FA Cup magic in store
Get set for plenty of drama as a stellar cast of semi-finalists meet in football's oldest cup competition
In an era when the English Premier League has captivated a global audience and transformed into a multi-billion dollar industry, it's hard to believe that the FA Cup was once regarded as the more prestigious competition.
Before the EPL heralded a new era on August 1992, very few matches were shown live in the UK. However, one encounter that always brought the country together was the FA Cup final.
My first Cup final experience was on May 21, 1983. My mother was hosting a garden party in our quaint little village in the north of England.
As an eight-year old obsessed with Bryan Robson and Manchester United, cheese scones, tea and annoying neighbours didn't particularly interest me.
Not on FA Cup final day, when I was dressed head to toe in the United kit and scarves my grandma had bought for me on her meagre state pension.
United's opponents were Brighton, who'd endured a miserable league campaign. After losing at home to fellow strugglers Manchester City in early May, their relegation to the old Second Division was confirmed.
“Gary is getting better but, if you ask me (if he’s okay) for tomorrow, my answer is, ‘It’s very difficult’.”Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, on Gary Cahill, who was sent to hospital after arriving for training with fever on Tuesday
However, Albion impressed in the FA Cup that season, making it all the way to the final. Along the way, they even beat Liverpool at Anfield.
Despite being rank outsiders against Ron Atkinson's United, Albion arrived at Wembley in style; led on board a British Caledonian Airways helicopter by a band of bagpipers, while manager Jimmy Melia stole the show as a vastly younger glamour model girlfriend clutched the arm of his shiny white suit.
On the pitch, an energy-sapping 90 minutes was followed by extra-time. In the dying seconds, with the score at 2-2, Albion striker Michael Robinson took advantage of a Kevin Moran slip and slid the ball to strike partner Gordon Smith.
BBC commentator Peter Jones cried: "And Smith must score!"
But he didn't.
Albion fan David Trenner remembers. He said: "(Gary) Bailey spread himself and got lucky, the ball sticking between his knees. I have the game on video and watch it now and again. One of these days, the ball is going to bobble off Bailey's knees and go in."
The match finished all square. In the replay five days later, United comfortably won 4-0, with my hero Robson bagging a first-half brace.
Smith, who joined Manchester City later that year, was never allowed to forget the miss. A Brighton fanzine was later named "And Smith Must Score".
Brighton, who were exiled from the top echelon of English football that year, secured their EPL return earlier this week when they beat Wigan.
Three decades on from rejoicing in United's win over Brighton, it's the Seagulls whom I follow closely, having lived in the seaside city for more than 10 years.
My love for United fizzled out when the Red Devils won their first EPL title in 1993. Finally seeing them lift the crown felt like the end of a personal chapter.
Tomorrow, United can move another step closer to securing a top-four place when they visit Burnley.
Meanwhile, the FA Cup is very much back with a bang this season, thanks to a stellar semi-final line-up at Wembley as Tottenham take on Chelsea, and Arsenal lock horns with Manchester City.
I can't promise white suits and glamour models, but there'll be plenty of league and cup drama unfolding on Eleven Sports this weekend, for sure.
Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at ELEVEN SPORTS. Join Richard and his studio guests for ELEVEN's live football coverage tomorrow, which includes the FA Cup semi-finals between Chelsea and Tottenham (12.05am) and Arsenal v Man City (10pm), as well as EPL showdowns between Burnley and Man United (8.45pm) and Crystal Palace v Liverpool (11.30pm). For details, visit www.elevensports.sg