Like an East End hardman Paul Ince loved being nicknamed ‘The Guvnor’ – but he was overcome with compassion when he saw Ian Wright sobbing on the Wembley turf.
It was the 1990 FA Cup Final, and Wright had come off the bench to score two for Crystal Palace, the first taking Ince’s Manchester United into extra-time, then giving the unfancied south London side the lead early into the extra-half hour.
Manchester United v
West Ham United
Emirates FA Cup
4pm Sunday 13 March 2016
Live on BT Sport 2
But Mark Hughes equalised with seven minutes remaining, and while Palace had earned a replay, Wright’s tears showed a man who felt his moment had passed.
Ince put his arm around the then 26-year-old and said: “Look mate, I think you're a great player.”
Speaking to TheFA.com this week, Ince recalls the moment vividly.
“I remember Wrighty was devastated not to start in the Final. We were winning 2-1 but then Wrighty came on, scored two and I just thought: ‘wow’”
“Then Mark Hughes scored to take it to a replay, which we won 1-0. I went to the edge of the pitch and Ian Wright was in tears… and that was the first time I met him.
“Since then we've been best mates, like Bill and Ben, we're that close. That was a memory I will never forget.
“It’s moments like that which makes FA Cup Finals so special – and makes the competition so special.”
United would lift the trophy five days later, with Lee Martin’s volley the only goal, and won it again with Ince in the side against Chelsea in 1994.
The former midfielder – who won the Premier League twice and 53 England caps – admits those two days are among his most treasured.
“As a kid growing up I wanted to play in The FA Cup Final. That was what it was all about. I've got so many many memories of watching FA Cups, watching Alan Sunderland score the winner against Manchester United, Trevor Brooking with that diving header…
“It's the biggest domestic trophy in the world. Walking out at Wembley on Cup Final day is one of the greatest experiences in life.”
Ince casts his mind back to the 1990 Final: “I left West Ham in 1989 as a young lad – just 21 – and I was just about finding my feet at Manchester United.
“I wasn't really thinking about The FA Cup. I knew how important it was but it was only when we got to the quarter-finals that I properly started thinking about it.
“Then we got to the Final and I started to realise what's happening, and the feeling was unbelievable.”
Ince suspects a few of this weekend’s Emirates FA Cup quarter-finalists will get that same sneaking feeling that something special is about to happen – and that this is no time for half-measures.
“This is a one-off game and you need your cool heads – people who don't make rash decisions.
“I’d say to any manager: ‘play your strongest side and try and get to Wembley because it is not just for you – it's for the fans as well'. It's a great, great day out."
“We've got two teams that will feel that if they win on Sunday that they can go on and lift the trophy”
Ince will watch Sunday’s clash between two of his former clubs – Manchester United and West Ham – with great interest.
“I think we've got two teams that will feel that if they win on Sunday that they can go on and lift the trophy.
“West Ham are a physical team but they play some great football at the same time.”
Ince added: “This competition this year – you just don't know who is going to win it.
“Manchester United and West Ham will feel confident and then Arsenal will fancy their chances if they can get through against Watford.
"It's hard to call, wide open, just like it should be.”
Paul Ince was talking courtesy of William Hill, official partner of the Emirates FA Cup