Memories we've been sharing.
When two teams are slugging it out to the death for the right to a replay, a nail-biting penalty shoot-out, the chance of a place in Europe, a lucrative home tie, or a strange looking silver trophy.
The FA Cup.
This competition actually started me off. The all-Merseyside final of 1986 is a distant memory now, and was perhaps eclipsed by the more emotive (and exciting) "replay" three years later. But that was the day I remember first falling in love with the Blues.
Growing up where and when I did there was and remains a large Liverpool fanbase, no doubt enticed by glory, playground kudos and the chance of an easy life. Many of my friends who made up my class in school had chosen this route and, as a result, I felt quite sorry for this other team "Everton," so chose to want them to win that day.
I had also heard of their star striker Gary Lineker, and Mexico 86, which followed soon after cemented my admiration of him and my love for the beautiful game.
So, sympathy caused all this. There have been times since when I have questioned my decision that day, albeit not so many recently, and the most success Everton have achieved in that time (apart from the 1987 League, which I vaguely remember but still didn't understand properly) was in the 1995 FA Cup.
So, in terms of my following Everton, the competition holds a special place, but not a very prominent one. The giantkillings and disappointments far outweigh the successful cup runs for us over time, and that is why, on the eve of a quarter final with our first foray to the new Wembley just 90 minutes away, I remain cautious and neutral.
You see for every Dan Gosling there's at least a Stefan Wessels, a Chris Waddle from 45 yards, a Shrewsbury Town, a chip shop fire, a 3-0 down at half time away at Middlesbrough in Walter's last match... Some of these won't mean anything to you unless you're an Evertonian, and be thankful for that. Of course, we had that great run in 1995, alongside a relegation battle remember, but have still not reached the heights we perhaps should have. Too many anti-climaxes, especially after epic draws against Liverpool and runs of replays I watched weekly on Sportsnight.
However, in terms of my slightly separate life as a football fan in general, the FA Cup has been an integral part of my education and enjoyment. I recall the excitement of Final Day in the '80s, ITV and BBC trying to outdo each other with It's a Knockout and celebrity fans on Wembley Way, Keith Houchen, Lawrie Sanchez and everyone else. I used to buy in loads of sweets, draw little tickets for me and my dad, and keep newspaper reports of each final, even 1989 when I cried after doing headstands on the sofa after McCall's equaliser.
But what really caught my attention at that time was the highlights of Sutton United's victory over Coventry City and the winger Matt somebody (recently interviewed on TV, I think) wheeling away with a weird one-arm windmill movement, then at the final whistle a girl with funny lips crying into an older man's arms as if it was time to go at Milford Junction, and finally their manager, a pipe-smoking "extrovert," holding his arms aloft like a tired and emotional clubber.
And the fact I can picture all this as if it wasn't twenty years ago embodies everything we love about the FA Cup. In recent years it has been suggested that the magic has come back. Havant and Waterlooville, Barnsley, Burton Albion, and a fair few more, have all had their 15 minutes, and we've lapped it up. Many teams still choose to select weakened teams for ties, but very few now decide to switch venues for profits, preferring instead to maximise chances of an upset.
It will perhaps always be said that Manchester United devalued the FA Cup when preferring to withdraw and concentrate on a trip to South America. But I believe they actually helped save the competition, reminding us of how special the FA Cup actually is, what it can mean, and how powerful hope can be on the first weekend of January.
I've had that hope every year since 1995, when I wasn't able to experience Rideout's winner first-hand at Wembley. I did though make a scrapbook of the day, taking photographs of the TV, keeping the tape of the entire match and build-up, and my mum did take me to Liverpool to see the trophy the next day.
This year I sat and listened to Macclesfield away when Leon saved our blushes, I watched nervously as we more than matched Liverpool at Anfield, and as my last two articles will have told you, had diverse experiences regarding the replay and Aston Villa match.
I have no idea what Sunday March 8 will bring, despite our recent good run and player and manager of the month awards, but I will be privately replaying years of FA Cup magic whilst supping my pint of Chang in the concourse, remembering those
Filled with love.
This Article also features on The English Football Post