Spice Boy days distant memory for James
Pompey 'keeper focuses on FA Cup medal rather than dress code
"Had we won the cup," mused David James, "we would have been the best dressed team to win the cup."
However, Liverpool did not win the FA Cup in 1996; they lost an abysmal final 1-0 to Manchester United. The white Wembley suits worn by the Liverpool players subsequently became the defining image of the 'Spice Boys', a cluster of Liverpool players who were deemed to have been more style than substance.
Today there is a mini-reunion of the Spices. While James keeps goal for Portsmouth, Robbie Fowler will wait on the bench for his chance to come on and score against his old team-mate.
And in the stands Jamie Redknapp will be hoping his father, Pompey manager Harry, oversees an FA Cup triumph. Who knows, maybe Steve McManaman, Stan Collymore and Jason McAteer will also be there, wearing anything but white.
"It was not white, it was cream, maybe even almond," corrected James this week, unable to help himself being irked by the error all these years later.
James added: "If there is an irritation, it is that the suit was more memorable than the cup final."
The goalkeeper has been known to both deny he was a Spice Boy ("I was too old," he said this week), and that he chose the suits. Fowler remembers differently. "It was David James' fault we wore them," he said this week. "It was his idea. He's bigger than everyone, so nobody questioned him, and at the time, he was an Armani model. I think he knew somebody who could get us the suits. I was only a young player and I didn't get much say. If we had won the game, nobody would have mentioned it. But we lost and it has become infamous. People remind me about them all the time."
Both players have still got their suits. "I might wear it for the Christmas fancy-dress party," said Fowler. "It is in the wardrobe," said James of his. "It has got grass stains on it from when I wore it for a Travelling Bunburys charity cricket match a couple of years afterwards. I did catch a couple of people out."
As well as the Spice Boy tag the goalkeeper was also labelled 'Calamity James' following a series of high-profile howlers. Although he did make some mistakes the monicker was harsh because, like Bruce Grobbelaar, many 'errors' were the result of a pro-active goalkeeping style. In his determination to dominate his area James would attempt to claim crosses that other goalkeepers would have left their defence to deal with. He is also more likely to try and win the ball off a lone forward in a one-to-one situation than many 'keepers.
The two nicknames did James no favours. Liverpool sold him then, having finally replaced David Seaman in the England goal, he was dropped by the national team. Since joining Portsmouth at the start of last season he has, though, refashioned his image. After visiting Malawi with the FA he created the David James Foundation to raise AIDS awareness and help farmers there. He has become a global ambassador for the Special Olympics. He has also used a national newspaper column as a soapbox campaigning on environmental issues, on ticket-pricing, on school sport and a range of other concerns. His writing has had a confessional element, perhaps a cathartic one because, with the help of a psychologist, he appears to have come to terms with an obsessive personality. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that he has also delivered two seasons of solid performances and regained his England place.
This is probably the happiest I have been in my career," he said. "I was fortunate to have a good season last year and this season has been a follow-on. It's been a great 12 months."
Victory today would cap it, and also enable James earning an unwelcome record. Only one player, to date, has lost finals with three different clubs, John Barnes who suffered defeats with Watford, Liverpool (with James) and Newcastle United. Unlike James, Barnes also picked up a winner's medal, with Liverpool.
Will it be third time lucky for James? "I don't believe in luck. The reality is in the previous two FA Cup Finals we didn't play well enough and deserved to lose.
"All I can hope for in this one is that as a team we go out there and make a decent account of ourselves as we have done throughout the rounds. As much as it hasn't been pretty we've done enough to win the game. Saturday will be no different and if we do that then a very good season ends up being a tremendous season.
"There's nothing more frustrating, especially for supporters, than not performing on the day. I look at Villa more than Liverpool in that because, like Portsmouth, they hadn't got to a Cup final in decades.
"The build-up was tremendous and everyone was looking forward to a wonderful day out. Likewise here. And the worst thing is to go out and not perform."
When they inspect the pitch this lunchtime Portsmouth will be wearing blue suits, chosen by Harry Redknapp. "If the players think the style is a bit old-fashioned it doesn't bother me," he said.
"We found out it was Jamo's fault that Liverpool wore those creamy white suits and we were not letting him do it to us."
Jeff Banks has designed them. "Has he," said James with an air of studied indifference when he was told. I really don't care." (© Independent News Service)