May 18, 1991 is a date never to be forgotten in our history.
Having beaten Arsenal just over a month earlier in the first-ever FA Cup semi-final to be played at Wembley, Terry Venables and his team knew they had to deliver against Nottingham Forest.
But it hardly went to plan…
Paul Gascoigne was famously stretchered off, Forest went 1-0 up, we had a goal disallowed and missed a penalty – all in the first half!
Not to be detered, the players hit back to turn the final around.
Already approaching 10 years at the club at the time, there was no prouder man than Gary as he made the walk up to the Royal Box that day.
Here are his memories, 25 years on…
Mabbsy on – FA Cup Final day
“I grew up in a football family and FA Cup Final day was a special day. We used to start in the morning with ‘It’s A Cup Final Knockout’ on TV and then it would be about how the teams got to the final and the whole build-up to game. We’d sit there until the captain lifted the FA Cup. After that myself, my father and brother would go out to the local park to play football. So to then play in an FA Cup Final as captain was a special occasion.”
Mabbsy on – Cloughie
“It was a strange day. We were going in as favourites but just about everyone apart from Spurs fans wanted Forest to win purely because (manager) Brian Clough was loved and respected by a lot of people and he’d never won the FA Cup at Wembley. He was coming to the end of his time as Forest manager and a lot of people were supporting Forest that day.”
Mabbsy on – Gazza
“Wembley had a band on the pitch and Paul would chip a ball into the middle of the band. You’d see him do it and there it would go, knocking all their things over and I thought ‘yep, he’s on form today’. Of course, the band would pick everything up, start playing and he’d go and do it again!
“Paul started like he was totally manic. People ask if we noticed that in the dressing room but Paul was always manic before big games! As the game started he made two rash challenges, the first on Garry Parker. I blame myself in many ways because I didn’t see that challenge and if I had, I’d have been straight over to him and sorted him out. But I didn’t see it. Then, about 15 minutes later, Gary Charles ran across the box and Paul came across and took him out at knee level. Gary was lucky he didn’t get badly injured but of course, Paul did. I knew straight away it was serious. I went straight over to him. I knew he wouldn’t be able to continue.”
Mabbsy on – Forest’s goal
“I was on the end of the wall and as Stuart Pearce went to hit the ball, I was grabbed from behind and pulled to the floor. As I went down, I saw the ball fly past me and heard the cheer. The ref didn’t see it and the goal was given. Paul was in the wall. He struggled to get back for the kick-off and then just collapsed and was carried off.”
Mabbsy on – the comeback, and the winner
“A lot of people that I spoke to after the game thought that was it, all over. Paul had been the cog in the wheel of our cup run and people felt we wouldn’t be able to recover. But we had a strong resolve in that side, a lot of big characters. The first half went against us with Gary Lineker’s penalty saved and a goal disallowed but we scored the equaliser through Paul Stewart in the second half and took the game into extra time.
“We won a corner early in extra time. Nayim took it and I made a run where I went in, then checked out and I managed to lose Des Walker. I’d got a yard on him and timed the run perfectly, the ball came in and Des was behind me and the ball was coming straight for me. Des tried to defend it and threw himself at the ball and it rocketed into the top corner. It was an amazing moment, seeing the ball go into the back of the net, knowing we’d turned it around. I’ve a photograph of that goal where you can see the joy on mine and Gary Lineker’s faces and the despair on the Forest players’ faces.”
Mabbsy on – the feeling at the final whistle
“As the final whistle went, I just remember thinking ‘we’ve won the FA Cup’. I remember before going up the steps thinking about all those years where I’d watched the final on TV, watched the captain go and get the trophy and I was about to do it. Prince Charles was there, Princess Diana, the Duke and Duchess of Kent. People ask me ‘what was it like to lift the FA Cup?’ and it was exactly as you’d always imagined, every schoolboy’s dream, it was absolutely amazing. You think about the moments in your career, special moments, but this meant far more than that. I’d had 10 great years at Spurs and the smile on my face said it all and so did the smiles on the fans’ faces, that jubilation, we were sharing this wonderful moment.”
Mabbsy on – visiting Gazza in hospital
“After the game, the first thing we did was go down to the Princess Grace Hospital where Paul had been taken. We went up to the third floor where Paul was, I had his medal for him, carrying the FA Cup. I opened his door, gave him the FA Cup, gave him his medal and there were a few tears. Paul said ‘Gary, I just got into bed and as I did, they put a TV on and it was just before you lifted the FA Cup’ so he had watched us do that. It was a great moment. All the lads were there and Paul wanted to find his surgeon because he wanted to come to the after-match party! Of course, he wasn’t allowed to. We saw the best of Paul Gascoigne that season and we also had a good squad of players and throughout that FA Cup run, we needed those qualities.”
Mabbsy’s final thought
“It wasn’t all highs that season but to be standing there at the top of the steps at Wembley with the FA Cup…every time I see that photograph…it’s probably the biggest smile I ever had on my face.”