Winners of the Songs of Praise FA Cup Fans choir competition announced
Hatters fan Neil Blake has been chosen as one of 64 football fans to sing Abide With Me prior to the FA Cup final at Wembley in May.
Neil will be representing the Town together with supporters of 63 other clubs who will join The Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas in front of almost 90,000 people on Saturday 30th May. Each fan represents one of the 64 teams who’ve made it to this year’s third round in the FA Cup.
Songs of Praise, who teamed up with BBC Sport as part of their FA Cup programming, asked for people to submit stories that reflect their personal memories and passion of the cup from every level of the game. The winning tales - selected by a panel of judges from the worlds of football, music and journalism – are a combination of amusing and moving stories which capture the spirit of the FA Cup and have a strong thread of family, community and tradition throughout.
Over 1,300 people applied to take part in the unique experience to sing ‘Abide With Me’ which, since it was first sung at the FA Cup Final in 1927, has become a constant fixture. In recent years, a celebrity solo singer has performed the song and this year the fans choir will join them on the football pitch. They will be led by international music producer and Songs of Praise conductor Steve Thompson, who is also a life-long fan of the FA Cup.
No singing experience was necessary to apply for the competition; those selected to perform the hymn at the FA Cup Final will now be able to practise singing ahead of the event with an online lesson which will be available on the Songs of Praise website shortly.
All the winners will also meet each other for the first time at Wembley the day before the final, where they will practice singing together and find out what it's like to walk out onto the pitch in front of almost 90,000 people.
Hatters fan Neil, 66, who has no previous singing experience, apart from in the school choir, told the BBC: “I have followed my home town club, Luton all my life. At age 11 my dad took me to all home matches and some always. Luton had a great cup run in 1959 and dad and I went to most of the games. In the quarter final we went to Blackpool and watched them draw. The replay at Luton was held on a Wednesday afternoon and Kenilworth Road was packed to the rafters. To ease the crush on the terraces some of the kids including myself were lifted out and sat on the cinders close to the touchline.
“I was in heaven being so close to my heroes especially Billy Bingham, almost treading on my feet as he danced down the right wing mesmerising the Blackpool defence. I was in heaven! Luton won thanks to the only goal from Alan Brown.
“It was not until I met up with dad that I was told that the Blackpool right winger was none other than the great Stanley Matthews and I had not even noticed him! We saw Luton beat Norwich in the semi-final at White Hart lane and St Andrews and then dad got two tickets to the final! I was devastated to be told that he would be taking my Grandad as it would be his last chance to see our club at Wembley and I would probably get another chance. He was right but when I watched Luton lose the final to Nottingham Forrest on the TV I believed that we would have won if he'd taken me!”
Good luck Neil – sing your heart out!