20140909

FA Cup memories recreate the experience of bygone eras on and off the field

Books that fall into the category of football nostalgia can sometimes become a little tedious, particularly if the author is simply banging on about how the game was better in 'his' time and it is clear that his view of the past comes with a filter for the bad bits.

Readers might be forgiven for expecting Matthew Eastley's two-volume offering to be more of the same, a lament for a lost era by a writer who finds it impossible to see any virtue in the football of today.

But to suggest that Eastley's look back on the FA Cup finals in the 60s and 70s -- there is another about the 80s on the way -- amounts merely to an outpouring of discontent at the decline of a football institution would do his work an enormous disservice.

A corporate journalist by profession, and a lifelong Charlton Athletic fan, Eastley has told the story of two decades of Cup finals not by rehashing the well-worn details of what happened on the field but by revisiting each match through the memories of supporters who were there and for whom the occasion remains a highlight of their lives.

It is true that there is an element of 'things were better then' in his tone.  He notes that the FA Cup once occupied such a special place in the national psyche that people would dress up just to watch the final on the television and clearly feels a little sad that this is no longer the case. "In 1974, just after we had acquired our first colour television, my grandfather came over wearing a suit and tie, because it was FA Cup final day," he says.

You can't dispute Eastley's assertion that the Cup final stopped the nation, an event regarded as so important in the calendar that it would probably need war to break out for it not to be the lead story on the teatime television news.  Nor can you quibble with the fact that nowadays the teatime news is done and dusted almost before the Cup final gets under way, the traditional 3pm kick-off time seemingly consigned to history in the interests of TV scheduling.

Yet he has gone way beyond writing a book that is merely a feature-length grumble.  He has taken the Cup finals of both decades and constructed a back story for each one, based on countless hours of interviews with fans and extensive research, interweaving the fans' stories, some of them joyful, some deeply poignant, with the action from the game and all manner of other material, from snippets of family history to the music that was topping the charts.

The end result is fascinating and engagingly readable, a piece of social history as well as a football book and a credit to the author's journalistic skills.

From Barry Stobart to Neil Young: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 1 - The 1960s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing).  Buy from Amazon , Waterstones or WHSmith.

From Ronnie Radford to Roger Osborne: When the FA Cup Really Mattered: Volume 2 - The 1970s, by Matthew Eastley (Pitch Publishing). Buy from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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