'The odds against Saturday's final being an open game are considerable. The notion of coaches counselling flair will not occur in the dressing rooms'

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The Independent Online
A personal favourite among tales about the FA Cup final concerns Jimmy Logie of Arsenal, a schemer in the sadly defunct tradition of artful Scottish inside-forwards.

At the time of departure for the 1950 final against Liverpool, a head count in Arsenal's dressing-room at Wembley revealed that Logie was missing. Striding out for the customary formalities, Arsenal were in full view of the audience before Logie put in an appearance.

The mystery of Logie's disappearance was solved when he called out to a redoubtable team-mate, Alex Forbes, during the presentations. "Alex. It got beat, Alex," he said. Remarkably, you may think, this was in reference to the result of a greyhound race that took place 30 minutes before the kick off. Putting events in what he considered to be the only sensible order of priority, Logie had used a telephone in the Red Cross room at Wembley to check on his investment.

Especially in the context of an outstanding contribution to Arsenal's 2-0 victory, Logie's extraordinary behaviour did nothing for the popular theory that tension explains why most FA Cup finals fall short of expectations.

For more than a century it has been fashionable to describe the FA Cup final as a showpiece. This is only true of it as an occasion, one that attracts the attention even of people who normally think an interest in sport to be evidence of arrested development. As games, FA Cup finals turn out usually to be an extension of the league season, with all its emphasis on hustle and containment. They are remembered more for drama than quality. They break rather than make reputations.

For one of the greatest English footballers, Tom Finney of Preston North End, the 1954 final against West Bromwich proved to be a miserable experience. The 1961 final between Tottenham and Leicester City was one of the most eagerly anticipated, because it provided the north London club with an opportunity of securing the first modern League and Cup Double. Tottenham came through but without living up to their reputation. Wearied by his efforts in the league, their great driving force, Dave Mackay, proved to be a spent force. Danny Blanchflower's cerebral influence was never in evidence. Against a team weakened by a serious injury (substitutes had yet to be introduced) to one of the full-backs, Len Chalmers, the Tottenham heroes were all defenders.

The Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson, was bitterly disappointed. "We didn't do ourselves justice," he said. "I can't explain it, but most of my best players never got going."

A misconception is that players are required to cover more ground at Wembley than they are used to. Annually, people go on about the wide open spaces. In fact there are grounds in the Premiership and lower down with equal, if not greater, dimensions.

A truth is that for most players the FA Cup final passes as a blur of commitment. Given a second chance, they are more likely to enjoy the experience. Charlie George remembers his goal that secured the 1971 Double for Arsenal but not much else. "It all seemed to pass so quickly," he said.

The strategy held in mind by Alex Ferguson and Joe Royle on Saturday will have less to do with entertainment than victory. Before Liverpool met Manchester United at Wembley in 1977 their manager, Bob Paisley, complained bitterly about the Football Association's refusal to defer a replay until after his team's appearance in the European Cup final. "It means changing our tactics, going all out to win on Saturday," he said. Playing out of a character, taking more chances than they would with the option of a replay, Liverpool lost 2-1.

With all this in mind, the odds against Saturday's final being an open game are considerable. The notion of coaches counselling flair will not occur in the dressing-rooms. They will set out their requirements with due gravity. Before Wolves went out play Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 final, their manager, Stan Cullis, issued the following instructions to his left-winger, Des Horne, who found it difficult to absorb expositions of theory. Thinking of the advertisement that then stood above the Wembley scoreboard, he said: "When Peter Broadbent gets the ball I want you to head for the 'R' in 'Radio Times'."

Logie would have loved it.