Watford away… ah, the romance of the FA Cup!

When I was my son Tom’s age, I used to get really excited about the FA Cup. I still do. It’s my annual reunion with hope and footballing dreams.

And for two glorious years in the late 90’s, our name was written on the Final Tie programme, if not the actual cup itself. And now it’s Tom’s turn to hope for a miracle in extra-time, or that Ronnie Radford won’t be on the TV montage on third round day. He will be, mind. He always is.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Newcastle United were a ‘sleeping giant’. The giant had not yet had the recurring dream about Kevin Keegan. In 1981, we had the nightmare of Exeter City.

But I have a warm, sepia tinged memory of the home match as the only time my grandad ever came to the match with us. It had been a long time since he had been to a match. Shorts had become shorter and footballs had become lighter. There was a scoreboard at the Gallowgate and an array of talent that can best be described as ‘workmanlike’.

He had seen Bobby Mitchell. I watched Bobby Shinton.

Whenever I walked through the back door of his house, because for some reason no one used the front, he would look up and say, “Five nowt!” and shake his head. It was difficult to tell whether or not this was a prediction or a memory, but either way, he was not too hopeful of Newcastle United’s prospects. No ambition, no planning, no hope. Not much changes, really.

But he happily came along to watch Newcastle United draw 1-1 with Exeter City in the fifth round of the FA Cup that year. It was a bit of a shock scoreline at the time; a lower league team taking their higher placed, former glorious opposition to a replay.

The less said about the replay the better. Suffice to say, young ‘uns, we didn’t get through to the next round. I once met a lad from Exeter who was about three at the time of the match but went misty eyed as he told me all about it.

My dad bought me, my brother and my cousin a programme, but because of the mists of time, and probably my parents’ loft, it is currently ‘somewhere safe.’

Yet magically, a few years ago, I managed to buy an original copy from the day. In fact, I was able to buy three, and I gave one each to my cousin and my brother. We suddenly remembered daft details from the day; Waggon Wheels the size of dinner plates; big scarves; big hopes.

Spurs won the FA Cup that year. They beat Manchester City in a replay, with Ricky Villa scoring with miraculous panache following a dribble that makes FIFA 16 look dull. But so rose tinted are my spectacles, the FA Cup always makes me nostalgic for that heady day when we didn’t beat Exeter City.

I don’t know if my grandad was gobsmacked, though I think he was happy. That’ll do for me.

Right then pop-pickers… what is your favourite FA Cup memory?

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