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I'VE PLAYED IN THE WORLD CUP BUT MY BOYHOOD DREAM IS TO WIN THE FA CUPJOE COLE remembers a time when the FA Cup Final was the biggest game of the season. And even though it has become a consolation prize for Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, footballs most famous old trophy has lost none of its appeal for Cole. The Chelsea midfielder, 25, still has the wide-eyed excitement of a schoolboy on his first trip to Wembley when it comes to playing in his first FA Cup final. Even to the point that Cole puts it ahead of the Champions League and Premiership as he promised that tomorrows dream clash will live up to expectations and help put Cup final day back on the footballing map. For me, its the top one. Im not just saying that because its what were playing for. Its what I dreamed of as a kid, said the England man. Ive played in Champions League games, league deciders and World Cups but this is the bigge

st game Ive played in. Its the FA Cup Final, isnt it? Its the one. It was always the game you watched as a kid, no matter wher

e you were. When youre a boy you dream about scoring in the FA Cup Final, you dont dream about scoring in a league game. Scoring in the cup final... thats the ultimate. It would be easy to dismiss Coles comments as trying to make up for Chelseas disappointments in the Premiership and Champions League. But Cole will not entertain talk of the FA Cup just being a consolation prize, with the thought of allowing Manchester United to complete the Double surely being too much to bear. It has been an injury-ravaged season for Cole, who has been struggling since he injured his knee in pre-season and then undergoing surgery on his broken foot after Christmas. But Cole, who grew up as a Chelsea fan, has set his heart on finishing the campaign in style. And even playing at the new Wembley for the first time stirs up cherished memories from England School

boy days bene

ath the old Twin Towers which he says is his best experience in football. Even ahead of two Premiership titles. I remember going to FA Cup finals as a fan, said Cole who watched Chelsea lose to Sir Alex Fergusons men and then beat Middlesbrough three years later. My dad gave the tickets to one of his mates to take us to the 1994 final because he wasnt a big football fan, and I went on a big coach with the Chelsea fans, singing and bouncing, and then it was back to the pub afterwards. I had a few diet cokes! For the Middlesbrough one I was staying at the national school at Lilleshall. As it was up in Shropshire I was getting settled to watch it on the box and the headmaster, Mr Pickering, said he had two spare tickets. He knew I was a Chelsea fan so he put us in a car, and I went down with Craig Pead, whos playing for Walsall now, and we had a great day. We were actually in the directors box - for two teenagers it was blinding. I thought then, one day I want to be out there. Its always the dream of young players. Both days were great, even though one brought disappointment. I remember Roberto Di Matteos goal, it was just blinding. I played at Wembley for England Schools and, to be honest, that was probably my favourite memory as a player. It was the Under-15s, in front of 70,000 against Germany as well - and we beat them. I can still remember it, I can picture it now - it was brilliant. It was the first time Id played in front of a huge crowd, a big, proud day for my family. I get the same nerves now as I did then. I suppose theres more pressure to perform now, but there was still pressure then - I had 70-odd of my family coming down and so you cant disappoint. But hopefully Im going to have the FA Cup in my pocket on Saturday night. Schoolboy days stir up some wonderful memories for Cole, but this season will not live long in his mind unless Chelsea win tomorrows final. This season, to win the FA Cup is going to be magic for us. Theres other things to come. Theres England, which will be important, but on a personal note it all boils down to Saturday for me, whether I take something out of the season or whether it is a bit of a damp squib. We were always resolved to win everything. Its very difficult to win four and you cant pick or chose, youve got to compete in every game. I think if you start resting players you come unstuck. Weve pushed United all the way, weve done as much as we can and if we win the FA Cup its still a marvellous season for the club and people should remember that. But its all to do on Saturday. I remember Roberto Di Matteos goal against Boro. I was just a teenager sitting in the directors box betfair FA CUP FINAL: Betfair bet: Chelsea 2-1, Man Utd 7-4, draw 11-5 Full details online at www.betfair.com. SCHOLES EYE A

NGUISH: Pages 76-77

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