One of my earliest memories of the FA Cup is not a Tottenham one (that came the year after and again the year after that). The first Wembley showcase I can recall is the one between West Ham United and Arsenal. 1980. It's a memory I'm staggered to have to be honest. But still, it's there.
I'm sitting on the floor in my grandparents living room, tv on, and I watch the moment Brooking nods in to make it 1-0. I guess the preconditioning from my family already had the 'hate the ones in red' set to moderate, easing the dislike gently in as I half-heartedly celebrated by looking at my uncles reaction (one of delight). I then proceeded to leave the room, pick up a football and attempt to recreate the goal in the garden between two flower pots.
81 and 82 followed. Almost all the cup finals of that era were memorable. I actually forgot how last seasons final played out. Had to be reminded of the Stoke/City affair. That memorable and that important. You could once go back ten years and run through the scores of every game played between the twin towers. Why? Because each one of them was an occasion.
Then the competition started to lose some of its magic. Football began to evolve into a beast. Sky Sports. The Champions League. Uniteds rejection. The Cup was time-shared between the same group of teams for an age (no irony lost it was the same clubs dominating the top four). Then it birthed indirect (and direct) disinterest from many that still resonates now, what with clubs preferring to rest players and prioritise continental ambitions as a more viable target to bolster stature via financial gain. The usual suspect still got to finals.
Having the semis at Wembley also doesn't help. It meant something to win it. It was almost as important as the league. You can hardly even contemplate saying that now.
Let's not pretend it's the same competition it once was. It isn't. Much like the League Cup has long ceased to be anything more than an afterthought and day out for most. Regardless of what team we put out on Saturday in the 3rd round against Cheltenham I hope that when the opposition require us to field a strong side, we will.
I'm not about to dive back into the depths of the silverware v Champions League argument. Okay, perhaps just dip my toe in. If we finished 5th this season we'd be devastated thanks to the consequences it would have - a by product of modern day expectations. Although deep down you'd still wear your heart on your sleeve and sing for your team. But its undeniable, the buzz that comes with being a very good side is better than the one that falls asleep in mid-table.
5th and the FA Cup would still give us a migraine across the summer of 2012 attempting to hold onto our key players. Silverware does mean you get that never to be forgotten footnote in history entered into the record books. You'll hardly find the same accolade stating 'x years of CL qualification' achieved by the side of 'Finished 4th'.
So what are we left with? You might cite the need for momentum and that continued growth of mental strength and belief. Because if you combine a CL place with a cup, then at the very least it equates to a tangible honour that rewards a team for its effort, desire and history. There's still something to be said for Glory. And Glory is in the eye of the beholder because lets face it, who cares what anyone else thinks when all that matters is the team you support and the days out you have with them.
You still have to win something to be a winner. We're aspiring to do so. Which is why its important to give it everything. Which is why the league will take priority. But it shouldn't be about priorities. We should always look to win every game we play. We should always believe we can win every game.
We've not won the FA Cup for a while. We've not challenged at the top end of the top division for even longer. There's no escape from it. Football has changed and so have we. Gone are the days when a headed goal from an unlikely source or a mazzy run into the box are history defining moments never to be forgotten, more important than a mere 4th or 3rd spot in the table.
Don't want to patronise this grand old competition. Don't think we'll be doing so if we rest several players for the 3rd round. But we've suffered before by doing just that in the past. We still need to show it the respect it's lost, the respect it deserves. The FA Cup was synonymous with Tottenham once upon a time. We've won it eight times. Of course it means something to us.
We've had a fair few semi-final defeats in the past couple of decades. It's been too long. Regardless of the cup not having the same glamour it once had, its best to remember that glamour is created by players and the teams in the games played. Those magical moments of movement, touch and vision. The great goals and comebacks. Its in those moments that it becomes something more than ribbons on a piece of fancy silver.
I went to all the cup games in 1991 when Gascoigne almost single-handling dragged us into the final. That was a defining season in the clubs history. We needed to win the Cup with Death looking down at us with sickle in hand. We won it. Every game in that run to Wembley becomes more than just 90 minutes of football, long to be forgotten. It's never forgotten. Like a novel unravelling from one chapter to the next, ending with epic emotion and then forever being able to pick it up and read through it again reliving the joy of its concluding pages.
Football is about these moments.
The only way we can go all the way is if we want to go all the way. It's that simple. Rotation, fixture congestion and the league will always run parallel to the FA Cup. None of that should be used as an excuse. Got to hope we change, that I change and that clubs change. You should always look to win the FA Cup regardless of what else is going on. It's a knock-out competition, anything can happen. As for choosing between it and the Champions League, its a moot point. You'll never have the option to choose. We either qualify for the CL or we don't. We either get to Wembley or we don't. The clue is in our club motto.
I hope when my daughter is old enough and if she choices to ruin her life with football, I hope her earliest memories include Lilywhite and silver and perhaps an iconic moment or two. I was lucky enough to see a bloke with a beard score a goal that will never be forgotten in the history of both Spurs and the FA Cup. It was a bit more special than Brooking's the year before. These are the moments that can never be take away from us.
We need more of these moments in our lives.