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Gary Bailey makes a crucial save from Gordon Smith in the 1983 FA Cup final.

Gary Bailey: 'The FA Cup is still important'

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Tonight it's Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion in the Emirates FA Cup, a fixture that will always evoke one memory above all others: Gordon Smith and Gary Bailey, 21 May 1983.

It's been 35 years since that nail-biting moment in the closing seconds of extra-time in the FA Cup final. With referee Alf Grey about to blow up for full-time, the scores locked at 2-2, Brighton's Michael Robinson suddenly found himself put through on the United goal. Robinson slid the ball across to fellow forward Gordon Smith, standing just eight yards from goal and with only Reds' keeper Gary Bailey to beat. “And Smith must score!” cried BBC commentator Peter Jones, as 99,059 fans inside Wembley Stadium, and millions more in front of their TV sets, held their collective breath.

Except Smith didn't score, Bailey somehow managing to block the shot with his legs, before smothering the rebound. That incredible miss (or miraculous save, as both players would prefer to remember it) took the final to a replay, which this time the Reds won 4-0. Phew.

Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton with the FA Cup in 1983.
The Reds went on to lift the FA Cup in 1983 by beating Brighton over two games at Wembley

While for Bailey that 119th-minute save helped him bury the ghosts of '79, when he was (perhaps harshly) blamed for Arsenal's late winner in the final, for Smith the miss would became a career-defining moment. “To this day, I find it very hard to cope with the fact I could have won the Cup,” he tells United's match programme ahead of this Saturday's meeting between the Reds and the Seagulls. “I felt like I let down my team-mates and the supporters, which is hard to accept. At the time, I had to get on with my career and I probably dealt with it a lot better then than I do now, to be honest.”

As for Bailey, he sees things very differently: “Gordon didn’t miss,” he tells us. “He did everything right, but I did my part right too and I made the save. But that’s what happens when you’re a keeper – you rarely get the hugs and the love!”

You can read more from Bailey and Smith on that ’83 final in United Review and online – but we couldn't let the pair go without quizzing them on the latest Cup clash between the clubs...

What did you make of your team's last domestic performance?

Bailey: I watched the game against Liverpool, and Marcus Rashford rightly got the praise for the way he finished the goals. I think if Rashford can keep reading flick-ons from Romelu Lukaku, and Alexis Sanchez can start finding those great passes that he's known for, that combination could be crucial for the team. To win big trophies, you need three strikers who can hurt teams, not just one. I like Rashford, he’s impressed me with his pace, and Alexis is absolute class, even if it’s not happening for him at the moment. His ability to see a pass and sniff an opportunity is great. If United have three forwards firing, anything is possible.

Smith: I was quite surprised by the defeat at Everton because the team played so well to beat Arsenal the week before. There is an excellent team spirit in the Brighton camp. There are no star players, as such, but there is a team that plays very well together. Chris Hughton has got them well organised and we were one of the most in-form teams in the league heading into the Everton game. Maybe the FA Cup game came into the heads of the players a bit because we are probably safe in the league now.

Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring a goal against Liverpool.
Rashford was the hero for the Reds in our last league outing against Liverpool

How do you fancy your team's chances on Saturday night?

Bailey: I think United will win. Jose Mourinho will look for his team to give away nothing and rely on the talent we have up front to make the most of opportunities. And when opponents do get through the defence, they have David De Gea, who I have to give a mention. He is world class. He never seems to get rattled and has to go down alongside Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar as the best keepers United have ever had.

Smith: I do think we have a chance to go through. Glenn Murray looks a real threat up front – he’s good in the air and a good target man – and United will need to watch him. One benefit Brighton have is that we are underdogs and that can help because you can go and play without any freedom in a cup match such as this, because nobody is expecting anything from you. United really need to win so there is a bit of pressure on them.

Gary Bailey in action for United.
Bailey made 375 appearances for United in goal between 1978 and 1987

You had a replay to contend with in the 1983 final, although this tie cannot go to a second game, of course... 

Bailey: I remember playing a team three times to decide the result! That's how cup football was back then. But now, I understand why it's all decided in one game, that it’s all done on the day. I cover Spanish football from Miami, and they still have home and away legs in cup ties, so the big teams don’t care as much when they play smaller teams, as they'll have another game to put it right if necessary. I like the one-game format – it all happens on the day and I have nothing against that. And of course, as a keeper a shoot-out is the only chance you have of being the hero. Most keepers love it, although you need luck. Sometimes it doesn’t go for you. I remember the shootout in the 1985 UEFA Cup quarter-final against Videoton. They sent me the wrong way five times! 

Smith: I can understand the reasons to settle it in one game, because of the amount of matches the big teams, in particular, have to play nowadays – with group-stage football in Europe and more international games than there used to be. So at the top level it’s not a big loss but for smaller teams they do miss out on the financial opportunity that a replay brings and also the opportunity of playing at home in the replay and maybe having a bigger opportunity to get through to the next round. I can understand why it’s been done but it does suit the big clubs, without doubt. I might have agreed to a shoot-out in 1983, though! I would have taken one myself that day, definitely.

Brighton's Gordon Smith battles with United's Gordon McQueen in the 1983 FA Cup final.
Gordon Smith scored for Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup final but United went on to win the replay

What would an FA Cup triumph mean to your club this season?

Bailey: The FA Cup is still an important trophy. It’s a great day out in the final at Wembley. If United win it, and finish second in the league, it will be a decent season for them. Brighton are a good team so it will be a tough quarter-final but I expect United to find the gaps and take the opportunities when they come.

Smith: It would be fantastic. I would love to see it. If they win the Cup, it would stop people talking about my miss… well, to an extent! Brighton is a fantastic club. For years, we had no stadium and no money but chairman Tony Bloom has turned Brighton around and brought them back to the top level, which is great to see. A Cup win would just make it so special but to get them to where they are now is success in itself.

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