Some of the greatest days in Liverpool’s history have come in the FA Cup.
From the club’s inception in 1892 to win the Cup was the great unfulfilled dream, until Bill Shankly’s team of 1965 finally delivered the famous trophy back to Merseyside adorned in red and white ribbons. The images of that rain-soaked day and victory over Leeds United at Wembley are imprinted on the minds of Liverpudlians everywhere.
The legend of Gerry Byrne’s outstanding bravery in concealing the agony of a broken collar bone to play on through two gruelling hours.Byrne’s cross for Roger Hunt to stoop and put Liverpool ahead in extra-time and the sight of a delirious fan on the pitch still waving his rattle despite being carried away by six policemen. After Billy Bremner’s crushing equaliser, Ian St John’s twisting diving header to put Liverpool back in front and at the top of the Wembley steps, Ron Yeats wiping his muddied hands to spare the immaculate white gloves of The Queen before receiving the trophy.
“Ee-aye addio, we’ve won the Cup” sang ecstatic supporters long into the night and throughout the next day’s triumphant homecoming when the silverware was paraded on the balcony of the town hall in front of thousands chanting and swaying in the streets below. The Cup meant everything and for fans of that generation it was the greatest day of their lives.
Shankly repeated the feat in 1974 when Kevin Keegan ran the show and Newcastle were undressed by Liverpool’s pass and move.
Kenny Dalglish’s double triumph over Everton in 1986 was the ultimate in derby victories with Ian Rush in his pomp the hero of the hour. Hillsborough overshadowed everything in 1989 when winning the Cup was the only solace on offer in Liverpool’s darkest hour.
Graeme Souness’s 1992 success over Sunderland was as forgettable as his managerial tenure but in the modern era, when the final switched to Cardiff, Michael Owen’s 2001 brace against Arsenal and a celebratory cartwheel after his winning goal signified one of the great Liverpool comebacks. Five years later, Steven Gerrard’s rescue act against West Ham was crowned by a missile of a goal that still beggars belief; his virtuoso performance worthy of the match being dubbed “The Gerrard Final”.
Sadly those days have long gone.
In the thirteen years that have elapsed since the last of Liverpool’ seven triumphs, the FA Cup has lost all but a fraction of its previous lustre; a competition robbed of its prestige by the rise of the constant meddling of the FA and the twin beasts of the Premier League and Champions League. The magic of the cup has vanished into thin air, all its former mystique shorn by a soulless reincarnation of the old Wembley, semi-finals played at the same venue, the absence of replays in later rounds and schedules over cup weekends which dilute all the drama.
Even the lesser lights of the Premier League, fixated only by survival and the riches of top flight status, willingly field weakened sides risking elimination. Fans have cottoned on and the empty seats where once cup ties would have seen grounds packed to the rafters tell their own story.
For Liverpool this season, with the enduring commitment to a title challenge and a return to Champions League football in February, the FA Cup represents mere inconvenience. An away tie at Wolves on Monday gives Jurgen Klopp the challenge of balancing his selection between resting his key players and complete neglect of the competition but it is a conundrum with which most supporters will sympathise.
Klopp will make the right noises about wanting to progress but secretly will view the tournament only as an opportunity to give some of his fringe players a run out.
Simon Mignolet will return in goal, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi will most probably start up front and Naby Keita has a chance to show his worth in midfield. Alberto Moreno – already heading for the exit door – will get a rare outing and Adam Lallana is likely to feature in his quest to improve fitness for bigger games ahead. With Joel Matip and Joe Gomez still unavailable, the manager might also contemplate experimenting with Fabinho at centre-half.
Klopp would prefer to rest the legs of all those who have spearheaded the Reds’ title assault but the requirement to fill the team sheet means that the likes of Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Xherdan Shaqiri and James Milner might still be pressed into action.
While it seems sacrilege to view the once mighty FA Cup as a poisoned chalice, despite Liverpool’s rich tradition in the competition, there are other priorities which take precedence in a season of rich promise elsewhere.
*Odds are subject to change