Special Feature
Cup final joy was shared by the nearly men

By Steve Carpenter 03/05 Updated: 03/05 10:32

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Buy photos » Paul Culpin (third from the left) pictured with team members of the 1987 squad at a recent get together.

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.

This week our sports reporter Steve Carpenter caught up with two players who were named in the initial 16-man squad for the final but suffered the disappointment of missing out on being involved at Wembley.

Missing out on the final would be arguably be the lowest point in a player's career, but not for both Dean Emerson and Paul Culpin.

Emerson, who lives in Finham, had impressed in midfield for Rotherham during a League Cup fixture against the Sky Blues towards the start of that FA Cup winning season.

He caught the eye of John Sillett over the two legs who decided to sign the midfielder but after making a bright start for his new club, Emerson picked up an injury a week before the quarter final win over Sheffield Wednesday.

"I suppose it was a little disappointing to get injured because it would have been nice to play but that's football and I was still very much part of the roller coaster ride that season," said Emerson, who played over 130 games for the Sky Blues between 1986 and 1992.

"I was selected as part of the squad a few days before and I think that's because John Sillett felt I deserved not to miss out on the whole occasion.

"I'd played in the earlier rounds and I was just pleased to be part of it all and it was a fantastic weekend for the players.

"We had a great team spirit within the squad, not just in the cup, but also in the league and I just got caught up in the whole thing.

"Me and Paul (Culpin) were sat a few rows back from the dugout watching the action because back then there wasn't as much space in the dugout as there is now.

"Looking back on it now 25 years on I don't think we realised at the time just how big of a moment that was for the club, especially when you see what's happening now.

"One moment I will never forget was driving towards Wembley that Saturday morning on the players' coach and seeing the amount of Coventry fans.

"There was something about the occasion that you could sense it was going to be our day and I really thought we were going to win it before a ball had even been kicked.

"And who could forget the scenes when we got back into the city on the open top bus.

"I don't know where all those people came from!"

Culpin's story was a little different.

He suffered an early blow in his career when he was released by Leicester City as a young striker, but he managed to bounce back, making a name for himself at Nuneaton Borough before moving to Highfield Road in 1985.

And he told us how lucky he was just to be even named in the 16-man final squad.

"I never really thought I was going to be selected to be honest," said Culpin.

"But because Brian Borrows got injured so close to the final John Sillett selected me which meant I was able to be a part of the build up.

"To be part of the squad before kick-off walking onto the pitch at Wembley and the celebrations at the end in the changing room was very special and I know I was fortunate to be a part of that.

"I'll never forget standing at the tunnel at 1.50pm on the day of the final and looking out seeing all the Sky Blues supporters in Wembley. It was an unbelievable sight and the atmosphere was electric.

"We were all in our suits and although I wasn't playing I still got caught up in the occasion."

Culpin struggled to break into the Coventry side, making only nine appearances and scoring two goals, but he was happy to be on standby for Cyrille Regis and Keith Houchen.

"Being released from Leicester was a big blow, but I signed for Nuneaton and had to fantastic years there.

"I caught the attention of the scouts and Nuneaton agreed to sell me to Coventry for £50,000, which was a lot of money at the time, but all I wanted to do was to get back into the game.

"Regis and Houchen were the first choice pairing up front and I was happy to be on stand by for them whenever they were unavailable.

"It was an honour to be in the same as Regis and Houchen and I knew they were the main boys at the time.

"It' been great seeing everyone again as part of the anniversary celebrations this year. I love seeing all the boys and talking about our memories."

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Buy photos» Dean Emerson in action during a recent 1987 reunion match at the Butts Park Arena.

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