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Stevens: Cup Final Goal Was A Childhood Ambition

By Kieran Cleeves • 16 March 2018

Former Brighton & Hove Albion defender Gary Stevens expressed his pride at fulfilling a childhood ambition of not just playing in an FA Cup Final, but scoring in one, as he equalised for the Seagulls in their 2-2 draw against Manchester United in 1983.

With Albion trailing 2-1, Stevens fired home an equalising goal in the 87th minute to force extra time at Wembley Stadium, and the 55-year-old talked through his dramatic leveller, which remains a special moment in his career.

He said, “That season, although I’d played virtually every game for Brighton, I hadn’t scored a goal. I know it wasn’t my job - I wasn’t an attacking midfielder or striker, I was a defender - but I still hadn’t scored.

“In the cup final, my role in attacking corners was to stay at the back. But we were chasing an equaliser and it was late on - I looked across to the bench, almost hoping they’d say ‘go on, get yourself up there’.

“We needed a goal and Jimmy Melia and George Aitken were frantically waving me forward, so I went up there and was looking to make a run to get on the end of Jimmy Case’s corner.

“Jimmy picked out Tony Grealish on the edge of the area, so I had to adjust a little bit. It looked as if Tony was going to hit it, so I was hoping there’d be a rebound off the goalkeeper.

“I started to look for that but Tony didn’t hit one of his finest strikes. I was just outside the six-yard box, so it was about having a good first touch and from that sort of distance, I was thinking ‘hit the target with plenty of power’.

“It was a very special moment for me, because as a kid, from a very young age, one of my ambitions was to play in an FA Cup Final and score a goal in an FA Cup Final - and that was the day it happened.”

Stevens spoke further about the day as a whole, as he reflected on the helicopter journey to Wembley Stadium, before stepping out to play the game in front of thousands watching on television across the world.

“I have very fond memories of the day. It was a huge day for the club, the fans, the staff and the players.

“I don’t think that at the start of the season anyone expected us to be there. It was a real bonus, especially because we ended up dropping out of the top flight after four seasons.

“It wasn’t compensation for being relegated, that’s for sure, but it gave the whole community a really big lift and a great occasion.

“We had a flight across London and had a birds-eye view of Wembley, then had a short coach journey from the playing field where we landed, up Wembley Way to the stadium.

“Arguably, the biggest game of the calendar year was the FA Cup Final. It was televised live, and from very early on the Saturday morning, it was wall-to-wall about the cup final on the TV.

“There wasn’t a huge amount of nerves involved, because when you go in as the underdog, nobody is particularly expecting you to win. To some extent, that actually relaxes you.”

The match is well remembered for Gordon Smith’s last-gasp opportunity to snatch victory for the Seagulls, and Stevens commented on the striker’s glorious chance in extra time.

“At the time, I saw it as a great save by Gary Bailey. I didn’t see it as a miss. Yes, it was a great opportunity, but even afterwards in the changing room, I don’t remember talking to anyone about what a miss it was.

“If anything, I remember the conversation being ‘wasn’t that a great save’. If you watch Gary Bailey and his reactions to how quickly he changes his position, how quickly he comes out and spreads himself - it’s every bit a great save as anybody wants to argue that it was a bad miss.”

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