How five cans of beer inspired Coventry to 1987 FA Cup glory

Coventry win the FA Cup
Coventry are back at Wembley on Sunday, scene of their greatest triumph in 1987, and trying to reach their second FA Cup final - Mark Leech/Offside

Drinking beers from an off licence on the eve of the FA Cup final and taking a new bride’s garter to Wembley helped Coventry City make history in 1987.

Coventry were on cloud nine after beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in one of the classic finals 37 years ago.

Tenacious Coventry twice came from behind to force extra time, before a Gary Mabbutt own goal settled a thriller on a searing hot day in London.

Spurs were strong favourites to lift the famous trophy; with the likes of Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ray Clemence in their ranks.

But the managerial duo of John Sillett and George Curtis masterminded a stunning victory for the ages, securing the only major trophy in Coventry’s 147-year history.

City have another opportunity to produce an almighty upset and reach their second FA Cup final at Manchester United’s expense on Sunday.

But the Championship side’s preparations for the semi-final at Wembley will be very different to the that of the heroes who lifted the Cup three decades ago.

“The night before the final we stayed at the Compleat Angler hotel by the River Thames in Marlow,” Dave Bennett, man of the match, told Telegraph Sport.

Saint and Greavsie were there, we did some media and then we walked over the bridge to get some beers from an off licence to calm the nerves.

“All you could hear was the clink, clink of the cans as we walked into the hotel to head up for a card school and the concierge reported to John Sillett that we brought drinks in.

“The manager just said: ‘Leave them to it, they’ve got the biggest game of their lives tomorrow and it’ll calm the nerves.’ He trusted us.

“On the morning of the final there was a wedding across the road, John and George invited the bride and groom over. Our captain, Brian Kilcline, took the bride’s garter to Wembley for good luck.”

Dave Bennett, George Curtis and John Sillett
Dave Bennett celebrates victory with co-managers George Curtis, left, and John Sillett - David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images

Bennett scored City’s equaliser after Clive Allen had given Spurs an early lead.

The Mancunian then crossed for Keith Houchen to bring Coventry level for a second time with a diving header.

Mabbutt’s own goal six minutes into extra time ensured the drinks were flowing again on a dream day for Coventry.

Bennett, who also scored the winner in a dramatic semi-final against Leeds, added: “They scored after about 90 seconds and I remember Cyrille Regis saying: ‘I hope we don’t get hammered 5-0.’

“I’m saying, ‘Give me a touch of the ball.’ I hadn’t been in the game, so I came in from the wing looking for a flick-on and when it came, I got in front of Mitchell Thomas and rounded Ray Clemence, then kept my composure to beat Steve Hodge on the line.

“I could feel the belief from the lads in their arms when they grabbed me. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, usually you’d get a pat on the back and a handshake.

“I ran back to the half way line thinking, ‘I’ve just scored in a Cup final at Wembley’, but I had to get that out of my mind as there was a job to do.

“Then the cross for Keith Houchen’s goal, they say I bent it like Beckham but I was the one who bent it first. Obviously he’s made a bit more money than me.

Keith Houchen scores
Keith Houchen heads in Dave Bennett's cross to make it 2-2 - David Cannon/Allpsort/Getty Images

“When that final whistle went, you start to realise what you’ve achieved. I’d wanted to make my mum and dad proud.

“I was determined to shake hands with every Tottenham player after they came down the steps. It was revenge for me, because I’d lost to them in the 1981 final when I was at Manchester City.

“To get your hands on the FA Cup was so special, I remember we went up for a sing-song with Jimmy Hill and you’re on a high all weekend. There were 250,000 people to greet us back in Coventry, it was amazing.”

Micky Gynn also played a huge part in City’s fairy-tale heroics – including scoring an equaliser in the 3-2 victory over Leeds at Hillsborough.

The midfielder felt he reaped the rewards of having a tipple the night before the biggest game of his career.

“I remember the chairman telling Snoz [Sillett] to stop us going to the off licence because we shouldn’t be drinking, but he said leave them to it,” Gynn told Telegraph Sport.

“I had four or five cans and I won some money in the card school. Having a drink meant I got six or seven hours of sleep, I’d probably have been tossing and turning all night if I hadn’t.

“I was fit enough and young enough, a few beers wasn’t going to do me any harm.”

Gynn recalls being given a ticking off by Sillett before sampling the sweet taste of champagne out of the FA Cup.

“I had a great chance towards the end of extra time, I went through and tried to dink it over Ray Clemence but my legs gave way,” Gynn said.

“After the final whistle went, Snoz came up to me and said: ‘Why didn’t you stick that away, you should have scored.’ He was clearly worried I hadn’t made it more comfortable but that was soon forgotten about when the celebrations started.

“We were drinking beer and champagne in the bath. My only problem was, being small, when the bath filled up in the dressing room it went over my head, so I had to get out!

“That night we were out at an event and I don’t think I got to bed until about 7am. I had a glass of champagne in the bath, no sleep and then we went off to see Brian Borrows, he couldn’t play because he was recovering from a knee operation.

“We then had an open-top bus ride which went on for hours, with so many people there. It was incredible.”

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