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United and Brighton captains Bryan Robson and Steve Foster shake hands in the centre circle before the 1983 FA Cup final replay

Brighton tie stirs vivid cup memories

One of my very first memories of the FA Cup stretches all the way back to 1981 and a game against Brighton & Hove Albion.

Fortunately, I missed the drama of the 1979 FA Cup final and I have no real recollection of the defeat to Tottenham in the third round of the following year's competition, even though I was a fully fledged Manchester United supporter by then. I say that but following the matches, in those days, was a very different experience to seeing the Reds in the flesh now.

I do vividly recall facing Brighton in 1981 and I was excited by a chance to go all the way in a tournament that everything in those days. Playing at home on the table-football I had been bought for Christmas, the half-time scores started to come in on Grandstand and United were 2-0 down at Old Trafford. Disaster!

I was crestfallen and genuinely upset about the fact this cup run was about to be over before it had even begun. My mood lifted when the vidiprinter emerged some time around 16:30 GMT, as I believe it always did, and we had a goal back through Mike Duxbury. Soon afterwards, Mickey Thomas equalised and I was overjoyed. Little did I know, many, many years later, I would have the pleasure to get to know Mickey as a regular attendee on our European trips.

Mike Duxbury celebrates after United's 1983 FA Cup final replay win over Brighton
Mike Duxbury: A scorer in the 1981 tie and a winner at Wembley two years later

I still wonder if my real affection for the FA Cup goes all the way back to a match I only followed on TV, and that was sketchy coverage at best. We had lived to fight another day! We won the replay at the Goldstone Ground but didn't make it past the fourth round, thanks to Nottingham Forest.

There was more anguish in 1982 when we lost 1-0 at Watford. Again, I was unaware of the score until half-time and I caught sight of the scoreboard as the cameras went to Vicarage Road to reveal the bad news before the reporter had even had chance to tell us about Jan Lohman's goal. Another bad memory, when I so craved a place in the FA Cup final and all that entailed. I'm still certain I feel a pain in a pit of my stomach akin to this every time we are knocked out of the competition.

Frank Stapleton is elated after finding the net against Brighton in United's 1983 FA Cup final replay win at Wembley
Frank Stapleton is elated after finding the net against Brighton at Wembley.

So on to 1983 and it actually happened. We'd already reached the Milk Cup final and now had another date at Wembley. I was elated! Ron Atkinson's men made it all the way to Wembley and whom would we meet on the big stage? Brighton. The Seagulls may have finished bottom of Division One but they'd made it through to their first final.

This was our moment, except it so nearly wasn't. A 2-2 draw unfolded and even though one of my favourite players at the time, Ray Wilkins, had curled a beauty that looked like being the winner, instead we were hanging on for grim life when Gordon Smith famously missed a one-one-chance with Gary Bailey late on. My dad said reassuringly the striker was offside when he went through. He wasn't. Thankfully, Bailey saved the day.

The replay was a rare chance to enjoy a final knowing you are going to win at a canter, with the Reds 3-0 up by half-time. What a feeling this was for a 10-year-old Manchester United fan, lifting the most precious piece of silverware and in style. Could football get any better than this?

Gary Bailey makes a crucial save from Gordon Smith during the 2-2 draw between United and Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup final
Gary Bailey makes his crucial save from Gordon Smith during the 2-2 draw.

Brighton had played their part in this first trophy as a Reds supporter and showed that underdogs should never be underestimated on the big occasion, something we would see again over the years. Fast forward 35 years and the clubs meet again with a place in the 2018 semi-finals at stake. The FA Cup will always be magical for people of my generation, no matter how some others may regard it, and this tie will bring all the memories flooding back.

The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.