Mark Hughes volleys in against Oldham.

Our earliest FA Cup memories

Saturday 08 January 2022 09:00

For many fans, the FA Cup will always hold cherished memories as a competition tinged with romance and excitement.

We can all probably recall our first brush with the world's oldest cup tournament and the thrill of knock-out football involving Manchester United.

For those of a certain age, it represented a rare chance for the Reds to earn the right to a game screened live throughout the country and abroad, with the final always guaranteed to take centre stage and become a national event.

So we asked some of our team for their first memories of United participating in the FA Cup...

United take on Brighton in the 1981 FA Cup third round at Old Trafford.

Adam Marshall: Brighton (H) 2-2, 1981
"I consider the timing of my support of the Reds to be very fortunate. If I had watched the 1979 final, I probably would never have seen a ball kicked ever again but, instead, the following season was when I fell head over heels in love with the beautiful game. I watched West Ham beat Arsenal in 1980 and was desperate for United to do well in the competition and obtain the same level of coverage. 

"The thing was, back in those days, the matches were not shown live and it was impractical to attend for me so my very first memory associated with the famous trophy and United came in January 1981. It was early into the new year and I was still avidly playing one of my new Christmas presents, table-football, in the living room while BBC's Grandstand was keeping us up to date with developments of the endless list of third-round ties.

"Unfortunately, we were 2-0 down to Brighton & Hove Albion (the goals scored by future City boss Brian Horton and MUTV pundit Andy Ritchie) and were, to all intents and purposes, on our way out. I was gutted - the road to Wembley was coming to an abrupt early end. Then something magical happened as Mike Duxbury pulled one back and Mickey Thomas levelled four minutes later to breathe life into our campaign.

"It ended up going to a replay, which I quickly learned was the outcome after a draw in the cup, and, although we won that, Nottingham Forest beat us in the next round. Yet that feeling of salvation when on the brink of going out brought such relief that I don't think it has ever left me. One of the goals I've celebrated most wildly recently (I say recently but it was nine years ago) was Robin van Persie's injury-time equaliser at West Ham United from Ryan Giggs's brilliant through ball.

"I experienced more misery when we fell at the first hurdle at Watford in 1982 but the following year provided my first magical moment as a fan as Bryan Robson inspired Ron Atkinson's side to lift the trophy. Funnily enough, that final was against Brighton, who had been the opponents a couple of years earlier."


Adam Bostock: Brighton (H) 2-2, 1983
"My first memory of United in the FA Cup features Gary Bailey and arguably his most famous save for the Reds. The blond-haired goalkeeper, currently being chased down by David De Gea in our all-time clean sheets chart, broke Brighton's hearts in the 1983 final after an excited Peter Jones screamed into his microphone "And Smith must score!" Commentator's curse? Bailey told me in an interview many years later that he had a lock and key in the back of his net, a superstition picked up from South African witchcraft by his father. The idea was to keep out the opposition by locking the goal, but it was Bailey's vital block that meant Gordon Smith didn't score a shock late winner for the underdogs. The game ended 2-2 and United went on to cruise the replay 4-0 on the subsequent Thursday night, straight after the weekly music show, Top Of The Pops."

Gary Bailey discusses his famous save from Gordon Smith in his UTD Podcast.

Joe Ganley: Oldham (N) 1-1, 1994
"I’m slightly embarrassed to reveal that my earliest FA Cup memory is wailing like a baby because it looked like United were going to lose. I was seven years old, it was 1994 and, to be quite honest, I wasn’t emotionally strong enough to cope with defeat back then, especially in big games like FA Cup semi-finals. We had lost the League Cup final to Villa a month or two earlier, but I'd pegged that as some kind of bizarre aberration. Unfathomably, it now looked like we were going to blow another shot at glory. And against our local little brothers Oldham Athletic! Deep into extra-time, an incredible Mark Hughes volley saved our blushes, and we went on to comfortably win the replay at Maine Road. But nothing can erase the shame of my entitled tears. Thankfully, in the years since, I’ve perfected a more mature approach to the prospect of losing, but the magic of the FA Cup remains undimmed for the seven-year-old, United-mad Joe that still lives on inside me."


Harry Robinson: Chelsea (N) 0-1, 2007
"I'm ashamed to say my first FA Cup-specific memory is hazy. I'm a 2000-born Red, so my first memory of us winning the thing was in 2016, which I was fortunate enough to be at. That was a magical day, which had its own blissful haze to it, just as the semi-final did that year. But my first memory, I think, is when my parents came home from the new Wembley in 2007 after Didier Drogba had condemned us to defeat in the opening final at the newly-built stadium.

"The legacy of that lasted some time. My Mum refused to watch us at Wembley for many years, convinced she was a bad luck charm. In the end, she came again 11 years later. We lost to Chelsea again. Maybe she was right the first time! I normally have a pretty good memory for matches I've been at and watched, but I'm struggling to work out what my first Cup game was. It may well be as late as 2015, when my brother and I - both still at school and in London at the time - took the afternoon off with 'illness', headed to Victoria Coach Station and made the first of two six-hour journeys of the day to watch us host Arsenal in the quarter-final at Old Trafford. The atmosphere was good, but between my former-favourite player Danny Welbeck celebrating his winner and Angel Di Maria getting a red card, it made for a tough overnight coach home.

"I'd just recovered from the dismay when I arrived at my predominantly Arsenal-supporting school with two hours' sleep and spent the day on the wrong end of a taunting. A better Cup memory, aside from the following year's wins against Everton and Palace at Wembley, was in 2017, when we took a rare trip as a whole family. That's what the Cup is really about in its early stages, I think, for a lot of people. My sister got her first experience of Old Trafford as we comfortably strolled past Reading with a 4-0 win. The final one I’ll give is Tranmere Rovers, because that’s what else the Cup is about. Trips to places you wouldn’t normally go. Walking across the Mersey and towards Birkenhead was brilliant and the view from the press box at Prenton Park is magnificent. You look directly down on the thousands of heads sat beneath you, decked out in hats and scarves, then onto a slightly mucky League Two pitch and you can gaze across above the opposite stand, a tiny one, and out at the local houses. It’s a great view and I love those grounds and those experiences. Here’s hoping for a win against Villa followed by a trip to Chesterfield, Hartlepool, Wimbledon or Leyton Orient!"

Imagine being sent to bed and missing this iconic FA Cup moment!

Sam Carney: Arsenal (N) 2-1, 1999
"I was only six at the time, but the Treble-winning season, in 1998/99, is the first I can remember as a United fan. Unfortunately my recollections don’t extend to Ryan Giggs’s incredible winning goal in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal. It was scored deep into extra time and I’d long since been sent to bed, even missing the drama of Roy Keane’s sending off and Peter Schmeichel’s late penalty save: thanks, Mum!

"I caught up via the video she'd recorded the following morning and fortunately I was permitted to stay up a little longer for the Champions League final six weeks later…"