FA Cup semi-finals: Paul Rogers caught with his pants down after Wigan's winner in 1989


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The Independent Football

Paul Rogers will be at today’s FA Cup semi-final hoping that Wigan Athletic can repeat their victory over Millwall in the teams’ previous Wembley meeting, when he scored the only goal of the 1999 Auto Windscreens Shield final.

Rogers, who has a place in FA Cup history as a member of the Sutton United side which beat Coventry City in 1989, recalls a very different Wigan, then in the equivalent of League One, from today’s Premier League outfit. “The ground, Springfield Park, was terrible, with antiquated facilities and 6,000 crowds. Contract-wise, Dave Whelan, the owner, was always a tough negotiator. He owned JJB Sports at the time and we had to sign out the single discount card from the secretary if we wanted 10 percent off. And if 16 of us were travelling to Torquay he’d get the kit man to go to the JJB canteen and get 16 sandwiches for the journey home. Not 17, or 18. He kept a tight rein.”

As a former City commodities broker, Rogers, now Brighton’s head of commercial services, appreciates Whelan’s approach. “They’ve done amazingly well, but even when I first met Dave, there was a 10-year plan to be a Premier League team. And I think he did it in eight. He’s got a good little model and if they stay up again he’s done very well.”

Ditto Roberto Martinez, the manager, who was Rogers’ central midfield partner when he first arrived. “Even at that stage Roberto was a real thinker,” he said. “A fantastic footballer but also didn’t drink, studied football all the time. You could see he had a desire to go on to manage. A nightmare to play with, though. He would run across you to get the ball, he always wanted it going forward, but didn’t really want to run back and tackle anybody – that was my gig. But a great guy, like his assistant, Graham Jones, who was our centre-forward – a proper tough player who came from non-League, really appreciated being in professional football and worked hard to develop his career. I hope they do well at the weekend.”

Rogers remembers the game in 1999 as “awful. They looked more likely to score, but we broke away in the 92nd minute. The ball was headed back into the edge of the box and I chested it down, left-foot half-volley, a little nick off Gerard Lavin, and it went in. Suddenly you realise that you’ve scored a last-minute goal at Wembley to win a trophy – everything you dream of when you’re growing up. George Best presented the trophy, which seems a strange one now. And it was interesting walking back down the steps among all the Millwall fans. We did try to get down quite quickly.”

Millwall fans were very much in the majority, as they will be today. “We had 10,000 against 50,000 from Millwall, but both sets of fans were in blue, which helped because you couldn’t see a natural divide. And it wasn’t really a great game, with not many goalmouth incidents, so that probably helped to keep the noise from Millwall’s fans down.”

And there was one more incident, as Rogers hoisted the trophy for  photographers. “Andy Liddell came up behind me and pulled my shorts down. It was big old trophy and I couldn’t just drop it. And the photo was all over the back pages the next day.”

He would like to see a Wigan scorer make tomorrow’s headlines too. “I hope they get to another major final but also stay in the Premier League  – that’s the big thing.”