Eric Cantona FA Cup Final 1994
| | |

For The Love Of Football

On a warm May afternoon in 1994, Manchester United played Chelsea in the final of the F.A. Cup. A match that, for me at least, had no significance of any description whatsoever. I was a nine-year-old boy who, at that point, spent his waking hours pushing monster truck toys around the back garden and came home either covered in mud, blood, or worse. 

That match changed my life, and it was completely by accident. Let me tell you the story of how I fell in love with football, in particular the mighty Manchester Reds.

Football was always something the boys in school talked about with passion, verve, and reverence. Even at 9 years old, the other kids in my class held these strange men in the sort of esteem usually reserved for gods and goddesses. I didn’t get it at all. It wasn’t until this balmy early summer afternoon that I truly understood what gods were. 

My father had tried in vain to push me into the love of his favourite sports team. I had Manchester United jerseys, footballs, and merchandise piled high in the corner of my room, and it always broke his heart a little whenever my slightly deflated face appeared every birthday when the new United kit was unwrapped in my arms and disregarded with the scrap paper. 

Smash cut to May 14, 1994. I was really under the weather, and my mum wouldn’t let me off the sofa. My dad settled down next to me in his scarlet red jersey, barely able to contain his excitement as the commentators on the TV talked excitedly about how each team was likely to line up, what the likely outcome would be, and who would end up hoisting that famous trophy come 5pm. They may as well have been speaking Spanish to me, I curled up a little tighter into my blanket and tried to sleep. I could almost hear the disappointment in my dad’s breathing as I turned my back on the TV. 

See also  Nottingham Forest Trigger One-Year Extension for Full-Back Ola Aina

At some point during the broadcast, the producers started to filter in the crowd noise, and it was ELECTRIC. I could feel the atmosphere. It almost startled me. I rolled back over and was transfixed. Seas of people were singing, dancing, and swaying in the crowds. Mesmerising waves of red and blue people are roaring through my TV. I could not take my eyes off of it. 

The game kicked off, and the apprehension in my dad’s demeanour was visible. I watched as 11 gladiators in red took on 11 lions in blue. With warriors on both sides probing, jousting, and feinting at each other, I was overcome with a realisation and sense of wonder I had never experienced before. Each kick of the ball was greeted with a mighty roar from thousands and thousands of people desperate for their team to win. 

A penalty. I didn’t know why, or what a penalty was, but my dad was on his feet screaming, “Penalty, it’s a penalty!!”. I was just excited he was excited so I joined in. My fever was broken, and the malaise I felt all weekend melted away through adrenaline and excitement. 

Up stepped Cantona. Arrogance personified. He looked like a Greek god, with an upturned collar and steel in his eyes. 

Goal! 

My father and I were on our feet, hugging, bouncing, and screaming. I didn’t entirely know what was going on, but I was so swept away by the occasion, I didn’t know why I was so happy, but if this was football, I wanted every second of it for the rest of my life. 

Another penalty. 

Goal. 

See also  How Many Manchester United Academy Graduates Play In The Premier League

Another joyous exchange between my father and me. 

Goal.

Mark Hughes. Another god-like man performing miracles on grass. 

Goal. 

Brian McClair, or “Choccy,” as my dad affectionately roared his name, tapped into an empty Chelsea net. 

We watched in silent admiration as 11 men and their boss marched up the Wembley steps to collect their prize. Thousands upon thousands of people roaring their approval, my dad, one of them, and me, to my own surprise and delight, another. 

90 minutes prior I had barely given football a second look; now I knew every player’s name, and every one of those men was my new hero. I had converted to the church of football, and I was devout in my beliefs. 

I do not know to this day if my father was happier with his beloved United winning the FA Cup or finally converting me to his chosen religion. But I bathed in his joy as deeply as he bathed in mine. We had never felt closer, and I cherish this memory to this very day. Manchester United became my family that day, became a part of my everyday life, and will continue to be for as long as I live. 

As I prepare to welcome my own firstborn child into the world, I only hope, as I’m sure my father hoped, that we can find a way to connect completely through our mutual love of football, as my father and I did that day. 

This was more than football. It always will be. 

About The Author

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply