Always look on the Whiteside of life
No silverware will be distributed this Sunday but Manchester United against Everton in the FA Cup at Wembley will evoke strong memories for both sets of fans.
But for United fans, and for most neutrals of a certain vintage, it immediately brings to mind the final a decade earlier when Everton were chasing a unique cup treble and when a kid from Belfast's backstreets denied with one of the all-time classic Wembley goals.
Norman Whiteside was a week past his twentieth birthday when he scored the winner in the 1985 Cup final but such was the impact he had made since bursting on to the scene three years earlier he already carried a gravitas that outweighed his lack of years. Long before Federico Macheda was even born, Whiteside had written the definitive work on meteoric rises.
He became the youngest player to ever score for United in his full debut at the tail-end of the 1981/82 season and briskly racked up a handsome portfolio of records for club and country.
His precocious talent earned him a place in the Northern Ireland squad at the World Cup in Spain that summer where Whiteside beat Pele's record as the youngest player to have appeared in the tournament (it was no mere fleeting appearance and he started all five games for Billy Bingham's men).
The following season he became the youngest player ever to score in both the league and FA Cup finals as he established himself in Ron Atkinson's side and in the affections of the United faithful who relished his combative style and eye for goal,
Opposition teams feared the tough young Ulsterman whose modus operandi did not countenance the thought of shirking a challenge. The one defect in his game, a lack of pace (Sir Alex Feguson later declared "If Norman had a yard more pace, he would have been one of the greatest players ever produced in British football"), saw Atkinson, top heavy with strikers, switch Whiteside to midfield as the United manager sought a replacement for the recently-departed Ray Wilkins.
His tenacious style was a huge asset in the muddy battle zones of 1980s football but Whiteside was far from a mere midfield enforcer.
That season had seen the balance of power in English football shift across Stanley Park as Everton swept to a record-breaking 90-point tally in the First Division to wrest the title from Liverpool.
Howard Kendall's side brimmed with British talent and, three days before the Cup Final, they had collected the Cup Winners Cup. Pre-Heysel, the talk was of the Toffees making a major impact in the European Cup in the following campaign and, as both sides made their way on to the Wembley pitch, Everton were firm favorites to bring their haul of trophies that season to three by retaining the FA Cup against United.
A largely uneventful match flickered into life after the interval but clear-cut chances were still noticeable by their absence. With attrition setting in, the game appeared to be drifting meekly towards extra-time until a controversial moment caused an unexpected turn of events.
Kevin Moran received a harsh straight red card for a foul on Peter Reid in the 78th minute and earned the dubious distinction of being the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup Final.
The injustice of the moment clearly stung United. The questionable adage that having a player dismissed can work in a team's favour suddenly seemed like an entirely accurate assessment as United's players were provoked in to finding an extra yard.
Everton, heading in to extra-time three days after their Cup Winners Cup Final win in Rotterdam, were suddenly looking every inch a team playing their 63rd game of a draining season.
When Whiteside received the ball on the right wing (after a fine pass from Mark Hughes) with ten minutes of extra-time remaining there appeared little danger. Whiteside, like everyone, was exhausted and recalled thinking in his biography "Determined": "Great, more running. Just what I need."
Cutting inside and, using a method previously practiced in training, he cleverly positioned himself so that Everton full-back Pat Van den Hauwe obstructed the view of a feline Neville Southall in the Everton goal.
"I knew exactly what I was going to do," recalled Whiteside in his biography "but I had to have the patience to wait for the perfect moment. That's why I did the little shimmy and step-over with my left...as soon as Pat obstructed my view of the far post and consequently Neville's view of me, I hit it."
It was the sort of Roy of the Rovers moment every aspiring young player dreams of yet few professionals experience but as the United players jigged in the Wembley sunshine, few could have imagined it was to be the last time the 20-year-old Whiteside would hold a trophy aloft in triumph.
A succession of debilitating knee operations exacted a heavy toll on Whiteside's career and, following a move to Everton in 1989 (where he averaged a goal every three games during his 29 appearances), he was faced with a stark choice: Quit playing or end up in a wheelchair.
The famously bone-crunching tackler's unlikely re-emergence as a podiatrist ensured Whiteside would remain in the game he loved as the PFA sponsored his work with clubs throughout the Football League.
His retirement from the game at age 26 was a huge loss to the game and Whiteside certainly deserved a more appreciative send-off than the 7,434 crowd that assembled for his testimonial at Old Trafford.
But the majestic strike in that summer of 1985 ensures he will live long in FA Cup and Wembley folklore - the 22 players of his two former clubs who line up on Sunday are vying for the opportunity to make that sort of mark this May.