‘For people of my era, there’s no cup like it’ - Gosport Borough coach Graham Rix on ‘feeling blessed’ by his FA Cup career

It is one of the most famous winning goals in FA Cup final history.

By Simon Carter
Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 10:47 am
Gosport Borough coach and former FA Cup winner Graham Rix. Picture: Colin Farmery.
Gosport Borough coach and former FA Cup winner Graham Rix. Picture: Colin Farmery.

Forty two years ago, in the 89th minute, a left-wing cross arched over Manchester United keeper Gary Bailey.

United had just netted twice in four minutes to level at 2-2 against Arsenal in front of a disbelieving capacity crowd of 100,000, almost certainly sending the final into an extra half-hour.

But the late drama wasn’t over yet - within 45 seconds of the equaliser, Gunners striker Alan Sunderland appeared on the end of the cross to poke home the goal that would earn him a place in Wembley folklore.

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Graham Rix pictured during his Arsenal career that included over 400 appearances and three FA Cup finals. Picture: Peter Robinson

I can still picture it now, even though I was only 10 years old. It was the first FA Cup final I remember watching, in an era where the tournament mattered. I mean, REALLY mattered - to every club and every fan.

Those days have sadly gone; for many, money has replaced romance in the list of Premier League clubs’ priorities. But my generation, brought up on famous goals from Sunderland, Ricky Villa, Norman Whiteside, Keith Houchen and Lawrie Sanchez, the FA Cup will always be special.

I’ll be at Privett Park this Saturday for Gosport Borough’s opening FA Cup tie of 2021/22, a first qualifying round tie against Plymouth Parkway.

I won’t be the only person there who can remember Sunderland’s winning goal all those years ago. Gosport coach Graham Rix, the former Pompey manager, can recall it even better. And so he should - he put in the cross!

Graham Rix in action during the 1982 World Cup match between England and France in Bibao, Spain. Photo by Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images.

Rix was fortunate enough to play in three FA Cup finals for Arsenal by the time he was 22. A late sub in the 1-0 loss against Ipswich in 1978, he returned to win the tournament 12 months on. Another year later and a third successive final - the showpiece event of the English football calendar, long before the advent of satellite dishes - ended with a shock loss to West Ham (the last non top-flight club to lift the trophy).

That wasn’t the end of Rix’s love affair with the FA Cup, though; during his time as Chelsea’s assistant manager to first Ruud Gullit and then Gianluca Vialli, he twice won the cup in 1997 and 2000.

‘I’ve had a great relationship with the FA Cup, it’s a special trophy,’ he declared.

‘It’s just magical, whether you play in the final, a semi-final or the first qualifying round.

Gosport celebrate a goal during their 6-3 FA Cup first round loss to Colchester in 2014 - the only time Borough have reached that stage of the competition. Picture: Dave Haines

‘Every player who plays in it will remember the games for the rest of their lives.

‘For people of my era, there’s no cup like it. I know the financial rewards in the Champions League, but the FA Cup is just magical - it’s been going for 150 years.

‘I’m still excited by it - everyone at the club is excited for this weekend’s game.

‘If you can get a win the excitement then builds ahead of the draw being made. That feeling never leaves you.

Gosport supporters at the club's FA Cup first round tie against Colchester in 2014. Picture: Dave Haines

‘This is a massive game for the club (against Parkway). Not just the media coverage but also financially - there’s a lot of money in each round.’

Gosport are just one of many non-league clubs hoping this is their year. It’s always someone’s year - in 2007/08 it was Havant & Waterlooville, managed by current Gosport boss Shaun Gale; last season it was Marine, who play at a level lower than Borough in the non-league pyramid; in 2014/15 it was Gosport themselves, reaching the first round proper for the first - and so far only - time since first entering the tournament in 1970.

‘It can be done,’ said Rix. ‘You need a bit of luck on the day and a bit of luck with the draw.’

Recalling the events of 42 years ago, the former England midfielder – he played in all five games at the 1982 World Cup, part of a 17-cap haul - said: ‘It’s a long time ago now, but it was a very, very famous FA Cup final.

‘It’s usually the first thing Arsenal fans want to talk about when I meet them.

‘A lot tell me they missed the (winning) goal because they were still crying after the equaliser!

‘What made it all the more better for me was that the previous year (against Ipswich) I’d been a regular but was left out of the final.

‘To have played 38 of the 42 league games, and having scored in the semi-final (a 3-0 win against Orient), to be told two days before the final I wasn’t in was heart-breaking.

‘You think you’re only going to get one chance of an FA Cup final and that’s been taken away …

‘It was tough to take, but I suppose it makes you a bit more resilient for the next time you get a kick in the teeth.

‘I did get on for the last 25 minutes and I ended up playing in three cup finals by the time I was 22. I do feel blessed as I know many players don’t get to play in one.’

Rix continued: ‘When we played Ipswich, when we walked out I didn’t have the pressure of playing so I could take in the occasion a bit more. But losing meant there was extra pressure on us the following year.

‘The FA Cup has been good to me.

‘In a way coaching the side (at Chelsea) gave me more pleasure than winning (the FA Cup) when I was playing.

‘When you’re playing you can at least try and do something; when you’re coaching or managing it’s all about making sure the lads are tuned in and are doing their jobs. That’s what Shaun and myself will be trying to do this weekend.’

Rix was close to a fourth final in seven years as a player - he was part of the Arsenal side beaten 2-1 in the semi-final by Manchester United in 1983.

‘We were leading 1-0 as well,’ he recalled. ‘We had a good team then, Tony Woodcock, Kenny Sansom. That wasn’t a good feeling - terrible.

‘It’s probably worse than losing in the final - at least then you’ve had all the build-up and the experience of playing in the final.’

Rix, now 63, only linked up with Gosport in pre-season after the departure of Gale’s former No 2 Stuart Green. He is no stranger to Hampshire non-league football, though, having spent four years as AFC Portchester boss between 2013-17 (twice taking them to the FA Cup second qualifying round - the furthest the Royals have ever been).

‘I’m loving every minute at Gosport,’ he said. ‘They’re a great bunch of lads, they’ve got a great attitude.

‘I’ve known Shaun a long time and he asked me if I could help him out - I was only too willing to do so.’

‘My advice to the players would be - it’s not how you perform, it’s about making sure you go through.

‘Just make sure you win. When we got the final in 79, people don’t remember that we needed three replays (it was four actually) to beat Sheffield Wednesday in the third round.’

Gosport welcome Parkway having started their Southern Premier League South campaign with four wins and a loss.

That’s despite having been without experienced heads Mike Carter, Rory Williams, Matt Paterson and Ryan Woodford.

‘We are missing senior key members of the team, not just the squad,’ said Rix. ‘We have had to play young lads, players out of position, in what is a tough league. They’ve done a great job so far and Shaun and myself are very pleased with them.

‘I just hope we can get a good crowd in (against Parkway) and that they get behind the team.

‘The club have worked hard in building a relationship with the local community, which has been brilliant.

‘We want the team of Gosport to be for the people of Gosport.’