those of us old enough to have been there.

The 1984 Cup run, however, started badly. Away to Luton and two goals down, things looked bad. Luton and Watford had been promoted to the First Division, today's equivalent Premiership, in 1982. Top-flight football then was not just a contest about how much money you had, or what antics your players could get up to. Clubs like Notts County, QPR, Swansea City and yes, Luton and Watford could compete and even thrive at that level, before greed triumphed and changed our game into the sick spectacle it has become.

But twenty years ago, crammed into Luton's ugly ground, our Cup run suddenly clicked into gear. A deflected free kick from John Barnes was followed by a Maurice Johnston penalty. Final score, 2-2. The replay at the Vic was an epic night. 3-3 after ninety minutes, Mighty Mo nicked it in extra-time. Into the next round and a trip to Charlton, then a division below us. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, a routine 2-0 win. The real news in the fourth round however, came from Second Division Brighton, where Cup favourites and League Champions Liverpool were sensationally beaten in a match that was the single biggest upset of the season. 'This could be our year,' we thought, when we learnt of Liverpool's unexpected but welcome demise.

The fifth round draw made it seem even more possible. At home to...wait for it.....Brighton! Okay, they'd beaten mighty Liverpool but it was a fluke and another routine win duly followed with Kenny Jackett completing the 3-1 scoreline.

For the quarter-final, all you ask for is a home draw. We got Birmingham away. Birmingham were heavily fancied for the final. With home advantage and some pretty decent players including a goalkeeper called Tony Coton, they were the favourites. But we needn't have worried. John Barnes scored what was possibly his most sublime Watford goal. Defenders were left wrong-footed and gawping before he launched a vicious chip from the very corner of the penalty area. It flew high over the bemused Coton and suddenly dipped to send the Hornets ahead. The second half opened with inevitable Birmingham pressure and Steve Terry conceded an own goal. But Les Taylor replied with a r-o-c-k-e-t that must have come close to beating the sound barrier. One last Barnes toe-poke from a nodded-on Cally throw-in and we'd reached only our second semi-final.

From the First Division, three clubs were left. Watford, Everton and Southampton. And somehow, Plymouth of the Third Division and Derby of the Second, who were to replay after a goalless first match. It's fairly obvious what draw the three First Division sides wanted. They all knew without saying that a Wembley trip was theirs...if only they were paired with Plymouth or Derby. The draw was going to be crucial. On Monday 12th March, I unplugged the phone and switched on my tranny.

In those days, the Cup draw was broadcast from the headquarters of the FA, live and exclusive on BBC radio at lunchtime on the Monday following the previous round. It was performed as an ancient, sacred ritual. A voice of hushed BBC reverence made us feel that we were privileged observers at some secret ceremony. The announcer would respectfully whisper that we were now moving through into the committee room. An image of heavy oak panelling, leather upholstery and framed portraits of Stanley Matthews formed itself in our minds. Elderly gentlemen, the Guardians of the Sacred Flame, could be heard shuffling papers and mumbling indistinctly. Suddenly an authoritative voice rang out. 'Gentleman. We now reach item six on the agenda, the draw for the semi-final ties of the Football Association Challenge Cup.' The traditional wooden balls would be heard rattling in the traditional velvet bag, in exactly the same way as the year before. And the year before. And the year before that, right back to the time of the Wanderers and the Royal Engineers.

That sense of tradition, continuity and above all seriousness was what this great competition was about. Nowadays, the FA Cup draw in its dumbed-down format is presented as a tacky charade. A TV studio audience of gormless rentacrowd supporters, clad in their too-tight replica shirts, watch a couple of celebrity ex-players grin and make feeble jokes with the ghastly David Davies of the FA, whose bizarrely shaped head bears a sinister resemblance to a Jerusalem artichoke. Am I alone (apart from David Icke) in believing him to be some kind of advance guard from an alien world that seeks to conquer our planet and replace humankind with an obscure variety of vegetable? He stands before the lurid tabloid-style graphics in the studio and presides over the shoddy perspex lottery machine that has replaced the ancient velvet bag. He brings a thoroughly grotesque air to this great competition. But twenty years ago things were different. No grinning idiots, no monstrous vegetable-heads, just unbearable tension, broken only when we got the draw we wanted... we'd pulled out the passport to Wembley! Southampton and Everton would have to battle it out for the other place.

Plymouth won their replay. Against Third Division opposition, we were there, surely. We scored early on, a simple goal as George Reilly confidently headed home a John Barnes cross. Cue ecstatic delight. Cally then had a goal disallowed for offside but we didn't worry. We were happy waiting for the next goals to come and safely take us to the final. But it didn't quite happen like that. Further goals never came. And then we saw a late onslaught from Plymouth, who dominated the last twenty minutes. Watford could find nothing left and, as Graham Taylor readily admitted, if extra-time had followed it seemed likely that Plymouth would have triumphed. Seconds to go, Plymouth's Hodges found himself unmarked just six yards out. He hit his shot and our hearts leapt into our mouths. The ball slowly skewed across the face of the goal and brushed the post...on the outside. The final whistle blew and we danced with joy. It was a dance we'd performed less than two years before, in May 1982, when a brace from the legendary Super Ross had taken us past Wrexham and into the undreamt of world of the First Division. We had danced the same dance in May 1983, after we defeated Champions-elect Liverpool and confirmed our unlikely but deserved place as League Runners-Up, leaving Manchester United to finish third.

And now in April 1984 we were dancing at Villa Park, our place at Wembley sealed.

And what a dance it was.