James suited to dressing down for 'Spice Boys' reunion party

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The Independent Football

"Had we won the Cup," mused David James, "we would have been the best dressed team to win the Cup."

However, Liverpool did not win the FA Cup in 1996, they lost 1-0 to Manchester United. The white Wembley suits worn by the Liverpool players subsequently became the defining image of the "Spice Boys", a cluster of Liverpool players in Roy Evans' side who were deemed to have been more style than substance.

Today there is a mini-reunion of the Spices. While James keeps goal for Portsmouth, Robbie Fowler will wait on the Cardiff bench for his chance to come on and score against his old team-mate. And in the stands Jamie Redknapp will be hoping his father, the Pompey manager Harry, oversees an FA Cup triumph. Who knows, maybe Steve McManaman, Stan Collymore and Jason McAteer will also be there, wearing anything but white?

"It was not white, it was cream, maybe even almond," corrected James this week, unable to help himself being irked by the error all these years later. He added: "If there is an irritation, it is that the suit was more memorable than the final."

"It was David James's idea," said Fowler this week. "At the time, he was an Armani model. If we had won, nobody would have mentioned it. But we lost and it has become infamous. People remind me about them all the time."

Both players have still got their suits. "I might wear it for the Christmas fancy-dress party," said Fowler. "It is in the wardrobe," said James of his. "It has got grass stains on it from when I wore it for a Travelling Bunburys charity cricket match a couple of years afterwards."

As well as the Spice Boy tag the goalkeeper was also labelled "Calamity James" following a series of high-profile errors, in part brought on by his pro-active goalkeeping style.

The nicknames did James no favours. Liverpool sold him to Aston Villa in 1999, then, after waiting years to replace David Seaman in the England goal, he was dropped within 12 months.

Since joining Portsmouth at the start of last season he has, though, developed a more serious image, creating the David James Foundation in Malawi, and campaigning at home on a range of issues. With the help of a psychologist, he appears to have come to terms with an obsessive personality. It is unlikely to be a co-incidence that he has regained his England place.

"This is probably the happiest I have been in my career," he said. Victory today would cap it, and enable James, also an FA Cup final loser with Aston Villa in 2000, to avoid an unwelcome record. Only one player, to date, has lost finals with three different clubs: John Barnes who suffered defeats with Watford (1984), Liverpool (1988 and with James in 1996) and Newcastle United (1998). Unlike James, Barnes also picked up a winner's medal, with Liverpool in 1989.

Will it be third time lucky for James? "I don't believe in luck," he replied. "The reality is in the previous two FA Cup finals we didn't play well enough and deserved to lose."

When they inspect the pitch today, Portsmouth will be wearing blue suits, chosen by Redknapp. "If the players think the style is a bit old-fashioned it doesn't bother me," said the manager. Jeff Banks has designed them. "Has he," said James with an air of studied indifference. "I really don't care."