Montgomery has romance in safe keeping

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Even three decades later, Jim Montgomery's double denial of Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup final remains a metaphor for those who relish sporting certainty being turned on its head. Sunderland had no right to live with Leeds, then in their pomp, but that Wembley triumph was heaven-sent and local hero Montgomery their guardian angel. The goalkeeper may have been expected to thwart Trevor Cherry's initial point-blank header. He was absolutely not entitled to react and turn Peter Lorimer's follow-up from five yards on to the bar and to safety.

It was an act which guaranteed the Wearsiders a 1-0 triumph in days when the trophy was coveted by all; an era long before non-League clubs happily sacrificed home venue, as Farnborough did last year - when drawn against Arsenal - purely for a pecuniary advantage rather than enticing the mighty predators into their own lair, with the outside opportunity of glory that scenario promised, and well before Premiership managers began regarding the competition with disdain.

We could never have imagined then that a top-division manager would witness his team eliminated in a third- round replay and then pronounce, as Bolton's Sam Allardyce did last week after fielding an under-strength team at home to Tranmere: "It may seem like an odd thing to say, but I'm glad we're out. I've said all along that the FA Cup takes third place among our priorities, behind the Premiership and the Carling Cup." Regrettably, he is not the only manager who harbours an attitude that could be construed as bringing the game into disrepute, nor will he be the last.

Of course, the FA themselvescontributed to the waning of their Cup's appeal when they consented to Manchester United going absent with leave for the Club World Championship. Yet many of us who have journeyed to some extreme locations over the years to witness the exhilaration generated on "FA Cup day" will continue to denounce any attempts by those who regard it as an unwanted distraction to denigrate the competition.

For we strident advocates of the Cup, it is entirely appropriate that Montgomery, now 60, but whose name is so inextricably linked to the famous old trophy, should have found himself the albeit rather reluctant Scarborough talisman when the clubhe serves as goalkeeping coach play host to Chelsea. We should be thankful that the competition has been seized from the pragmatists and handed back to the romantics on a day which unarguably represents the greatest imbalance of fortunes within a single tie: Scarborough, of the Nationwide Conference, costing £2,000 to assemble (the fee to acquire Mark Quayle, the Liverpudlian whose winner settled Wednesday's replay with Southend), against Chelsea's £170m.

The Sea Dogs did not even contemplate switching the venue, even though that would have produced an income considerably in excess of the £500,000 their banker chairman, Malcolm Reynolds, has estimated will be forthcoming from TV fees and gate receipts. "We knew beforehand that it would be live on Sky [Saturday, 12.30 kick-off], so there's a guaranteed level of money," he says. "It's such an amount that to try and seek even more is just pure greed.

"The level of money we will still receive will enable us to give the town a day to remember for years to come. We have discussed with Chelsea the ticket prices and it will be £25 seating, £20 standing, and £10 concessions, which I think is very fair. We've tried to pitch it right so that we're not ripping anyone off. I think that's important. I didn't want anybody saying, 'Eh, he's stealing money from us'."

The proceeds will be "injected into the relocation pot" - Scarborough are planning to move to a new stadium and sell the existing site for housing development - and, according to Reynolds, the windfall "ensures our future for years to come. It gives us the the financial platform and stability to achieve the real ambition, which is to get back into the League."

For the moment, though, every waking moment of every player and everyone else connected with the team managed by Russell Slade is consumed with the arrival of Roman Abramovich's side. Back in 1989, Scarborough defeated Bobby Campbell's Chelsea over two legs of the League Cup, and that manager paid the ultimate price.

No one, certainly not the hosts, is predicting a repeat - of either eventuality. Indeed, it is more of a question of maintaining pride. Especially for the goalkeeper. But just how do you prepare for a quartet of the most deadly finishers in the game? Scarborough's custodian, Leigh Walker, probably does not need any reminding that three of Chelsea's four goals which accounted for Watford on Wednesday were the result of sublime execution: from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Adrian Mutu and Eidur Gudjohnsen.

"Obviously, certain things like positional sense - when to come, when to stay, when to catch, when to punch - come naturally to a goalkeeper," says Montgomery. "But the difference between the Conference and the Premiership is that they hit the ball from all angles. Chelsea's forwards strike the ball so powerfully, from anywhere, and with so little backlift, it's unbelievable, particularly Hasselbaink. In the Conference, you can tell when they're preparing to have a shot. I've told Leigh he's got to be on his toes no matter where the ball is."

Montgomery, who was youth-team coach at Sunderland until Peter Reid's appointment and was assistant manager at Darlington under Gary Bennett's stewardship, remains as self-effacing about his Wembley spectacular now as he was more than 30 years ago. He certainly does not want it to overshadow the occasion, and will probably watch the game on television at home.

"I could sit on the bench, but it would mean me taking someone else's place away, which is a bit unfair really," he says. "Anyway, I haven't been to any of the FA Cup games so far - so I don't want to start going now. I don't want to be the cause of bad luck. It's Scarborough's day, not mine; this day will never come around again - for most of the lads, anyway. They're not expected to win. So they can relax and express themselves. They've got to put themselves about, compete, close people down, make it difficult for Chelsea."

Just as Sunderland did to Leeds all those years ago. It is remarkable that one specific moment in sporting history should continue to inspire wonderment. "Every time the Cup comes around I get asked about '73, but I still enjoy talking about it," Montgomery says. "It won't go away. It's always to the fore, especially in the North-east, because Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough have won nothing since. Until one of them wins something major, then we will still be remembered as the last team to win anything." How often does he watch that miraculous double save? "It's always nice to see it, and, sure, I've dined out on that day many times. What is really brilliant, for me, is when Bob Stokoe runs across the pitch at the end of the game. Watching that is special; it brings it all back to me."

For Scarborough's players Saturday will be special, too; for Chelsea it is a potentially perilous adventure which Claudio Ranieri will ensure his monied men regard with respect. Bobby Campbell can attest to the result when that regard is not forthcoming.

Ranieri may have responded to reports that Sven Goran Eriksson would consider any approach from Abramovich by humorously suggesting that a job swap may be appropriate, and he could become England coach. Somehow, though, you can't see the Italian seriously putting such a proposal to the test by condoning his men taking a stroll at Scarborough.