In 2011 I took Notts County to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland in the Third Round. We were big underdogs but I got the sense that the lads were really up for it that day. I said to Alex Rae, my assistant manager at the time, “I fancy us to do these today. We are going to win this.”
The big teams get complacent. They see that they are up against a small team and assume they are getting the win. That’s exactly what Sunderland did that day and we deserved our 2-1 win.
It was unbelievable as a League One side to go to a Premier League club and get through. We were rewarded by drawing big-spenders Manchester City at home and we had them on the ropes as well. Edin Dzeko scored with 10 minutes to go to level the tie and we earned a replay at their place. The experience was just outstanding – despite the 5-0 defeat at the Etihad!
There is always the opportunity for small clubs to get shock results in the cup and create some memories for fans and the players. That’s what makes the competition so magic. It’s the most prestigious domestic trophy in the world, and clubs need to respect it.
A cup run can change your season
When I managed Macclesfield, we were drawn against Walsall in the first round of the 2006/07 FA Cup. They were at the top of League Two and we were right down at the bottom. It already looked like a huge task for us, but in the replay away from home Jim McNulty bagged a goal in the 83rd minute to take us through.
You could just see the lift it gave the players at the final whistle. They went into the changing room buzzing and smiling. They’d been getting beat in the league and facing some tough results, and this gave them the boost they needed.
We beat Hartlepool in the Third Round, and when we got Chelsea away in the draw it was just amazing. It didn’t just lift the team, it lifted the fans and the entire town. We’d worked so hard and we really deserved the huge opportunity.
Between the Second Round against Hartlepool and the Third Round against Chelsea, we actually won six of our eight games and drew the other two. The lads were so fired up for the FA Cup, and were desperate to be in the team. It gave the entire club a well-needed lift, which actually helped us to avoid relegation in the end.
OK so we lost 6-1 at the Bridge but despite the final result, the lads fought really hard. Seeing John Murphy level the tie at 1-1 was a real surreal moment for us and all the travelling fans. It was mental. Things went downhill after the break when Andriy Shevchenko dived and got our keeper Tommy Lee sent off. The scoreline flattered them and I’m still bitter about that dive!
Thousands of our fans went down to support the team, and after the game Jose Mourinho invited the players in to meet the Chelsea team. He was a class act throughout and it’s a side of Mourinho most people don’t get to see.
I visited Macclesfield last month when they played Oxford in the Cup, and manager John Askey told me that they are still supported by the money me and my team earned from getting to Stamford Bridge. That revenue still helps the club. The impact an FA Cup game can have for some of the lower league teams is massive.
My biggest FA Cup regret
I can remember being a kid at school, you’d be in the playground and it was your dream to play in the FA Cup Final. The trophy means so much and it is the sort of thing we’d fantasise about when you’re playing football in the park.
I got the opportunity to play in two FA Cup finals, in the 89/90 season and then again in 93/94. It was a dream come true to walk out at Wembley. I do have one little regret from those games though.
In the final few minutes in the match against Chelsea in 1994 we had the game won and I was one-on-one with keeper Dmitri Kharine, yet passed the ball to Brian McClair rather than taking the shot. Every time I look at it now I think ‘We were 3-0 up, in injury time. Why didn’t I just stick it in the back of the net?’
It was good to be the nice guy and tee up McClair for a goal, but sometimes I just look back and think, ‘F**k it, I should’ve just scored myself. I could have had a goal in the FA Cup final!’