We have had a glorious few days in this part of South Wales, the first burst of summer. It coincided with my annual gathering for the Cup Final, a ritual I keep in homage to those far off days in the 70’s when the family gathered to watch the finale of the football season. Teams would leave hotels on coaches, men in terrible suits would walk nervously onto the pitch and a titanic struggle would ensue for that most romantic of silverware.
It was a big day with some big games now etched in the memory. The fancy dans of Chelsea v the cloggers of Leeds; the miracle of Jim Montgomery’s save to win the Cup for Sunderland; Charlie George’s sizzling winner for Arsenal in the week I bought a Liverpool bag; and Bobby Stokes, Roger Osborne and Alan Taylor becoming folklore. In the eighties, it was Coventry winning; Ricky Villa’s goal for Spurs; while Smith had to score for Brighton; and, of course, the Crazy gang of Wimbledon toppled Liverpool.
With the arrival of the nineties, the Cup lost its lustre as the filthy lucre of the Premiership became more important than the glory of the Cup. Teams playing weakened sides in order that they might cling on to the gravy train at the top table. The early rounds are still marvelous, the big boys having yet to come up with a way of ruining Third Round day.
You might be able to see what’s been gained by looking at the balance sheets of a dozen clubs but what’s been lost is something unquantifiable and invisible to the bean counters. These days it’s either two rich clubs suddenly getting interested for the Final or a lucky minnow that generally gets trounced. Well done to Wigan for ripping up that script last year. This year it was Arsenal v Hull and we all knew how that was going to end.
The last few years the kick-off has been moved from three to five pm, no doubt after a financial analysis of advertising rates suggested a richer revenue stream in emerging markets. These are hollow men without imagination who think, Premiership B teams playing in the lower leagues is the way forward. I rather hope one day the plug gets pulled on the money in football and sanity will be restored, but I’ll be long gone before that point is reached. The recent Richard Scudamore sexist remark scandal tells you all you need to know about the attitude and mind set of those in charge of football in this country.
If you haven’t yet watched the game, spoiler alert for a brief ten minutes where Hull could do no wrong and scored two goals but, inevitably, Arsenal came back to win 3-2 for their first silverware in nine years. For supporters of lower league clubs like myself, the idea of a nine year wait for an FA Cup doesn’t seem much of a hardship at all. I’ll still be back next year, if only as it happens around my birthday and guests feel obliged to bring me presents. It’s a ritual I still enjoy, even if the game has turned into a generally less than memorable side show.
Oh, and I did some pictures as the last shaft of light arrowed across the garden. Then I sucked the life out of them in Lightroom as a homage to the vampires of football leaving just a faint glimmer of the beauty that once existed.