The FA Cup: Grand old competition still has the power to transform lives

If you pitched the FA Cup to Dragons' Den, they'd want 'in'. Tim Rich talks to three men whose lives were touched by the old trophy

Graham Westley, who found fame with Farnborough and Stevenage

I had taken Farnborough to an FA Cup tie against Arsenal and I found myself vilified for it. People think I agreed to switch the tie to Highbury to make money.

In actual fact, there was little difference in how much we would make playing home or away. If it was at home, it would be televised, if it was at Highbury, we would get a lot more in gate receipts.

Nobody at the club knew what the exact figures would be. What everyone knew was our ground wasn't stable. It had practically fallen down when Torquay had come there in 1991. Arsenal were putting pressure on us, too. They were asking for guarantees if they came and pointing out they had players worth millions. We had a meeting to discuss playing the tie at home and we all decided it was not practicable. I was the one who had to carry that decision out and, yes, I was vilified.

We prepared properly (even to the extent of going to La Manga to train), I didn't just want to be part of an event, I wanted to win that event. I certainly thought we'd score. I'd worked out a route to goal and we got one [against Arsenal's five], which wasn't bad for a non-league side that had been reduced to 10 men pretty early on.

What do I remember about it? The horrible, bitter taste that we hadn't got a result, that we'd been beaten. I wasn't listening to what Arsène Wenger said to me afterwards. I am sure he said, "Well done", but all that mattered was that we'd lost.

At Stevenage, before we faced Newcastle, I said we would win and I meant it because Stevenage were a good side and I have never known fear to help you when it comes to playing football. We decided we would take the game to them and we relished it.

There were one or two things that rankled with Stevenage. The year before, we had won the Conference but hadn't been allowed up into the Football League because the ground was not deemed good enough. And in 1998 Newcastle had drawn Stevenage in the Cup, tried to have the game shifted to St James' Park on safety grounds, and scored a hotly disputed goal. There were some scores to settle and it was nice to be the manager who settled them.

Did the FA Cup change me? I don't think it does your reputation any harm when you knock out a Premier League side.

More than that, I was part of it. As a kid, FA Cup final day was the one opportunity to watch 90 minutes of football. You got to see the teams on the bus, at the hotel, in the dressing room. I got inside football through the FA Cup and my first memory is the 1974 final – Newcastle being ripped apart by Bill Shankly's Liverpool.

Paul Rogers, who went from non-league to the big time

It completely changed my life. We were at the centre of the football world for weeks – for the Coventry game and the fourth-round tie against Norwich that followed. I was playing for England at semi-pro level and was pretty well known in non-league circles, but nothing more than that.

In 1989 I was working in the City of London as a commodity broker from 7.30 in the morning to 8.30 in the evening three days a week and then I did the early shifts, finishing at 4.30 to jump on the train to Sutton to train, play or travel to matches at Gateshead or Stafford Rangers. There was no free time, apart from the 38 minutes you spent asleep in the carriage.

Coventry were flying. They had won the Cup in 1987, and they were third in the old First Division and had just thrashed Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 when they came to us.

But Sutton had a very settled side who had been together a long time and who were at the top of their level in non-league football. Barrie Williams, who smoked a pipe in the dugout, was a very different, studious manager who quoted Kipling. He was a methodical man with an upbringing as a teacher who very rarely lost his temper.

That said, however confident you are as a non-league team, there is always that fear of being humiliated which I think spurred us on. There are elements of the game I can remember even now but at the post-match party we had put so much effort into it that by 9.30 we were physically and mentally exhausted.

I was in the office on a Tuesday afternoon and got a call from someone who said he was Dave Bassett, the manager of Sheffield United. He wanted me to discuss a contract. I took his number and said I'd phone him back as it was so obviously a wind-up.

The next day, I was meeting the chairman, Derek Dooley, and preparing to become a top-flight footballer. I didn't have an agent and negotiated my own contract. I watched them playing at Southampton on the Saturday and turned out for their reserves against Liverpool on the Monday night at Bramall Lane.

From working every hour of every day I was now working two hours a day. In every conceivable way it was a life-changing experience. Within a month, I was in the first team.

The FA Cup will always be part of my life and working for Brighton as we prepare to play Newcastle it will always be a central part of any team outside the top eight in the Premier League.

It provides money, glamour and exposure and so I know exactly how the lads from Hastings are feeling, preparing for their day at Middlesbrough.

Who knows how their lives might change?

Theo Paphitis, former Millwall chairman

Theo Paphitis was chairman of Millwall in 2004 when the second-tier club reached the Cup final. Dennis Wise's side lost 3-0 to Manchester United in Cardiff. He is now a shareholder in Isthmian League side, Walton and Hersham, and star of Dragons' Den

Often we look at football through rose-coloured glasses but Millwall represented some of the best years of my life, creating memories that are up there with marrying Mrs P and the birth of my kids.

When I came to Britain, I lived not far from Old Trafford and for me there was no other club than Manchester United, until I discovered south London when I met Mrs P. Millwall ended up playing United in the final, but the pivotal game was the semi-final against Sunderland at Old Trafford. The only way that script could have been improved was if we had beaten United in injury time in the final.

I originally planned to step down before the Cup run but we had just lost our sponsor. It was my company, Rymans, who eventually put their name on the shirts.

I'd always told the directors at Rymans that Millwall was my indulgence and I would never confuse it with business. Then I had to pitch up and say: "Have I got a deal for you – sponsoring Millwall and we need the shirts printed in 20 hours." They looked at me as if they were going to section me.

I still go to football matches with Dennis Wise and we always talk about those days – especially the semi-final. Everyone at Sunderland thought they were going to win and the abiding image is Tim Cahill scoring the winner and running round the stadium topless.

Compared to the semi, my memories of the final are just a haze because we were just so brilliantly pleased to get there. We had kids on the bench and we didn't think for one minute we would beat Manchester United. We never thought of ourselves as losers.

It showed another side of Millwall. I used to tell fans who complained that the coverage of the club wasn't fair, that life isn't fair and that we would just have to work 10 times harder.

Dennis came over recently and gave a box and inside was his FA Cup medal. He wanted to give it to me and I told him not to be so silly, and then he said: "But I've got others".

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