STEVE BRUCE last night challenged his Hull City side to pull off an FA Cup upset that would rank among the greatest of all time.
The Tigers head to Wembley for the biggest game in their 110-year history knowing that victory over Arsenal would make the club only the seventh from Yorkshire to lift the famous old trophy.
Victory would also smooth City’s path into next season’s Europa League with Bruce’s men set to join in the group stage if they can beat the Gunners.
Hull are, undoubtedly, the underdogs for a game that will be watched by an estimated global audience of 500 million in 150 countries.
But Bruce believes Hull can claim an upset that he insists would be on a par with any of those from the past that have helped make the Cup one of the world’s most popular tournaments.
He said: “We have made history already but let’s go one better. That is what I will say to the players before they go out.
“This is, without question, one of the great sporting occasions in this country. We have waited 110 years for this and we are not exactly steeped in football history. But why can’t it be us?
“Sometimes, your name is just on the Cup. I think back to Brighton away (in the fifth round) and us being three minutes away from going out. Or going to Southend (in the fourth round) for a really, really horrible Cup tie on a truly awful pitch.
“Then there was the third round when I made nine changes at Middlesbrough and people asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ But that, for me, was one of our best performances of the season. You just hope it is written in the stars and our name is on the Cup.”
Cup final history is littered with shocks. Just last year, Wigan Athletic stunned Manchester City at Wembley, while other famous shocks include Wimbledon’s 1988 triumph over Liverpool and Leeds United’s defeat to Second Division Sunderland in 1973.
Bruce added: “Wigan last year really was one of the biggies. Everyone remembers Sunderland, and Wimbledon. But if we could beat Arsenal, that would definitely rank with them all.
“For me, this is what the Cup is all about. This might not be a final but, as a kid, I remember that day when Ronnie Radford scored against Newcastle. I was 11 or 12 and thinking, ‘How can Newcastle lose to Hereford of non-League?’ It was ridiculous but exactly what the Cup is all about.
“Personally, the biggest shock to me was Newcastle losing to Liverpool (in the 1974 final). That was a terrible shock to my system. We never had a kick at Wembley. I remember going to the semi-final against Burnley, who I was with as a schoolkid before being released.
“I got a couple of tickets for the semi-final through them and got there only to find out I was in the Burnley end. Me and my mates were gutted. We were all big Newcastle fans at Hillsborough but having to go in the Burnley end.
“‘Supermac’ scored twice and I jumped up to celebrate. I nearly got myself in serious trouble.”
Asked if Hull, 16th in this season’s Premier League, beating an Arsenal outfit who finished fourth can be compared to the great upsets of the past, Bruce replied: “I think so, yes.
“Football has changed. The money that comes into football now has created a group in the Premier League that are head and shoulders above everyone else.
“Arsenal are one of those six or seven clubs, because they have been in the Champions League for 17 consecutive years. It is quite remarkable. Arsenal might not have won anything for nine years but to even be on the same pitch is something to savour. We will have to pinch ourselves.
“That said, I am sure we will be bursting with energy come Saturday at 5pm and the players will know one of them can become a hero.”
Bruce, who twice won the Cup as a player with Manchester United and was in the squad for a third triumph, has had plenty to ponder this week ahead of what he readily admits is the biggest game of a managerial career that began 16 years ago with Sheffield United.
He admits to having had a sleepless night on Wednesday due to wanting to make sure Hull’s preparations are spot on. Mindful that today could well be the pinnacle, Bruce understandably wants to make sure everything is geared towards getting the best possible performance out of his players.
“I realise that it might not get any better for me as a manager than this,” said Bruce. “I have been in management for 600 odd games and that is a long time to get to an occasion like this.
“Put it this way, I certainly won’t do another 600. I always hope I’m not selfish enough to go on too long. Maybe I will say to myself two or three years down the line, ‘Steve, it might be time’.
“I honestly don’t know how long I will continue for, but the big thing for me is just to enjoy it all, and particularly occasions like this.
“I doubt I am ever going to win the Premier League as a manager so the FA Cup is the next big thing.”
Hull flew down to London yesterday afternoon and spent the night at The Grove, the hotel base the club used for both last month’s semi-final and the 2008 Championship play-off final.
Whether that can prove to be an omen remains to be seen but Bruce is adamant that today is a thank you to the fans and chairman Assem Allam.
He said: “The supporters have made my life so much easier than it was at my previous club (Sunderland). For them, I am genuinely delighted and I would love them to go and enjoy their day.
“I nearly didn’t join Hull. Driving up here (in the summer of 2012), there were a few of my mates who rang me and said, ‘Steve, are you sure you know what you’re doing?’
“Then, the first time I met the chairman, he offered me a salary which I was earning in 1984! But I quite enjoyed that. There was a naivety about him, which I thought was just terrific. I am delighted for the chairman. I don’t think he could ever envisage that we would get to an FA Cup final.”