Truth is, of course, that one of football's great occasions can have an insidious effect on even the most experienced players

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Last week, in conversation with a sportswriter whose friendship we share, and before Manchester United secured another League championship, Alex Ferguson stated that the FA Cup final against Liverpool today has all the makings of a memorable encounter.

In the flair and imagination available to both teams, personality and pride, Ferguson sees the prospect of a "brilliant game".

The other night we were talking - some grizzled veterans of my trade - about Ferguson's remarks and trying to recall a Cup final that fulfilled all expectations.

Difficult. Dramas certainly. And the romance of heroic contributions. Tales that have passed into the lore of the game. But great matches? Now you are struggling.

Truth is of, course, that one of football's great occasions can have an insidious effect on even the most experienced players. "Go out and enjoy yourselves," sounds great in the dressing room but it does not always work when the team gets out there.

We had, in 1961, a prime example of what you have probably guessed I am going on about. Having raised the standard of English football immeasurably, Tottenham Hotspur won the Championship with three games to spare and were expected to outclass Leicester City in the final. They became the first club this century to complete the double but not to their manager's satisfaction. "That wasn't Tottenham out there," I recall Bill Nicholson saying. "We didn't do ourselves justice."

Wearied by his efforts in the League, the great Dave Mackay proved to be a spent force. Danny Blanchflower could find no inspiration. Even with Leicester's right- back, Len Chalmers, a limping passenger after just 19 minutes, Tottenham's heroes could be found in defence.

Tottenham also took part in one of the more thrilling modern finals, one that embarrassed popular prophecy. Few imagined, in 1987, that Coventry City had the beating of a team that included such virtuosos as Glenn Hoddle, Osvaldo Ardiles and Chris Waddle, but they ran out worthy 3-2 winners after extra time much to the bounding delight of their exuberant manager, John Sillett.

Leicester were Manchester United's opponents in the 1963 final when Denis Law, back from a brief spell in Italy with Torino, gave proof that he was one of the game's most thrillingly effective attackers.

In contrast to Saturday's situation, United had finished their League programme in 19th place, only just avoiding relegation. Casting serious doubts on their chances in the final, Frank McGhee, then with the Daily Mirror, dubbed them: "The team you can't trust." Brilliant one week, exasperatingly poor the next. "Nobody knew what to expect from us," Bobby Charlton recalled.

Wembley brought the best out of them. Law was outstanding - "out of this world," the Brazil manager, Joao Saldanha, would later say of him - his goal and two from David Herd securing a 3-1 vitory.

For unquenchable spirit, sheer heroism in the case of their goalkeeper, Jim Montogomery, few finals have raised more excitement than Sunderland's remarkable 1-0 victory in 1973 when their opponents, Leeds United were one of the most powerful clubs in Europe.

For some players, fame achieved in the Cup final proved ephemeral. Johnny Nicholls was a member of the West Bromwich Albion team that defeated Preston in the 1954 final, played twice for England that year, and then disappeared quickly from the game. Mostly forgotten Wembley heroes include Mike Trebilcock, who scored two of Everton's three goals when they overcame Sheffield Wednesday in 1966, and the late Bobby Stokes, whose goal for Southampton in 1976 brought about the suprising defeat of Manchester United.

Of all the tales about Cup finals, none appeals to me more than one involving a marvellously creative little Scottish international, Jimmy Logie, who was Arsenal's mainspring when they reached the 1950 final against Liverpool.

When it came time for Arsenal to take the field, Logie could not be found, failing to show up until they were out of the dressing room tunnel. Logie had sneaked off to get the result of a dog race. "It got beat," Logie called to his team-mate, Alex Forbes, while the teams were being presented. Now there's Cup final coolness for you. Played splendidly too.

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