By Steve Carpenter 05/01 Updated: 08/03 11:12
TO celebrate the 25th anniversary of Coventry City’s famous FA Cup triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, the Observer has teamed up with Coventry City’s Former Players’ Association (CCFPA) to re-capture the memories of players, managers and fans from the club’s greatest day on May 16, 1987.
To open this special series of features, sports reporter Steve Carpenter had an exclusive chat with the player who will be forever remembered for scoring one of the greatest ever FA Cup final goals.
Keith Houchen cemented himself in Sky Blue folklore when his 63rd minute diving header took the cup final into extra time.
City were trailing 2-1 when the journeyman striker met Dave Bennett’s pin-point cross for one of the most iconic goals in the competition’s history.
Houchen, who now works as a summariser for news agency PA in his native North East, has retained very vivid memories of that goal - later chosen as BBC Match of the Day’s goal of the season, but admitted it took a while to sink in just how good it was.
“Oggy (Steve Ogrizovic) was messing about with the ball for a bit in his area before eventually launching the ball up field.
“Cyrille Regis and myself would win most things in the air and I remember he got up well and got the flick to me and I immediately got the ball out to Benno (Dave Bennett) on the right.
“Many people said our partnership couldn’t work together because we were both big men, but it did because I would do all of the hard work, which I didn’t mind, and Cyrille would usually get the goals.
“I remember losing my marker and sprinting into the area as quickly as I could. Benno whipped in a great ball and when I arrived I knew I had to throw myself at it, but I managed to time it perfectly.
“Whenever I see that famous picture I swear I am smiling as I head the ball home.
“I had scored goals like that throughout my career but they don’t get recognised in the lower leagues.
“The highlight for me was scoring at Wembley, but it took a few weeks to realise just how special that goal was.”
Coventry was Houchen’s sixth club in an 18 year career which saw him play in all four divisions.
“My career had been a constant stride for me because I kept finding myself back in the old Fourth Division but then came Coventry and that all changed.
“While I was at Scunthorpe I attracted interest from the Sky blues and interestingly Leicester City.
“I agreed to speak with both so I came to Coventry first and stayed over at the Leofric Hotel before meeting with John Sillett and George Curtis, but once I spoke with them I knew this was the club for me and I didn’t bother going to speak with Leicester!”
The big striker spent three years at Highfield Road, having signed from Scunthorpe for around £60,000 at the start of the cup winning 1986/87 season.
“Everything just seemed to come together for us that season. We didn’t have any big time Charlie’s in the team, but what we had was a really good bunch of players who know their roles, trained hard and became a tough team to beat.
“All of us had come through the the ranks and played in the lower leagues. I remember playing against the likes of Steve Ogrizovic and, Dave Bennett and Micky Gynn, these guys have seen every side of football.”
Houchen said there was a buzz of excitement among all of those players as they prepared for the club’s big day which they had earned with victories on their way to the final over Bolton, Manchester United, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.
“I remember we stayed in a hotel by the Thames the night before the final and was just so excited to be playing at Wembley,” he said.
“All the other lads had been down to the stadium and trained on the pitch but I missed out because I was ill so I was just full of excitement on the day.
“I roomed with Dave Phillips and I was up at the crack of dawn, around 5.30am I think, and I was jogging about the hotel grounds, waiting for kick-off.
“It was a perfect day. The sky was blue, the crowd were incredible with all their blue & white and it was amazing to be part of it.
“I never really got nervous before any of the games, but I do remember feeling this massive buzz when we came out of the tunnel at Hillsborough for the semi-final and at Wembley in the final, it literally lifted you off your feet.
“The first time you see all the crowd and get a taste of the atmosphere is when you walk up the tunnel and you see the light at the end getting bigger and bigger, then you finally reach the end of the tunnel and feel the atmosphere.
“We couldn’t have got off to a worse possible start though and I’ll never forget the shock on all of our faces when we went behind so early.
“Everyone was looking round at each other in disbelief and I remember thinking let’s not get a pasting here, but we managed to turn it around.
“I played in every division. I started at the bottom and worked my way up and when I won the FA Cup with Coventry I knew I had made it, my career wouldn’t have meant as much now without that memorable day at Wembley.”
For all the latest information on former Coventry City players visit ccfpa.co.uk
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