Tony Caig: At the time we won at Wembley, we thought anything was achievable
The two most defining saves of Tony Caig's career have stayed locked away, in his memory, for many of the last 20 years. It is only fairly recently that he has properly revisited the moments that earned Carlisle United their first piece of Wembley glory.
"I looked at them three or four years ago," the former goalkeeper says, "but more because my youngest son was wanting to see them.
"I don't think he could quite believe me, so it was a bit of proof. YouTube comes in handy sometimes."
Caig also still has the kit and the gloves that kept out two Colchester penalties and helped United win the 1997 Auto-Windscreens Shield, whose anniversary recalls a precious time in Carlisle's past: when a team filled with young Cumbrians was on the rise, and when opportunities to be heroes came to men like Caig, now a 43-year-old coach, then an aspiring keeper from Cleator Moor.
The context was a second trip to the twin towers in three years for United, who had been edged out by Birmingham's golden goal in a 1995 final more memorable for the stunning community occasion than the result.
The Colchester game was equally goalless in 120 uneventful minutes - but Carlisle were still a force under Mervyn Day's creative management and Michael Knighton's colourful, volatile ownership.
Caig, in his red jersey, was an occasional contributor over normal and extra-time, but was then under the spotlight when it went to penalties. "Both teams didn't look like they really wanted to lose the game," he says. "We huffed and puffed and so did they. I can't remember having a shot to save of any note, the same for their goalkeeper.
"Once it gets to extra-time, both sets of players and probably coaching staff are a bit reluctant to throw things at it to try and win it. So penalties it was."
The shootout began badly for Carlisle when, after Paul Conway had converted their first, the normally reliable Owen Archdeacon had his tame finish saved. This enabled Colchester to open a 3-1 lead.
"I had a basic philosophy on penalties, which served me ok," Caig says. "I always felt that, when you are under pressure as a player - and all the pressure is on the taker - it's easier for him technically to kick the ball across himself, so to my right if he's a right-footer, to generate more power.
"If you try and open your body up, try and place it in the corner and you get it wrong… look at John Terry in the European Cup final against Man Utd. His foot slips and it goes over the bar."
Caig had this principle in mind when, Dean Walling having cut Colchester's lead to 3-2, Karl Duguid stepped up. Any foreboding felt by United's "deckchair army" behind the goal was not shared by the keeper. "I only ever took one penalty myself, but never in a game of that magnitude, where that walk up from the halfway line at Wembley must feel like a long, long way, and the goal must look small, and the mind's playing tricks on you.
"So I know they've got to go through that pressure as well. I'm thinking, over the next three penalties, if I stick to my philosophy, hopefully I'll get close to one. And I touched it onto the post - those are the margins of error. I could have touched it onto the post and it went in, and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
The save from Duguid was profound, for it allowed Warren Aspinall to level for United - and also reduced the young Colchester player to tears. "I've come across Karl a few times over the years, played against him and actually coached with him as well," Caig says. "He was on Colchester's coaching staff a few years ago and after the game we were having a chat about it. He said it took him a good while to get over it.
"He was 18 when he took that penalty. He'd just turned pro. That's a big ask for a young lad, isn't it? But he must have put his hand up, and fair play to him."
Caig then pushed defender Peter Cawley's penalty away as the balance shifted further. "Looking at a big centre-half stepping up, the only thing that does go through your mind is that a lot of centre-backs go down the middle, smack it as hard as they can. Do you try and get it with your trailing leg, and do you commit?
"But, a left-footer, I thought he's going to go across me, same as Duguid the other side, and he did. Tons of luck involved. We can talk all day about technique but you commit to what side you're going to go, and you go."
This was followed by the iconic moment Steve Hayward scored United's winner and embarked on a half-naked celebration around Wembley's perimeter. "Stevie's pen wasn't right in the corner, the goalie held as long as he could and tried to read him, but he kept his cool - then he went off on a lap, more than halfway round the world with his top off.
"I was just on the ground, on the pitch, lads all over me. I was struggling. It was kind of mayhem for a few minutes."
The trophy gloriously lifted by captain Hayward in a daft hat, United's players and staff then celebrated in earnest. "In the old Wembley there was actually a bar in the corner of the changing room - after the game a shutter opened and we were all having a drink. The champagne was all brought in by the chairman and directors.
"They were wanting me and Steve Hayward to do an interview," Caig smiles, "but the press must have been hanging about a while."
A couple of the players remained in London to toast the victory further. "I stayed at the same hotel as Owen Archdeacon, with our partners, and he was a little bit down about missing his penalty - but the more drinks he had, he was giving me a hug, cos I got him out of trouble a bit.
"But Archie had had a great season, as had a number of players that season, and they all played a part in getting us there.
"The next day we got the train back. It was mad, because it was full of Carlisle fans. A few of my pals who'd come down from Cleator Moor were due to go back up on the Sunday night, but I don't think they made it home until Tuesday or Wednesday."
While it is bracing to think that two decades have now passed, it is also stark to consider that Wembley '97, accompanied by Division Three promotion, was also one of the last great days of the Knighton era before the long and bitter decline.
Caig nods. "After that, the following season, Mervyn went after a handful of games, which I thought was a hasty decision. Things deteriorated quickly from there. Players were sold, and no disrespect to the lads who came in, but young players were coming on loan to fill the gaps.
"It was a difficult period afterwards and it's a shame, because when you look, there was us, Fulham and Wigan who got promoted that year, and they kicked on and went up the divisions. We were in a position to do that as well, I thought."
Infamously, Caig was sold for a pittance by Carlisle two years later, as part of the chain of events that brought about Jimmy Glass's miracle. His career continued elsewhere until he returned, many years later, as a coach. He was part of Greg Abbott's backroom team for United's journeys to the new Wembley in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy in 2010 and 2011.
"It was a long time before I got back there," Caig says. "It doesn't come round all the time. Of course, at the time you're just caught up in the moment and you don't think that way.
"It was a special group of players in that period at Carlisle. You do forget a little bit, as you get on with life, but when I bump into lads who were part of that group, they all say the same things. One of the biggest factors was the unity, the tightness as a group."
This is the point Caig makes about the joys of '97 - they were achieved together, not simply by one goalie and his gloves on a treasured April day.
"I can look back now, put my hand on my heart and say it was the best three or four years of my football career by a long stretch," he says.
"I know it faded in the late 90s, and things changed between the supporters and ownership of the club, but at that time we thought anything was achievable."