Look Away Now: Match Of The Day, 14th March 1987
Were anything like this to happen in the modern era, we almost certainly wouldn’t hear the last of it. It’s the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at a point when reaching the FA Cup final means something significant. At the end of the previous season, Arsenal appointed George Graham as their new manager and the results have been immediate. Having finished in seventh place in the First Division table for each of the last two successive seasons, Arsenal go into FA Cup quarter-final weekend in third place in the league table, four points from top of the table Liverpool and with a game in hand, whilst they’ve also booked a place at Wembley to play Liverpool in the League Cup final, their first cup final since the 1980 FA Cup final against West Ham United.
To say this this match should have been a walkover for Arsenal would be overstating things somewhat. Watford were a solid, mid-table team with a sprinkling of extremely talented players. They’d held onto John Barnes for a couple of years longer than most people might have expected them to, and still had the talented Luther Blissett leading their attack and potential future international Tony Coton playing in goal. For a team already at Wembley in one competition, though, a home quarter-final against moderate opposition should be a straightforward enough tie for Graham’s team. Watford, however, put up more than a decent fight, and in the closing stages a refereeing decision at one end of the pitch leads to a goal at the other and all hell very nearly breaking loose.
Match Of The Day is, of course, there to capture all of the drama plays out, and the BBC’s second choice of FA Cup quarter-final is a strong one as well, as Coventry City, a club with pointedly no previous success in cup competitions of any description, travel Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday and take an estimate 14,000 supporters with them for the match. With Coventry enjoying a decent enough season – they go into this match in eighth place in the First Division – and Sheffield Wednesday just below halfway, there’s optimism in the air around Highfield Road that 1987 might just be the year that Coventry City break their unwanted record of never having reached a major cup final.