THE Cup Final

The FA Cup Final – Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC
Saturday, 5th May 2012, 5.15pm
Wembley Stadium
Distance 14 miles, Attendance 89102 (we were the two)
Four days after The Cup Final (and yes it is, THE Cup Final) I’m struggling to remember the positives about it. Don’t get me wrong, The FA Cup in my humble opinion* is the greatest sporting trophy of them all. I’ve spent my whole football life obsessed by it; I care more about Watford winning The FA Cup than I do about England winning the World Cup. This season I’ve tracked its progress from the very first night to the final evening. Twenty-six games in total; twelve rounds, twelve replays, the semi and the final… The maximum possible journey it could take any team to lift The Cup. I’ve seen them all; I’ve got the T-shirt.
Each season there is a huge media scramble to predict the best final, and each season the same names crop up. At best this involves journos promoting their football buddies, and pundits plumping for the shirts they once donned. At worst it’s an ignorant majority only citing the household names, because after all, what could possibly be better than Multi-Millionaire Fancy Dans FC playing AFC Billionaire Playthings? (not that some would notice, but actually everything is wrong with this)
Thirty-five years ago I sat down before the telly for my first Cup Final, in glorious Technicolor. I can still picture the build up, the teams, the goals, and the crowd. How I wanted to be there. Since then I’ve watched them all, home or abroad, with family or friends, in rooms or in gardens (even catching one in a pokey underground bar near Stesen Keretapi Kuala Lumpur surrounded in that sweaty cavern by United-supporting Malays and my best friend (a United season ticket holder). Naturally I cheered for Palace. Ignoring the injustice of 1984, I can think of so many great finals, but my favourites never involve two “big” teams. I loved Osbourne’s strike and subsequent feint, cheered Brooking’s diving header, and young Curtis Weston’s appearance, and Keith Houchen, and Laurie Sanchez, and Thomas Sørensen from Charlie and Lola. The list goes on. But when the big teams meet in the finale, too often it seems an anticlimax. In fact, in my lifetime, only the 1979 final truly breaks the mould in this.
It was with this in mind that I optimistically set off to meet a friend, before making our way to North West London’s footballing Mecca (in its latest guise). My previous three weeks had been an emotional rollercoaster, living out a rather protracted search, but thanks to the incredible kindness of others, I was fortunate enough to be clutching two paid-in-full tickets; one in the blue corner, the other in the red.
Quick fast forward… beers in Waterloo, Jubilee Line, Met Line, Wembley Park, Olympic Way, wonder why any football fan would want a scarf of two halves, do the obligatory bump into friends, circumnavigate the stadium, enter and find seat in pro-Liverpool side of Club. Again my seat afforded another great view of the pitch, the Royal Box, and this time my companion down in the Chelsea front row, though at half time I was beginning to doubt the worth of the former. I’d left clearly intending to support Liverpool; well I was seated in that end, all my friends at the game were Blues, and to be honest I’ve always wanted to be amongst them as they sung You’ll Never Walk Alone.

   

There was a time when you wouldn’t even miss the players pitch-strolling in matching suits, but as the first strains of Gerry and The Pacemakers eeked from the PA it was clear this wasn’t the Kop. It was so far before kick-off that many fans were still outside or below in the bars. We soon moved on to be treated to shiny dancers, a marching band, “Abide With Me” sung at such a pitch that it was impossible for fans to join in, handshakes all round, and we were off. Given that over 400 million will have tuned in I’ll spare you blow by blow game action, but it was an intriguing encounter from which I couldn’t have picked the winner before hand. Chelsea kicked off and the action immediately went into slow motion. Even when they scored the pace never picked up, but luckily Bud were there to remind me that “good times are waiting”. The folks in front made their own entertainment by having a sweepstake on when goals would be scored and to be fair there were time when this surpassed the play-making action on the pitch. Thirty minutes in we’d been witnesses to some pretty bland play where Liverpool ran up and down the wings, and Chelsea, just for being the more organised and balanced side, deserved their 1-0 lead scored with a NEO2, “the official ball of the FA Cup” (one of which I saw kicked on to train tracks at Moneyfields). Five minutes later came the sign that “Great times are… worth waiting for. Grab a bud on draft.” and with that much of the crowd left for the bar/bookies/merchandise shop/ restaurant/seafood bar/toilet (delete as applicable).
Having struggled to get anywhere at halftime during at the semi final I stayed seat side. On the pitch Swindon were awarded “Giant Killer of the Year”, though given that they were the best known and biggest supported of all the nominees it was hardly a surprise. Next up was the announcement of scores coming in from around the country (through gritted teeth I’ll deal with this later), then a world record attempt which Neville Southall (amusingly) and a few fans (sadly) failed at.

Given their exploits of the first forty-five, kicking off the second half Liverpool had also clearly failed. They’d picked up the pace a bit but still seemed to think they could win the game without a man up front. It took Didier Drogba to double The Blues lead for King Kenny to realise what everyone around me knew; they were playing too deep, had little penetration, and Andy Carroll was their best hope. The impact was immediate. Chelsea supporters were still singing of being “by far the greatest team” etc… but in truth, on the pitch, it was Liverpool who were now shining. Naturally the curse of modern football (late-comers) meant some were unaware of the improvement. “It’s not looking good boys!” exclaimed the slightly inebriated late arrival in my face. “Not with you f…ing standing there it isn’t.” I thought. Out on the advertising hoardings the official sponsors were digging around for Man of the Match. I recently read Matt Rowson’s brilliant piece on this subject and to reiterate the point The Man of the Match is the one who has the greatest impact on the game. The suggestions being flashed up read “Drogba with 1 goal, Suarez with 2 shots, Mata with 1 assist. Who’s your man of the match?” (standards were clearly low in this game). Thankfully the game started to perk up gradually, and the more it did so, the more (in vain) stewards tried to keep the Club folk seated. (Whilst we’re on Club rules why is it ok to wear team hats and scarves but not shirts?) Carroll had controlled, and shot well to reduce the deficit, and Liverpool continued to press for the equaliser, but had clearly left it late. Chelsea, on the other hand, despite having less possession and goal attempts, had scored more and so deserved to win.

At the final whistle the inquest truly began as fans streamed from the red end, whilst up the other end the blues were anything but. I could see the delight on my Chelsea friends and felt glad for them. Football differences aside, we all want to see our teams win, and winning The Cup really is the special one. The media’s game post mortem might read it differently… Why hadn’t Carroll played from the start? What was Kenny thinking? And had the ball crossed the line in the closing stages? I’m not qualified to answer the first two, but the later is simple. It’s was more over than Geoff Hurst’s in 1966 but far less over than Freddie Sears’ goal away to Bristol City in 2009, and no we don’t need goal line technology.
As the Liverpool team climbed down from the Royal Box only a few thousand of their supporters were there to applaud them. As Chelsea came down, the tannoy burst into Harry J Allstars, then Suggs, and Madness. In the next half an hour there were no laps of honour, and not once did I hear Queen’s “We Are The Champions”… instead we had staged photographs and a few rehearsed fireworks. How times have changed I thought, and drifted for the exit.

As I wandered to our meeting point, I struggled with the lack of respect now afforded The Cup, that I love so much, and it’s Final. Side-stepping the fact that the music is all wrong, and that rosettes (despite being everywhere for local elections) are becoming a distant memory. No longer does it kick off at 3pm. Instead the time is dictated by television companies and moved to stupid hour when Liverpool’s fans cannot get a train back afterwards, and woe betide supporters who wish to stand for any length of time, unless of course they are queuing to buy over-priced food and beverages… No longer is it our Cup Final. Worst of all, no longer it the season’s finale; no longer does it have its own day, at the end of the season (whether true or not, I really don’t want to hear announcements that Sheffield Wednesday and Crawley Town have been promoted at halftime at the Cup Final, IT’S JUST WRONG!!!).

organised celebrations

Meeting my companion near Bobby Moore we headed for the station and waited in a very short priority Club queue. “Gerrards Cross?” enquired one man to the station steward. “Of course he is…” quipped my friend “he’s just lost!” After all the things that don’t seem right about today’s Cup Final it was good to end sharing a joke.
I’m not sure how I got into to this, nor could I explain the encouraging influence Graham, Damon & Simon, Andy, Stuart, Rob & Lloyd, James and others unwittingly had along the way, but somewhere back in late August I was hooked. Would I do it again? No. I have other football journeys to navigate. Would I encourage others to try? Without hesitation, The FA Cup is still magic. The full stats are below, but let’s just say, even if the landing was bumpy, the ride was exhilarating.
Thanks for listening.
Games watched                26
Grounds visited               22
Teams watched                46
Goals scored                      97
Best game                           4th Qualifying Round (replay) – Leatherhead v Sutton United
Best atmosphere             Quarter Final – Everton v Sunderland
Miles travelled                 1768
Attendance                        412314
This entry was posted in 2011-2012, FA Cup and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to THE Cup Final

  1. Stuttle says:

    A hugely enjoyable series. As a fellow Breaker I’m never one to lavish praise so have waited until the end of your adventure to comment.
    It’s a shame really that the anticipation and finally the reading of your Cup Final blog exceeded that of watching the game itself.
    Looking forward to seeing if the Olympics can inject a bit of passion into the Wembley games.

  2. hopticklist says:

    Enjoyed your cup final report. I’m afraid the cup final has lost all it’s magic. I watched a North Berks league game, returned to Reading, watched 15 mins of it in the pub before meeting the wife. In my younger days I would have been glued to the telly. Watford/Palace, ‘again’ next season! Cheers🙂

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