Bob Murray is a football romantic. What pleases Sunderland’s former chairman most about Sunday’s League Cup final is the thought of seeing his side wearing red-and-white stripes at Wembley, rather than some of the horrific outfits they donned there in the 1990s.
So it is no surprise he is as uncomfortable with the idea, floated by manager Gustavo Poyet and many others, of scrapping FA Cup replays as he is with the lukewarm attitude too many teams show the cup competitions.
“What I’m really pleased about is they’re playing in red-and-white stripes,” is Murray’s opening gambit when asked about this weekend’s game against Manchester City. “Against Swindon, Liverpool and Charlton I lost the toss every time and they all played in red. We all love our black-and-white and red-and-white stripes in this part of the world.”
Another thing that pleases Murray is that Sunderland have ignored the looming threat of Premier League relegation, rather than using it as an excuse to throw the towel in on the cups.
The Black Cats could even reach Wembley three times this season if they can overcome Hull City in the FA Cup quarter-finals and triumph in the last four. “Gus Poyet has achieved it against all the odds,” Murray says, admiringly. “I must admit, these players deserve the credit, because they’ve achieved it in a time of adversity.
“I couldn’t get a ticket in 1973 (when Second Division Sunderland famously beat Leeds United in one of the great FA Cup final shocks), although I was at a couple of the games along the way. What an achievement it was to beat Manchester City, Arsenal and Leeds United.
“This time it’s been the same – they’ve beaten Chelsea and Manchester United, over two games.
“What’s pleased me the most is that both those Sunderland teams never played a weakened team. There needs to be some clear thinking about the cups. People are talking about scrapping replays and things like that but the most disappointing thing is the games are played in front of empty stadiums.
“To have less than 17,000 at home to Southampton in the fifth round was really disappointing to see.
“When I started the biggest day of the season was FA Cup third-round day and the crowds went up by 50%. I remember Spurs and the famous Man United game – they weren’t quarter-finals, they were just ordinary replays.”