Ex-Brighton ace Gordon Smith reflects on THAT miss during Wembley FA Cup final against Manchester United in 1983

After all, how many strikers have travelled to a Wembley final in the POPE’S helicopter?

The man known for the most famous miss in Cup history recalled: “We flew from Brighton to Wembley in the helicopter Pope John Paul II used during his visit to the UK the previous May.

“Brighton were sponsored by British Caledonian Airways, who owned it, and so we decided to fly to Wembley in it.

“It was a bit different! We put one over Manchester United in terms of our arrival!

“We looked down on Wembley on the journey and saw the fans arriving. What an experience.

“We wondered if we’d be landing on the pitch and would step straight on to the turf!

“But we touched down in a hotel grounds and drove a few miles to Wembley in the team bus.”

NIGHT FEVER Why is Manchester United vs Brighton at 7.45pm on Saturday night?

The Seagulls had landed for what is still the biggest match in the club’s 117-year history.

Unfortunately, for Smith, now 63, history did not treat him kindly.

The former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Brighton and Manchester City forward went on to become chief executive of the Scottish FA.

But he has accepted he will go down in football folklore as the man responsible for THAT miss.

Despite Smith stunning red-hot favourites United by giving already- relegated Brighton the lead with a brilliant 14th-minute header, Ron Atkinson’s superstars battled back to go 2-1 in front before Gary Stevens’ 87th-minute equaliser saw the final spill into extra-time.

Then, in the game’s final attack, Brighton broke away and Smith’s career was defined by one of the most iconic lines of commentary.

“ . . . and Smith must score,” BBC radio commentator Peter Jones said as the Scot moved on to Michael Robinson’s pass in front of United’s goal. But Smith didn’t score.

And he remembers every last detail about his cock-up.

He said: “I haven’t watched it too often. I don’t have to, it’s etched in my mind.

“But once when I watched it I froze the screen to confirm exactly how far out I was. Over time my miss has been exaggerated.

“People tell me I was only two or three yards out. Others forget the goalie actually saved it.

“I’ve heard people say it was a sitter and I sent my shot wide.

“But I was 12 yards out when I took Mike’s pass and eight when I struck it.

“My shot was low, on target and close to Gary Bailey’s body, which goalies usually find hardest to get down to.

“The ball’s heading through his legs when it clips one of his knees and briefly gets caught between them.

“I tried to move in on the rebound but Gary recovered to deny me again. You have to deal with it.

“I’ve never met Gary since but we were on radio together once and he admitted it still upsets him how he never got any credit for the save.

“I told him, ‘Gary, I really wish you DID get the credit because all anybody wants to talk about is my miss!’ ”

Underdogs Brighton had had their day and crashed 4-0 to United in the replay, leaving Smith and the  Seagulls fans to wonder, ‘What if?’

He added: “I’ve seen loads of misses since — some in cup finals — which were far worse.

“The significance of mine was the importance of that precise moment.

“It was the 120th minute, it was to win the FA Cup in the last  minute in extra-time with the final shot of the game — and it was against United.”

And that commentary helped.

Smith said: “I never met Peter but his phrase certainly stuck!

“I only wish I had copyrighted that phrase “ . . . and Smith must score” — I’d have made a few bob from it over the years.”

Now, after fickle old fate decreed Brighton should be paired against United for Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford, Smith is back in everyone’s thoughts.

He said: “I remember walking off at half-time at Wembley and looking up at the old scoreboard.

“It read Brighton 1 Manchester United 0, with my name underneath as the game’s only goalscorer.

“I thought, ‘No matter what happens I’ve made my mark — no one can ever take that away from me!’

“Clearly that didn’t go to plan!

“However, it was only at full-time in the replay that the impact of my miss started to haunt me.

“At full-time in the original tie I still had the replay to look forward to but, now United had won, it was finally sinking in that it could have been us.

“There is a truth that underdogs rarely get a second chance.

“It still rankles with me that I could have won the FA Cup for Brighton. I still feel bad.

“But I realised a long time ago I’ll never get away from it.

“Three years after the final, I’d signed for Manchester City and we’d gone to Malaysia on tour. I was in the middle of Kuala Lumpur and a young boy was collecting players’ autographs.

“After I signed his book he stared at my signature and said, ‘Oh, you are Gordon Smith. How did you miss in the Cup final?’

“I thought, ‘If an 11-year-old in Kuala Lumpur remembers my miss, there’s a fair chance I’m going to be reminded  on a pretty regular basis!’ ”

One memory that is nicer for Smith is the time Liverpool legend Jimmy Case came to his defence.

Smith added: “Jimmy was being interviewed by TV presenter and Brighton fan Des Lynam during a 25th reunion dinner for the lads from the ’83 Cup final team.

“Jimmy said of all the players he’d ever played with, if that chance came up again to win a Cup final, he’d still choose me to put it away.

“He played with Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and the rest, so I was stunned by that.

“I was so touched. It was so nice of him. It meant the world to me.”

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