Our Road to Wembley

Graeme Bailey chats with Liverpool legend Phil Thompson

Our Road to Wembley feature moves on to the last leg as the FA Cup final is upon us with Liverpool taking on Chelsea on Saturday.

Our journey began back in November with Blyth Spartans in the first round, and we enjoyed a non-league flavour as we followed Gateshead and Tamworth up to the third round.

Then in the fourth round we found ourselves following Everton after they defeated Tamworth, and we stayed with the Toffees right up to the semi-final before they lost to arch-rivals Liverpool.

Now, for the final stretch of our cup journey, we are with Liverpool and we spoke with Anfield legend Phil Thompson ahead of the big game on Saturday.

Thompson won't be at Wembley this weekend, as he will be covering the game for Sky Sports.

"I am working on Soccer Saturday and then jumping ship early to Sky Sports News to cover the match itself," he explained.

Thompson cannot wait for the final, which he thinks could be a fantastic occasion, but he is less than convinced with the kick-of being late in the day, the first time ever that the cup final has not kicked off at 3pm at Wembley.

Tradition

"The sponsors and FA will be happy with the final itself, and that is why I am knocked back by the change of kick-off, so why they could not [stage the game at 3pm] is astonishing. They have their reasons but I am shocked and horrified," he admitted.

"But Chelsea versus Liverpool, what a fantastic final it will be. Chelsea are in good form, both had good wins at the weekend but then in midweek the wheels came off for both, but perhaps that showed both have their eyes on Wembley this weekend.

"Chelsea have got the Champions League final, and now the FA Cup final. People are saying how unbelievable this is, and they are slight favourites but I think Liverpool are quite happy with that."

Thompson is a huge fan of the FA Cup, but he feels the Football Association cannot have any complaints about teams not taking it as seriously as they once did.

"I think it is very, very harsh - the FA are always complaining that teams and clubs do not give it respect, and then they make these changes. It should always be the showpiece, that is my opinion, the semi-finals should be on neutral ground, and the final should be finishing the season off after the season is over at 3pm. I just think it is an absolute shame and they are the ones showing it a lack of respect."

Thompson has good memories of the cup having a winner's medal from 1974, but surprisingly he only won the trophy once himself.

"Yes, I did only have one which is a bit of a shock considering I won seven leagues titles and European cups. That came in 1974 when I was just 20 years of age, but I still remember it now with great affection, it is fantastic day and every English schoolboy does dream of it and I did."

Thompson also won the trophy while assistant to Gerard Houllier in 2001, the year they also won the League Cup, as Liverpool have done this year, and that is the only time they have done the domestic cup double.

"It is a unique double, we did it when we won the treble and it is always nice for the club to have such silverware," Thompson said. "People criticise Arsenal for another year without one and it will be eight years without a trophy for them and it is a burden. They have a desire for finishing in the top four, they will be criticised for it - everyone would like a bit of both."

English desire

Thompson still feels the FA Cup means more to English players, and he recounts a story from their treble season.

"I remember in 2001 when we won the treble and we were there with all three trophies lined up, I asked Patrik Berger and Markus Babbel which one do you cherish the most and they said the UEFA Cup - it is a European trophy and something to be very proud of . Then I asked Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher and they said the FA Cup. They said they dreamed of the FA Cup as schoolboys, and that sums up how special it still is for an English player."

Thompson remains a huge Liverpool fan and he is hopeful that they will win the cup this weekend, but he insists that no matter what the season will not be a 'great' one because of their relatively poor league performance.

"You always want to win trophies, I know we have won the League Cup, it is important for the football club but it is not the be-all and end-all.

"The league should always be the bread and butter and where we are in the league is not good enough and Kenny has admitted that. But if we could win the FA Cup it would be a good season but not a great one because of where we are in the league."

Thompson is backing Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard to come good at Wembley.

"You can see how special he is, he is so good driving forward - you can't pick him up - and that driving force is what we need, he was rested in midweek and he will be fired up for the weekend," he concluded.