Arsenal v Man U: Ultimate end game

The glory and despair of 1979's Fa Cup final remain a defining moment for Liam Brady and Joe Jordan
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Wembley, May 1979: the last Cup final before Saturday's between Arsenal and Manchester United, but just another landmark in the fine careers of Liam Brady and Joe Jordan. Both soon enough would be in the colours of great Italian teams, Brady for Juventus, Jordan for Milan.

Wembley, May 1979: the last Cup final before Saturday's between Arsenal and Manchester United, but just another landmark in the fine careers of Liam Brady and Joe Jordan. Both soon enough would be in the colours of great Italian teams, Brady for Juventus, Jordan for Milan.

Brady had long been the resident artist at Highbury; Jordan, beloved of both Don Revie and Dave Sexton for his courage and his professionalism, had four years earlier played in a European Cup final and had provoked United into paying the then record British transfer fee of £350,000. Jordan had also played in two World Cups for Scotland, had scored in both, and three years later in Spain would do it again under Jock Stein to create a record.

So even in those days, when the Cup final was still the climactic moment of the season, for Brady and Jordan it was, surely, a passing show, something that would be gathered, importantly no doubt but not in any way life-changingly, into the big sweep of their football experience? No. It was a day of days, a pivotal point that would colour the rest of their lives, and anyone who might doubt this should have spoken to them this week.

Both men will be in the Millennium Stadium to see the re-enactment of the game won by Arsenal in a flurry of three goals in the last five minutes - a burst of compressed action unlikely ever to be reproduced. Brady, as head of the Arsenal academy which believes that next season young Cesc Fabregas could be a serious runner for footballer of the year, will be with the Highbury hierarchy. Jordan, after his draining but successful season coaching a Portsmouth team which in the end achieved Premiership safety with something to spare, will be a somewhat reluctant member of a BBC crew.

Reluctant? "No doubt it will rekindle the worst memories of my football career," said Jordan this week after agreeing to another stint in the Premiership survival zone. "I lost a European Cup final with Leeds, and that was devastating to see a great team miss out on a prize they deserved for everything they had done over the years. There was a terrible bitterness in Paris because we felt we had been cheated by the referee... We looked into the eyes of Bayern Munich and that told us they knew it too. But it was different after losing to Arsenal. There was nobody to blame but ourselves.

"We all wanted to do it so much for our manager Dave Sexton - he was a great coach, a great manager and a great man - and you don't get that combination so often - and it was hard, if not impossible, to look into his eye afterwards. We had been beaten once, then come alive and we had the game. Arsenal, after controlling affairs, were suddenly beaten. They just needed a little push and it was ours. But we did the most unforgivable thing professionals can do. We took our eyes off the ball for a few seconds, we thought about what we had done, not what we had to do.

"The consequence is that 26 years on I have still not seen a single frame of film from that game. I couldn't do it. It would be like watching an old nightmare come back to life, my worst memory in football. It would be be just too painful."

Brady, who as a more experienced Italian hand drove to Milan to advise and reassure his former foe after an initially difficult collision with an unsympathetic, xenophobic coach at San Siro, agrees with the Jordan analysis.

"We had the game and then we lost it, and if we had not conjured that goal in the last minute, I believe that United would probably have won in extra time. I just don't think we had too much left, and they had come from the dead. The winning goal was remarkable. I took it forward, then released it to Graham Rix. Normally, you would have expected the United keeper Gary Bailey to have got the ball, but Alan Sunderland was in like a flash.

"It means that the day for me has precisely the opposite meaning to the one it has for Joe. It is sometimes said on Cup final night the winners feel flat, that they have left all the emotions back at Wembley. Not for me. Remember, Arsenal had lost the previous year to Ispwich, so we knew the pain of losing. I'd carried an injury in that game and what was supposed to be the biggest day of my career was a disaster.

"So of course we savoured the win over United - the value was not only doubled, it was maybe tripled by the fact that at one point we believed in our hearts that we had lost two straight Cup finals. Imagine having to live with that ... winning 2-0 the year after losing the final, then throwing it away."

Brady believes that Saturday's game could be one of the greatest finals of all time, something to rival that of Sir Stanley Matthews' sustained dribble into the fables of football. "Normally these teams have just disputed the Premiership; and all the tremendous talent on both sides is now geared to winning something, and because of this the Cup has again an importance it has probably lacked for many years. Indeed, in one sense we are going back to the kind of day when Joe and I fought it out."

The details of that day are emblazoned in Jordan's psyche, and in the unlikely event of his ever forgetting, they are enshrined solemnly in his recent autobiography, Behind the Dream.

"The most appalling thing was that we lost it twice... Goals from John Talbot and Frank Stapleton put Arsenal into comfortable control, and their edge was developed by the fine play of Liam Brady. The Irishman was on top of his game, cool and evasive. His extremely refined left foot had rarely been put to more effective use. Then, somehow, we were back in the game. It was like a sudden storm on a humid day that had made you lifeless.

"I won the ball wide and sent it into the middle where Gordon McQueen scuffed it past Pat Jennings. There had been been prettier goals but the one Sammy McIlroy scored a few minutes later was something we would have nominated for an art gallery. He did a little shimmy, broke past the cover and sent the ball into the corner of the net. We had picked up our beds and were walking. Arsenal looked absolutely gutted, but then we made the ultimate mistake.

"We lost concentration. They couldn't believe their luck. They leapt back at us. Alan Sunderland found a bit of space for himself and put the ball past Bailey. We had committed a cardinal sin, and for me certainly it was something to regret for the rest of my life."

It was not the first time Jordan and McQueen, his team-mate and best friend, had known the crushing impact of Cup final defeat. They were the young hopes of a Don Revie facing the task of rebuilding his great Leeds team before England plucked him away as the successor to Sir Alf Ramsey, and they had a close-up view of the shocking defeat by Second Division Southampton in the 1973 final.

"After the Arsenal final," Jordan recalls, "Gordon and I agreed that a lot of old pain had come out. We remembered Revie with tears in his eyes saying how his team had to come back and say something about themselves ... of course they did. They ran away with the league title the following season, building the run that Arsenal surpassed only the season before last."

Sadly, there was no such redemption for United. Sexton soon lost his job - "that day at Wembley was the closest we came to winning anything for him," Jordon remembers - and on the day the news broke Sexton, who lived near the player in the opulent Cheshire village of Prestbury, made a phone call. "He told me," Jordan says, "that he had bought some prints by his friend the fine artist Harold Riley and he wanted to give them to the players. He was going to do it after training, but now he wanted me to take them in."

The picture, which still hangs on the wall of Jordan's house in a leafy corner of Bristol, is of a scene from a match between United and Tottenham at Old Trafford.

Jordan wrote in his book: "When I look at the picture I think of a good, generous football man - and I deplore, all over again, that we didn't deliver to him and ourselves the FA on that day at Wembley when we so unforgivably lost our heads."

With the reflection comes an old stab of pain. It could be worse, however. The picture could show Liam Brady ghosting down the line.

Where the Wembley class of '79 are now

ARSENAL

* PAT JENNINGS

60, an after-dinner speaker on the hospitality circuit in north London.

* PAT RICE

56, appointed youth team coach in 1984, worked his way up to become Arsène Wenger's assistant.

* SAMMY NELSON

56, an insurance salesman living in Brighton.

* DAVID O'LEARY

47, left Highbury for Leeds United, whom he subsequently managed, and is now manager at Aston Villa.

* WILLIE YOUNG

(pictured) 53, owns the Bramcote Manor pub in Nottingham.

* BRIAN

TALBOT

51, manager at Oldham Athletic until February 2005.

* LIAM BRADY

49, after spending the rest of his playing career in Italy, he later became Arsenal's Youth Development and Academy Director.

* DAVID PRICE

49, taxi driver in Croydon.

* GRAHAM RIX

47, coached Chelsea, managed Portsmouth and was Oxford manager until March.

* FRANK STAPLETON

48, managed Bradford City, now a pundit on Sky.

* ALAN SUNDERLAND

51, now settled and living in Malta.

MANCHESTER UNITED

* GARY BAILEY

47, sports presenter and supporters' club representative in his native South Africa.

* JIMMY NICHOLL

49, assistant manager at Aberdeen.

* ARTHUR ALBISTON

Now 48, MUTV analyst, Old Trafford tour organiser, GMR radio pundit and charity fund-raiser (including cycling in the jungles of Borneo).

* SAMMY MCILROY

51, Stockport County manager until November 2004.

* GORDON McQUEEN

Now 53, Sky pundit.

* MARTIN BUCHAN (C)

56, worked for Puma and is a player adviser at the PFA.

* STEVE COPPELL

(pictured) 50, managed Manchester City, Brentford and Brighton, and now Reading.

* JIMMY GREENHOFF

59, after insurance job, works in Stoke wallpaper factory.

* JOE JORDAN

54, assistant manager at Portsmouth .

* LOU MACARI

56, owns a fish-and-chip shop near Old Trafford and is a Sky pundit.

* MICKEY THOMAS

51, his free-kick for Wrexham famously knocked Arsenal out of the Cup in 1992. Appears on Sky Sports and co-presents on Century Radio.

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