Steve McManaman has dismissed talk of playing down the importance of the FA Cup as "ridiculous" as the competition starts to warm up.
The ex-Real Madrid star is on Tyneside for Gateshead’s FA Cup first-round replay with League Two side Oxford United.
Fans have been snapping up tickets for the clash at the International Stadium tonight (7.45pm) as FA Cup fever has gripped parts of Tyneside.
There’s plenty of excitement from Tynesiders fans and while Newcastle United supporters will also join forces with their neighbours this evening, they will do so knowing the St James’ Park hierarchy have stated that FA Cup glory is not “a priority” for the club.
McManaman, though, is protective over the competition and the former Liverpool star’s views are likely to strike a chord with North East fans.
He told The Journal: “Arsene Wenger once said that finishing fourth was more important than winning the FA Cup.
“I sort of understand what he meant for financial reasons.
“But saying that it is more important than trying to win a cup, have a day out at Wembley for your fans and when you haven’t won one for a while, I think is ridiculous.
“At the start of the season there’s three trophies for most of the teams - there’s the title and the two cups. If there are only three chances you want to try to win one. When I played football it was incredibly important to me to win trophies.
“I didn’t sit back after my career and say that I won two league titles and finished third and fourth one year. I say I won the FA Cup.
“For me it is important.
“One of the first games I ever went to watch was in 1984 when Watford played Everton with my father. It was also the first trophy I ever won in 1992 when Liverpool beat Sunderland.
“It means so much to me as a fan and a player, I will stick by traditions all day long.”
Tradition will be where it’s at for Gateshead tonight as they look to see off Oxford.
The southerners will have an icy breeze in their faces from the River Tyne and McManaman knows it will be a tough test.
He said: “They will have to be on their game. They’ve had one shock from Gateshead – they should have won.
“Oxford will have to be on their mettle tonight. It’ll be cold and that’s what they must conquer.”
McManaman would love to see a shock tonight and knows that the competition still gets pulses racing – so much that other countries are envious of the FA Cup.
The former La Liga star and Champions League winner said: “The Kings Cup in Spain is two-legged and teams play their reserves.
“There are no real shocks because home and away they usually get through. They look at our tradition, it means a lot to them.
“They know we play at Wembley every year and they watch it with interest over there.”
McManaman also paid tribute to North East fans tonight and feels they will bring plenty to the table.
He said: “The North East is a really important part of football culture.
“People will turn out and watch games up there because it means so much.
“That’s why it s nice to see Gateshead at this stage of the competition in front in the TV cameras is fantastic. I hope that there is a large following. I know the game is on TV and it will be cold, but I hope they get a big crowd on the night too.
“Yes, there’s a running track up there but I think the Gateshead fans still provide and great atmosphere. They cheer their team on.”
Steve McManaman is part of the BT Sport presenting team, helping to contribute to analysis of the FA Cup as well as the Barclays Premier League and other football programming.
Steve was speaking ahead of the FA Cup first-round replay between Gateshead and Oxford United, which is being shown exclusively live on BT Sport 1 tonight from 7pm.