St. George’s day, 23rd April 2012. Me & the big fella are off to Wembley for a chat with the FA’s historian David Barber. Who? I hear you cry, although he’s not what you would call a ‘household name’ to football fans up & down the country, David is probably the biggest neutral fan there is when it comes to cup football or any football for that matter! In fact if someone was to ask you right now how many football games have you been to in your life would you know? Because we asked David that question and without pausing for even a second to think about it he said “6,263 starting with my first game in 1960 when Crystal Palace took on Hitchin Town in the 1st round proper in the cup & i still have the programme here that cost 4d” AMAZING! So what do you think Anorak or Jedi Master? Well for the next 90 minutes (believe it or not) we intended to find out........

Q. So putting you on the spot, can you remember anything about that Palace game & does that mean you’re a palace fan?

A. Yes I remember everything about it. I was 9 years old and it was a cold, grey but dry 5th of November afternoon with a crowd of 22,000 at the ground. My Dad had noticed my interest in football after watching the Wolves / Blackburn cup final on TV as well as the classic European cup final played at Hampden Park between Real Madrid & Eintracht Frankfurt that finished 7-3 & was also shown on TV. Dad had purposely waited for a fixture like this as he was sure that there would be goals & he didn’t want my first ever game to be a boring 0-0 draw. He was right, Palace won 6-2! From then on, I was hooked & the 60’s was a great time to be a Palace fan as they were in the old 4th division in 1960 climbing their way through the ranks and gained promotion to the 1st division in 1969.

During this time I was also hooked on the game itself and when Palace were playing away i went to as many non-league or amateur games as they were called in those days, as I could. Dad would take me to watch teams like Sutton, Carshalton, Redhill, Croydon, Merston, Banstead, Epsom & Ewell.... any or all of the local sides in the Surrey area & I loved these games because you seemed to get more goals per game. 

I followed Palace home & away for as many games as I could up until the 80/81 season when they went through, I think, 4 managers in a month & the team just seemed to give up and were relegated. All this time I was watching more & more non league games and knew I was a fan of the game itself rather than a particular team, and so I looked for a new professional team to favour or follow & decided on Bournemouth only because I liked the place itself & Chelsea cup final goal scorer David Webb was their manager. I watched most of their home games & a couple of away’s in my first season with them, and I was there to see them win promotion to the 3rd division with a point away at Bradford City. I stayed with Bournemouth until I moved to Holland Park & I was close enough to walk to Loftus Rd. plus QPR played on a plastic pitch in those days which pretty much guaranteed the game would be on! They made it to the Milk Cup final but lost to Oxford in 86 but I remember a young goalkeeper called David Seamen starting his career at the loft.

Q. With the amount of games you have seen over the years you must have a favourite ground?

A. Yes, Wembley. it’s such a fantastic stadium as was the old one it has to be my favourite, although I do like going to Chelsea & Fulham and when I was at university in Liverpool I used to go and watch South Liverpool quite a lot who had a very impressive ground for a small club.

Q. What was the first cup final you went to?

A. My first cup final was actually the amateur cup final in 63, it was also my first ever game at Wembley, I was 12 years old and Wimbledon beat Sutton 4-0. Eddie Reynolds scored all 4 & all of them were headers.

Q. What would you say are the main differences between the old & new Wembley, good & bad?

A. I’ve seen over 300 games at Wembley at all levels & the only thing you can’t have from the old stadium is the history, well that and all those dreaded steps you had to climb to get into the place! I know people miss the iconic sight of the twin towers on a warm & sunny cup final day but times change and future generations will see the new arch as their grail or symbol in the years to come and new history will be written.

Q. What would you say to purists like us who think FA Cup semi finals should not be played here when other stadiums like Cardiff’s Millennium could be used?

A. Why would you not want your team to play here? One of the biggest problems with the old Wembley is that it just wasn’t used, England would play 3 maybe 4 times a year, a couple of cup finals and the charity shield was all it was used for, I say if you have this place then use it.    

We then spoke about our love for the cup & our involvement in other cup games such as the Trophy & Vase, we told him of a few things that had happened to us at various games we’re been to this season that we thought he may find interesting. We quickly found out that David really doesn’t have any sort of preference when it comes to football, it could be England in a World Cup final or Droylsden FC setting off in the 1st round of the FA Trophy, if he’s at the game he WILL NOT miss a single kick & will watch both games with the same 100% concentration, he told us he doesn’t talk to anyone during any game he watches for fear of missing something & is NEVER late back to his seat after the half time break! 

On our way into the library we walked passed a trophy cabinet that had replicas of all the FA silverware on show, we went to Sheffield last year because the FA Cup was touring the country & you could have your photo taken with the famous trophy at the end of the tour. We were naffed off on the day when the tour guide told us “this isn’t the real one, there’s about 40 of these things all together” but this prompted our next question...

Q. How many FA Cups are there, and where is the actual cup?    

A. I think there are about 4, there’s always a replica here at Wembley & the TV people have the one that was used up until 1991. There’s one kept in a bank vault somewhere just in case there’s ever a problem with the real one. The actual cup has just recently returned from Manchester City. Each year the cup is engraved quickly at the full time whistle & given to the winners on the day, that team then keeps it until about 6 weeks before the next final when it’s returned for cleaning & prepared for the next winners.

Q. How many FA cup finals have you been to, and which one was your best?

A. I get asked this question a lot & the first part is easy, when Chelsea play Liverpool in a couple of weeks it will be my 40th FA cup final, as for the best I think I would have to say Leeds v Sunderland in 73. I was in with the Sunderland fans on the day & being a relatively youngish man I was swept away with the emotions of it all on the day, in fact I recently interviewed Jim Montgomery, the Sunderland keeper that day, for an article on the website & to him that double save is as fresh in his mind today as if it was yesterday!

Q. Why is this year’s cup final billed as Chelsea v Liverpool & not Liverpool v Chelsea?

A. It’s the same every year, it’s purely alphabetical and whoever are named first on the programme, as Chelsea are this year, their fans will be given the North end ticket allocation of the stadium.

All the way through this interview David never once referred to any reference books or even paused for thought for any length of time before answering any of the questions we put to him even though we were in an actual library! The man still uses hard copies for stats & figures in his role as a quiz master when he has to come up with questions you just can’t Google! There was a smaller version of the Bobby Moore statue in the library that I had to get a photo of, then we hit David with a few quick-fire questions....

Q. Oxo or Bovril?

A. I’ve only ever had Bovril twice in my life, i’m more of a soup man.

Q. Best pie & from where?

A. This will be back in my Palace era, a meat & potato pie from Gigg Ln. Bury.

Q. We recently asked Lawrie Sanchez where he was stood when Dave Beasant saved John Aldridge’s penalty in 88, where were you?

A. I was sat 2 rows down & just to the left of Her Majesty the Queen. 

The next question was supposed to be as quick-fire as the last but when I asked what was the best goal he had seen in a cup final? & he answered Sammy Mcllroy’s dribbling, bobbling almost slow motion equaliser for Man. United against Arsenal in 79 i couldn’t contain myself as I was at the same game & spent the next 15 minutes or so telling him about my experiences of that & the 81 final replay i was also at, and I was supposed to be asking him about his memories! But the Rhino soon got us back on track......

Q. After witnessing George Williams, a young 16 year old lad playing for the MK Dons, score in the 1st round proper. Have you ever spotted someone at an early age & tipped them to go on to greatness?

A. Not really, I did spot 2 players at youth level and thought they would be great England players one day in Joe Cole & Jermaine Pennant but then again I thought 2 other players had no chance because one was too small & the other had very thin legs and they were Jermain Defoe & Peter Crouch.

Q. Staying with England, what was your first England game at Wembley?

A. England v Mexico in the 66 World Cup with Dad, we also went to the Argentina game but couldn’t get tickets for the final & had to watch it on TV. No one expected England to actually win it that year & I still can’t believe it sometimes even now!

There was a little battered old book on the table in front of us & when we asked “apart from us wanting to do this interview with you, what’s the most unusual thing you’ve been asked?” he pointed to the little book and told us that Pan Books had approached him before the 100th final in 81, they were doing lots of different things at the time and wanted to publish a book about the FA Cup with it being the centenary. He went on to tell us that it had only taken him 2 weeks to write this facts & figures account of the history of the cup but he had done it on ‘works time’ & therefore had to split the royalties with the FA, but still netted himself about £1,200 which was pretty good back in 1980!

Q. What’s the most distance you’ve covered to watch a cup game, and was it worth it?

A. I can’t remember the year but i was still studying & Palace had been drawn away to Plymouth in the 2nd round, the train journey seemed to last forever but it looked like it was going to be worth the effort when David Swindlehurst scored the opener, however Plymouth scored twice & in the last minute at 2-1 down Palace won a penalty, Terry Venables stepped up to take it but it was saved by Jim Furnell and that made the train ride home seem even longer!

Q. We decided to follow the FA Cup this season by letting the cup itself dictate our path to the final, have you ever done something similar?

A. I’ve never followed the cup itself the same as you are doing but I did decide one year that I would go to a game in every round of all 3 competitions, the cup, trophy & vase. I needed a couple of replays to make it possible when the fixtures clashed but I managed to do it & that included all 3 finals of course.

Q. Other than a final what was the best FA cup game you have been to?

A. This will have to be back when I was very young in my palace days. I had written to the club for tickets & had to include postal orders for the upcoming home game with the mighty Nottingham Forrest in 1965. I remember showing everyone at school the tickets when they arrived like I was the cat with the cream. Palace were massive underdogs on the day with no chance of beating a very in-form Forrest but every player on the team stepped up that day and we won handsomely in the end 3-1, one of those perfect team performances you only see once every blue moon.

Q. On our travels this season we visited Sheffield FC the oldest club in the world founded in 1857, do you agree & have you ever been?

A. Yes we here at Wembley support their 1857 status & I used to have a diary as a schoolboy that stated they were the oldest club and I used to wonder who they played? If they were the oldest then they must have also been the only club at some point, I found out years later that they used to play between themselves, married men v bachelors or names beginning with A –L against M – Z. But even though I’ve been to both Sheffield United & Wednesday, I’ve never actually been to Sheffield FC’s ground.  

The next question we asked ended up being our last, we didn’t intend it to be as it was just a short & straight forward question but the answer had me & the big fella sat there open-mouthed and just in total ore of this man sat before us as he answered.

Q. How did you get a job with the FA?

A. Well it was more luck than anything, I had finished my ‘A’ levels & knew I wanted a job in football, namely journalism within the game. Local newspapers wanted people like me to start at the bottom level covering weddings, dog shows etc. & i didn’t want to do anything like that so I wrote to the FA asking if they had any vacancies? I received a very quick response from the FA secretary, a chap called Dennis Follows. His letter told me there weren’t any vacancies at that time but would I like to come down to the FA for a chat?

So I went down to 22 Lancaster Gate, before the move to No. 16 obviously, & had a very pleasant meeting where I told him of my ambitions to work in football as a journalist & I had written to the FA because they must have more staff than ordinary football clubs. As it turned out we also had something very unusual in common, after finishing my ‘A’ levels I took time out to travel Europe to take in some continental football & after watching Kickers Offenbach play Borussia Dortmund in a German cup game, I had nowhere to stay after the game and ended up sleeping at Frankfurt railway station & Mr. Follows told me that he had also once spent the night at the same railway station a couple of years before when he was over there watching football. 2 weeks after our meeting someone left the International office at the FA to further his education & the job in Sir Alf Ramsey’s office was mine and I’ve been here at the FA ever since.

It was quite daunting at first and one of my duties was to have a cup of tea ready for Sir Alf as he arrived from his home in Ipswich every day & on days when the England team were training I would have to take footballs to the training ground & get them autographed for local hospitals to raffle off and I was a little too shy to ask the superstars of the day. Alan Mullery was a great help with this task as he would stop the training session & get the players to sign the balls for me.

One of the stand-out memories for me during this time was in 1972 when Sir Alf told me to come over to the Hendon Hall hotel in North London where he had the England team gathered. I was to bring a projector & the film of England’s game against West Germany from the 1970 world cup finals. 

I was the projectionist that day with Gordon Banks to my left & Bobby Moore to my right, and I would run the film & stop it where Sir Alf told me to so he could discuss various tactics with the players & point out things he had spotted regarding the German team. A very interesting but nervous afternoon for me.

 

Our time with David had simply flown by and the only thing left to do now was to present him with his own cup! I had a coffee mug printed with our 1 Leg On The Cup.com logo & presented it to him and said “for a guy who loves cup football I would like to present you with your own cup!” I still don’t know if he was pleased or not but he accepted it and we left him to get back to his books.

We still can’t decide on anorak or Jedi but after the best 90 minutes I’ve spent at Wembley without seeing a ball kicked, we would defiantly say ‘Legend!’ we could of talked to him all day if the clock would of let us, every game, ground or goal he has seen is still fresh in his mind & he can recall it almost instantly without the internet or any book. Hopefully he will write his memoirs one day because I would be first in line & if I ever find myself on that TV show, he’s without doubt my ‘phone a friend’