GROWING up in his native Ireland, FA Cup final day was a big deal to Michael Doyle.
It was a time when live football was a rarity on television. So, the opportunity to not only watch a full game but also enjoy the day-long build-up on either the BBC or ITV was just too good to miss for the football-mad youngster.
Doyle’s first Cup memory is of the 1988 final. His team, Liverpool, lost in one of the biggest final upsets of all-time to Wimbledon but that was not enough to prevent a love of the Cup being born that day which continues to endure.
“To me, the Cup is as great as ever,” said the Sheffield United captain when speaking to the Yorkshire Post. “And long may that continue.
“I know some people knock it but I love the FA Cup. There is something special about the competition and I know the fans love to see an upset. They love to see the underdog do well.”
The Blades captain’s affection for the world’s oldest knockout competition could have something to do with the couple of giant-killing acts he has been involved in.
Four years ago, he was in the Leeds United side that dumped Manchester United out in the third round.
It was the second time that Doyle had been on the winning side at Old Trafford, the midfielder having been part of Coventry City’s 2007 triumph over the Red Devils in the League Cup.
As a Blade, Doyle was also a leading figure in the club’s stunning third-round triumph at Aston Villa three weeks ago.
Understandably, the 32-year-old is proud of his Cup exploits. However, he is also at pains to stress that his affection for the FA Cup began as a six-year-old lad watching the final that prompted BBC commentator John Motson to so memorably declare, “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”.
“I was a Liverpool fan as a kid and that 1988 final is my first memory,” he said. “John Aldridge missed a penalty, Wimbledon won and that was disappointing. Liverpool could have won the double that year.
“The following year, Liverpool beat Everton. After all that had gone on with (the) Hillsborough (disaster), that was very emotional.
“I think everyone wanted Liverpool to win. It meant so much and the Cup still does mean so much. It is massive and has great tradition.
“It doesn’t matter who you play – Premier League or non-League – but the Cup draws people out. We played Salisbury City a couple of years ago and they brought 2,000 fans with them. That was great.
“It was the same with ourselves at Villa a few weeks ago, where we took 6,000 fans. They made all the difference for us on the day.
“The further the lower division clubs can go, the better it is for the competition as it creates real interest. There are a lot still in it and there could be shocks.”
One of those early finals that Doyle watched as a youngster was the 1991 showpiece between Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur, best known for the reckless challenge that left Paul Gascoigne with a horrific injury.
Nigel Clough was in the Forest side beaten 2-1 that day and, as the Blades manager made clear in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post, the memory still hurts. Told this, Doyle’s face breaks out into a smile before he quips: “I did watch that Gazza final but I have never asked the gaffer about it. I might throw it in to wind him up. Mind, he might give me a slap.
“Seriously, though, memories like that are what the FA Cup is all about. It is what makes it so special.”
United are the only one of Yorkshire’s four remaining clubs still in the Cup whose tie this weekend has been selected for live transmission. BT Sport’s selection is understandable, especially considering how the Blades’ triumph at Villa Park was one of the stories of the third round.
Doyle said: “Because of what happened in the last round, there will be a bit more attention on us. I am not saying Villa didn’t treat us with respect but I would imagine Fulham will be ready for us going into the game on Sunday.
“But we will still be confident going into the tie. We fully deserved to win at Villa. Before we scored, we had to be patient and we did that for the opening 15 minutes. That was always going to be very important. They were always going to have a lot of the ball as the home team so we had to keep our shape.
“Once we had got through that, I felt we grew into the game. We got the goal and kicked on. The performance and how we played was down to the manager on the Friday before the game.
“He said we weren’t going to Villa to defend. He wanted us to go there and have a go. That was great to hear. Sometimes in these games, you go away from home and end up quite deep. Against Villa, it was the opposite.
“I have had some good Cup runs in the past and some good results. And in those games, I have known within the first 15 minutes how it was going to go. I have thought, ‘We have got these today’.”
Doyle will be hoping to have a similar feeling in his gut by 1.15pm tomorrow against a Fulham side whose last visit to Yorkshire ended in a 6-0 hammering by Hull City at the KC Stadium.
The midfielder added: “It hasn’t been a good season. There was a lot of expectation surrounding us at the start and we haven’t lived up to that.
“With all the changes, it hasn’t been ideal. But we are coming through that now. The manager coming in has really picked us up, He has grabbed us by the scruff of the neck, if you like.
“They demand more all the time and that was probably the approach we needed. We were down there and feeling sorry for ourselves.
“The manager has changed all that and, in that respect, our wins in the FA Cup have helped massively. We have taken them into the league. Maybe results lately haven’t always gone our way but the performances have been there.
“Hopefully, beating Fulham can be the start of a good run.”