It’s 26 years since Latics last reached the quarter final stage of the FA Cup, this is the best run they’ve been on since Dave Whelan took over the club in 1995 and he reiterated Roberto Martinez’s point that if they are to make history today, and reach the semis for the first time, they must do so against tough opposition.
He said: “It’s a great match in prospect against a very good team with fantastic supporters. If we can get through this stage it’s a semi-final at Wembley which would be absolutely fantastic.
“When the draw was made I was hoping for a home tie, because we’ve not had one yet apart from in the third round against Bournemouth.
“But you get what you’re given in this competition and whilst it will be a difficult game for the players I’m sure both sets of fans will be able to watch a fantastic football match.
As someone who went all the way to the final with Blackburn Rovers over 50 years ago, Whelan passed on his advice for those who will take to the field at Goodison Park on Saturday:
“I would say to the players not to worry about the game, take it their stride and treat it as any other game, albeit it an important one.
“They’re professionals and they’ve simply got to go out there and do their job, and I think they know that to get to Wembley would be a phenomenal achievement for them and for the club.
“I have to say as well that I’ve been very impressed and surprised by the quality of football they’ve produced in both cup competitions this year, particularly from our young players.
“At Nottingham Forest in the Capital One Cup we had a difficult tie on our hands, but the young boys did remarkably well, and they’ve continued to do so throughout the season.
“I don’t know who Roberto is going to select on Saturday, but I am sure that whichever eleven players take to the pitch, they will all be fighting for the club and aiming for what will be a first major cup semi-final for a lot of them.”
The Chairman’s FA Cup story is special, yet tragic and the memories of the 1960 final make for an emotional recollection, recalling the experience as though it were yesterday and trying to hold back the tears in telling the story of one of his lowest ebbs:
“We were each paid £27 for the game, a big difference to nowadays, but the feeling of stepping out at Wembley with a full capacity in a cup final was priceless and something every player around the world dreams of.
“We travelled to Wembley on the Friday before the final on the Saturday, and got to go to the stadium whilst it was empty.
“I remember walking down the tunnel thinking ‘there’ll be 100,000 people inside here in just over 24 hours.’
“It was about 2pm when we were allowed to walk onto the pitch on the Friday, only for five minutes though and we couldn’t kick a ball around.
“There wasn’t even any warming up allowed before the game; only when the game kicked off were you allowed on to play.
“I remember at that time of the season a lot of the grounds around the country were well worn, such were the limitations no treating them.
“Wembley was completely different; the bounce of the ground, the green of the grass – everything about it was amazing, but it was also something we were totally new to and probably something that contributed to the injuries players would pick up in the final.
“I can still remember that incident clearly, and remember grabbing my leg in pain after the challenge had come in.
“The ball was placed between Norman Deeley and myself, we both went for the ball which I got and he got me. It wasn’t deliberate, he went in high but I accept that accidents do happen when two players are fighting like hell for the ball. I’ve still got the stud marks in my shin!
“The leg snapped in two; it was a horrendous feeling of immense pain and of course disappointment, I knew it was broken before I hit the turf.
“There was no pain relief until you got to hospital in those days, and as soon as I was taken out of the ambulance a Polish doctor, who had seen the incident and been at the game, was waiting for me with an injection that killed the pain.
“When I came round in hospital it must have been at 5.30pm and I was being wheeled down a corridor. I asked the doctor how we got on and he told me that we had lost 3-0.
“I burst into tears.
“I can still feel that emotion now, it was horrendous and that memory has always come flooding back whenever I’ve returned to Wembley.”
It’s clear how strong his affinity with the competition, and that poignant moment, still is. The Chairman was, however, able to recall his return to action and a match-up that couldn’t have been more daunting:
“I never got back to full strength after that or played a top flight match, it was two years before I played another game.
“It was a pre-season friendly against Preston North End, who we played every year and who would be lining up to play for the opposition on my side of the field but Tom Finney! That’s all I needed.
“Two years out and my first game is against one of the finest wingers the game has ever seen!
“He was and still is the perfect gentleman. I’d played against him before and knew how phenomenal he was at the game. He never took me on once, I got the ball of him three times and asked him at half-time as we were leaving the pitch why he was holding back.
“He said, ‘You’ve had some bad luck son, I’m not going to take you on and want to get fit again and get back into the first team.’ I’ll never forget him saying that to me and it’s another memory I have linked to the FA Cup.”
With all those special memories vivid as the day they happened, the Chairman had this to say to those who belittle the competition and its standing in the modern game:
“Anyone who downgrades the FA Cup has never played in it. It’s the trophy you want to life and the medal you want to keep.
“My medal, albeit a loser’s one, is something I would never part with – it’ll be with me for the whole of my life.
“Roberto knows how much it means also, and I can hear the excitement in him whenever we talk about this game and the games we’ve come through to get this far.
“He’s played in the competition and made history by becoming the first Spaniard to score in it, so he holds it in special regard.
“You’re not in the competition for financial reward, because compared to the Premier League the money is small. The clubs in the lower divisions do get good rewards when tied with one of the big boys, but the pride and passion of the competition is what spurs players on.”