Capital One Cup Final Countdown: Don't just go along for the ride, warns Tony Norman

Just getting to Wembley won’t mean a lot if Sunderland lose. That is Tony Norman's warning, writes Mark Douglas

Former Sunderland keeper Tony Norman in action for the Black Cats against QPR
Former Sunderland keeper Tony Norman in action for the Black Cats against QPR

For any Sunderland player along for the ride on Sunday, one of their class of 1992 has a stark message.

While the build-up to Wembley might make you feel like a superstar on your own street, defeat makes the whole experience into one you’d rather forget. Take it from Tony Norman, who soaked up every moment of his Wembley experience – only to want to forget all about it as soon as the whistle went.

That is a particularly cruel denouement for Norman, now Darlington’s goalkeeper coach, but formally better known in the North East as the man who did more than anyone to help Sunderland into the 1992 FA Cup Final, the last time the Black Cats featured in a major cup final.

Through the rounds he was the heroic constant. Man of the match against West Ham and Chelsea, he had done more than most to earn himself the chance to make the most of a day he had dreamed about. Such is the bitter taste of defeat that one of Norman’s abiding memories is now the black-tie function that the players were forced to attend afterwards. To him, it was more like the wake for a dream.

He said: “You are there to do your job and you don’t think about anything else. It’s an awful cliché I know but I was like that, it was a game, the game came and went and we lost.

“People might say ‘Yeah but it was the FA Cup Final’. It was another game and we lost it. I didn’t go to any of the lounges or cars afterwards, just saw my mum and dad outside and got on the bus to go home.

“I couldn’t speak to anybody until about 11 o’clock that night. We had a function after the game we had to attend and I couldn’t see the point, because we’d lost. There were people there dressed up, having a nice meal and a drink and almost celebrating as if we’d won and I just wanted to go home.

“We didn’t just go there to enjoy it and have a nice day out. You’re conscious of the media in the build-up and them being interested in what we were doing, but that aside there was a game.

“And that is one thing the lads this time will be looking to focus on. There is a game there to be won. And of course it is a massive day out for the supporters, a huge occasion for the city and the club, but what will make it is if they go there and get a result.

“You can go to as many banquets and parties as you like then. I would have gatecrashed anything if we’d won. But we didn’t.”

For all that, Norman would not swap the pre-game feeling for anything. For anyone who doubts the power of the Cup competitions to capture the imagination and craft memories, they should listen to the goalkeeper talk about how he approached it.

He said: “It was the first time in my life I had never actually sat down at home and watched the FA Cup Final on the telly. It was tradition back then, when I grew up. My dad, my brothers would sit in front of the TV, from whatever time the coverage started, usually just before lunchtime, and we’d spend the whole day there, wouldn’t move. And when I had kids, same thing, sat in front of the TV on Cup Final day, mainly because it was such a great occasion, but it was just about the only live match you saw on television in those days.

“So the first time I was not able to sit and watch it with my family was because I was actually in it and you just couldn’t really equate with it.

“One of my things I wanted to do was to listen to Abide With Me because over the years, that hymn is everything to do with the FA Cup Final and it was about the total respect all supporters showed to each other, and to the game, so in my head there was no way I was going to miss it.

“So about 15 minutes before the game, I walked on my own, and went 20 yards up the tunnel, and just stood on the edge to see the crowd, hear them sing Abide With Me, have a little hum and sing to myself, and then went back into the dressing room.

“I always did that for games at Roker Park anyway and Brian (Atkinson) was exactly the same. About 15 minutes before kick-off I’d leave everybody and just go out the dressing room to stand on my own in the corridor with a ball, thinking about my job for the day, and more often than not Brian would be out there too. There would be hardly any conversation, just a nod, and we’d be thinking about what we had to do, notinterested in anyone else, or thehollering or shouting going on, just totally engulfed in our responsibilities so it wasn’t unusual to be out of the dressing room before kick-off, even if it was Wembley. That was my thing.”

Crosby will be watching again on Sunday, desperate for Sunderland to pull off a shock win – both for his own sake and his son.

He said: “My lad was this-high in ’92 and now he is 30-something and he is exactly the same now about wanting to go. He still goes to watch and goes along with his mates.”

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David Whetstone
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Graeme Whitfield
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Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
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