Shaw keen to revive bygone glories

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The Independent Football

"I was on the bench and at two or three-nil I was thinking: 'I'd love to get on'. By the time it got to six or seven I wasn't quite so sure."

Thus does Richard Shaw remember the infamous night Crystal Palace lost 9-0 at Anfield. That seven months later Palace, this time including Shaw, should defeat Liverpool in the most memorable of FA Cup semi-finals is what convinces him his current club, Coventry City, can defeat Tottenham in their delayed third-round tie tonight.

"We know it is going to be very difficult," Shaw said. "Glenn Hoddle has done a great job and Tottenham are playing some great stuff. Yet you never know. That Liverpool side was one of the great teams and, when Rushie put them ahead after about 10 minutes, you could see people thinking: 'It's going to be another walloping'. Then little Alan Pardew gets the winner in extra-time. That's what the FA Cup does."

Another shock, with special resonance for tonight's match at Highfield Road, came in the 1987 final. Tottenham Hotspur 2, Coventry City 3. Shaw, then an apprentice at Palace, recalls it as "one of the finals I've watched over and over again." He added: "Coventry were totally the underdogs and when Clive Allen got an early goal everyone thought: 'Here we go. Tottenham have Hoddle, Waddle, Ardiles. It'll be three or four.' But Coventry dug in and made it a great game."

Two of the Coventry team that day, Steve Ogrizovic and Trevor Peake, are still involved at Highfield Road but, said Shaw, do not speak much about it. While fans have been recalling 1987 since the draw was made the players have been trying to concentrate on the league. Relegated from the top flight last season after three decades' escapology Coventry have struggled to mount a sustained First Division promotion campaign.

"We've been inconsistent," Shaw said. "When Roland Nilsson took over [from Gordon Strachan] we went 12 games unbeaten, but since then we've lost a few, then won a few. There's been upheaval, but if we can get on a run like Palace did when I went up with them in '94 the division is wide open."

Being one of the big names is a new experience for Coventry. As well as prompting television to enforce a surfeit of Sunday fixtures – "I hate them. Football should be played on a Saturday" – it has brought different challenges.

"Last year we would go to places like Old Trafford and Anfield and it was: 'Coventry are coming, they'll just try to make life difficult'. Obviously you do as well as you can and try to nick a win, but the pressure was always on the bigger teams. We could enjoy it," Shaw said. "This year, as we've internationals like Magnus Hedman, and players who cost £5m like Lee Hughes, teams give us more respect. I'd rather be in the Premiership, but it is nice winning games."

Adding to Shaw's desire to go up is the knowledge it would enhance his chances of staying at Highfield Road. Like several City players he is in the final year of his contract and, with the club unable to maintain a Premiership wage bill on Nationwide income, there is no new deal on the table. The success at Southampton of Paul Williams, his close friend and former central defensive partner, suggests that Shaw could find Premiership employers if he was available on a free transfer. But he is in no hurry to leave.

"People said: 'Why go to Coventry?' I've been here five years and thoroughly enjoyed it. Why move if you are happy somewhere? Why lug your family half-way across Britain? I want to get back in the Premiership but I'd love to be there with Coventry."

Shaw, now 33, is the sort of solid professional who tends to be overlooked when critics describe football as being peopled by thugs. He talks admiringly of players who handle themselves well on, and off, the pitch. Most commendably Shaw has refused to cash in on his one brush with controversy. It was Shaw whose close marking irritated Eric Cantona into kicking out, first at Shaw, then at the abusive spectator, Matthew Simmonds, that night at Selhurst Park. Shaw has only ever spoken of it once, and then in the most low-key way, to a tabloid reporter. Appalled at the subsequent article he has not spoken to the red-tops since. While happy to speak to The Independent, he would still rather not go on the record about that night.

So we go on a different trip down memory lane. Back to 2 November, 1993. Shaw's third, and last, goal in a 500-game career. "I think someone like Gareth Southgate had a shot. It rebounded off the keeper. I closed my eyes and smacked it. I was in midfield at the time, now if I cross the half-way I get a nosebleed.

"I enjoy defending. It is an art in itself. If we win the press always want to talk to Lee Hughes, or Robbie Keane when he was here. Fair play to them. But if we have kept a clean sheet I am just as delighted as the guy who scored."

Back in 1990 Palace, having beaten Liverpool, met Manchester United in the final. With substitute Ian Wright scoring – "lovely guy, he and Mark Bright deserve everything they get, they worked as hard as any players I've seen" – Palace were 3-2 up with seven minutes of extra-time remaining when Mark Hughes intervened. United won the replay 1-0. "I was just a kid and the senior pros said: 'Enjoy the day, your career goes quick'. Me and John Salako were the kids of the team. We were thinking: 'There'll be a few others'. Eleven years later we're still waiting."

Maybe this year. Maybe he will even score. As Shaw knows, unexpected things happen in the FA Cup.

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