The FA Cup has taken some well documented hits over the years- low crowds, weakened teams, Andy Townsend- but Saturday’s final surely represented a breach of tradition too far. For one thing, there was incident. For another, there was the occasional deviation from the expected narrative. And, as a final capper this was a televised game involving Portsmouth without, unless I missed it, a big screen showcase moment for their loyalist and most attention seeking fan, ‘Mr Portsmouth’. Which has to count for something.
At this point it is fair to bring up 2006’s final between Liverpool and West Ham United, a similarly exciting fixture. Yet my extensive research shows that most don’t consider any finals played in that strange Cardiff era as officially ‘canon’, in the same way Star Wars fans baulk at the ret-conned suggestion that Greedo shot first, and all FA Cup games played there have been accordingly expunged from the record. Which makes the twelve hour journey I made on a toilet less coach to see Newcastle beaten there 4-1 by Manchester United in 2005 feel particularly galling, in retrospect.
An exciting final at Wembley, though? Surely not. And one involving Chelsea? Chelsea, who since 1970 and Leeds, have subjected us to so much Cup Final tedium that they may have well spent the time walking the steps to collect their medals telling us about this amazing dream they had last, right, and we were in it, right, only it wasn’t us, yeah, but they somehow knew it was us? Many were left scrambling around their sofas, their arm chairs and their other associated seating arrangements wondering how to cope.
It wasn’t all bad: there was that lull in the second half just after Chelsea scored, where it was probably safe to slip in a little nap. And, as ever a service for the truly discombobulated, ITV were doing their level best to undermine any entertainment.
It eventually reached levels akin to broadcasting farce when Drogba’s shot crashed off the inside of the bar and on the line. “That’s fifteen seconds it has taken big bad television to say ‘goal’” asserted Tyldesley over inconclusive pictures. A hum and a Hah from Jim Belgin later and (Tyldesley): “or, thirty seconds to say no goal.” Synaptic readings by now going a haywire, Clive concluded that we should definitely have video and if it’s unclear- which this was- then the goal shouldn’t be given, which this one wasn’t. Chelsea’s forwards weren’t the only ones miscalculating their angles.
We were offered at halftime that old one about Chelsea being a “lick of paint” away from scoring, which is as almost, in incidents like this, as predictable a response as the calls for video replays. I am never quite certain about this ‘lick of paint’ reasoning. I have always imagined- you’ll correct me if I’m wrong- that the dimensions of the pitch linings are pretty firmly defined by the law book. And, if they aren’t, wouldn’t an extra lick of paint only add to the density of the line and not the width? And, either way, how would that have been to Chelsea advantage, when surely want they needed was a lick of paint subtracted? That’s not a job that’s going to be negotiated without a look through a yellow pages, and a grave warning from a man with a pencil in the side of his mouth that it may be easier to take the whole thing out and put a new one in.
In a further step away from Cup tradition, there was no doubled over figure complaining of cramp. I always found that cramp added a certain dramatic fission to the end of the final, and it’s disappointing that modern fitness regimes being as they are, the clubs seem to have got a hold of it. Good for them, but I still maintain that my idea to prevent players being struck down with it as the game approaches the ninetieth minute by simply kicking off at ninety minutes and running the clock backwards was a good one.
Still, give and take, and as one tradition erodes, another emerges: John Terry became the seventh hundredth player or manager to complain of Wembley turf dissatisfaction, in the charming and grace filled manner for which he is renowned.
Congratulations to him and to Chelsea, and congratulations to Jim Belgin, who, when commenting that they now have a double “to add to their CV” became the first person in history to equivocate winning a league and cup domestic double with obtaining the Duke of Edinburgh award.