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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 January 2021

Back in the day, an FA Cup tie would be replayed until one team came out on top

Liverpool and Arsenal once played out an epic, four-match semi-final saga. Imagine what Arsene Wenger would make of that now.

Arsenal’s Brian Talbot celebrates after scoring his team’s winner in their third replay of the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Highfield Road, Coventry, on May 1, 1980. Press Association
Arsenal’s Brian Talbot celebrates after scoring his team’s winner in their third replay of the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool at Highfield Road, Coventry, on May 1, 1980. Press Association

Ever heard of Brian Talbot? Arsenal and Liverpool fans of a certain generation certainly have.

As the two English heavyweights clash in today’s FA Cup fifth round, a match both managers would probably happily concede in favour of league points, it is worth remembering the epic 1980 semi-final between the two teams.

Four matches, three replays, and one giant leap from Talbot.

In those days, an FA Cup tie would be replayed indefinitely until one team outlasted the other. It was a slugfest. The record number of replays for one tie is six, but the 1980 Liverpool v Arsenal saga is one of the most famous of all.

It all started on Saturday, April 12 at Hillsborough, a 0-0 draw forcing a replay. Four days later at Villa Park, it finished 1-1. The second replay, on April 28, also at Villa Park, saw Alan Sunderland score for Arsenal in the first minute, and Kenny Dalglish equalise in the dramatic circumstances in the 90th. (For good measure, the two teams also met in a league match at Highbury on April 19, which finished, inevitably, 1-1).

Finally, on May 1, at Highfield Road in Coventry, Talbot, who had scored in the previous year’s final win over Manchester United, put an end to proceedings with a bullet header as Arsenal triumphed 1-0.

As a 10 year old growing up in Abu Dhabi, you had to work hard for such FA Cup memories.

There were no live televised matches, the internet was over a decade away, and iPhones were not even a figment of Steve Jobs’s imagination yet. For the dedicated, it meant BBC Radio World Service and Peter Jones’s wonderful commentary on Saturday Special; or setting your alarm for 2.45am for the Sports Roundup in midweek.

The next day, television and newspaper reports would throw you scraps of goal highlights, which we fans gratefully gobbled up – that was about all the information we got.

It meant little at the time, but the line-ups barely changed, nine Liverpool and 10 Arsenal players starting all four matches. Squad rotation simply did not exist back then.

In these Uefa Champions League-obsessed days, it is inconceivable that such a series of events could take place, or be allowed to. Just where did they find the time to squeeze in all those replays? And would the likes of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger even entertain such merciless flogging of their precious thoroughbred players?

Thirty-four years ago, Talbot and Co just got on with it.

Only 48 hours after their defeat, Liverpool wrapped up their fourth Division One championship under Bob Paisley who, despite hoarding league titles and European Cups, would never come this close again to winning the FA Cup.

For Arsenal, victory would prove pyrrhic. Terry Neill’s exhausted team lost the FA Cup final to West Ham United only nine days later, but not before having two league games shoehorned in between.

Four days after that loss came more cup misery, losing the European Cup Winners’ Cup final on penalties to Valencia. They finished the season empty-handed.

Their ordeal was not over yet; there were two more league fixtures to play. In their last match of the season, Arsenal, running on empty, lost 5-0 to Middlesbrough, meaning they missed out on qualifying for Europe altogether.

On the bus home after that match, Talbot reportedly fainted from exhaustion.

Arsenal had, incredibly, been involved in an even longer replay saga on their way to winning the FA Cup the previous year, taking five matches to dismiss Third Division Sheffield Wednesday in the third round.

Imagine Wenger’s reaction to playing on January 6, 9, 15, 17 and 22, just for the privilege of reaching the fourth round.

Just as well for him that these multiple replays were abolished in 1990. Some fans may pinpoint that as the point where the FA Cup – football’s oldest cup competition – began to lose its “magic”.

There is little doubt that, for Arsenal, today’s match pales in significance to the next one – the Uefa Champions League last-16 first leg against holders Bayern Munich. Or, more damningly, to the one after that, the home Premier League match against Sunderland.

In March, Arsenal face Bayern (away), Tottenham Hotspur (away), Chelsea (away) and Manchester City (home) in the space of 19 days. Somewhat more glamorous than playing a Third Division team five times in 16.

Should Arsenal go on to win every trophy on offer to them this season, they would end up playing 61 matches (64 with potential replays). During 1979/80 season, they played 70, with absolutely no reward.

Talbot, needless to say, started every single one.

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: February 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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