A little FA Cup Final nostalgia allowed in these most fragile of times
Don’t worry about all this Covid-19 nonsense. It is just an illusion.
Right now, in a parallel universe, we are gearing up for another of those days where we are about to reconnect with our youth – about to rediscover, in however small a way, the part of us that first hooked us in to a sport which we will never give up, no matter how hard Coronavirus may try.
It could be argued that nothing inspires nostalgia quite like the annual Wembley fixture which can crank up the emotional side of our footballing lives to maximum – if we let it.
That is especially true of those of us of vintage stock who only had the FA Cup final to look forward to as live action back in the day, along with the England v Scotland home international and the European Cup final.
Whether you are a fan who has been lucky enough to attend an FA Cup final in person, or are an armchair aficionado, there used to be nothing quite like it in the football calendar.
The early start to Grandstand on TV, the visits to the team hotels and cup final It’s a Knockout were all part of the heady mix which probably require explanations to the current generation of followers who are likely to be baffled about what all the fuss was about.
There used to be no single sporting event in the country to compare for pomp and ceremony on those extra special days, when you actually craved extra-time, just so that you could watch a bit more football and stave off the inevitability of summer for just a little bit longer.
The tail end of last month, the Twittersphere was full of this longing to recall the past, as the 50th anniversary of the Chelsea v Leeds final (which did go to extra-time and a replay, of course) inspired all manner of understandably heart-felt recollections.
For me, it was the second final I ever watched on TV and the first in colour, courtesy of well-to-do neighbours in the carpet-selling business who were the first in our street to have this state-of-the-art contraption, which could miraculously beam something other than monochrome. Our old black and white had to do for the Man City v Leicester City final which took place the previous year.
It went on like that in the early part of the decade – a visit to various friends for the big day as our household stubbornly refused to embrace the modern age, until my mother decided we needed a colour set for the 1974 World Cup or she would probably not see much of me for the duration of the tournament.
Of course there is no point in pretending to ourselves that the modern cup final, with its misguided 5pm + kick-off times, stirs the blood in quite the way those 70s and 80s cup finals did, but it is still an important link to the past – to our roots.
Cup final day is a bit like Christmas for those of us who have effectively seen our lives as a mere backdrop to the front-of-house drama of football.
Every year we try to re-ignite the feelings of yesteryear when we gather for Yuletide festivities. Every year, we know it is an impossible hope, doomed to failure. But every year, we go back to it….trying our best to recapture the innocent flush of youth and anticipation.
So, what might we be looking forward to this week in our alternative universe? Permit us maybe a classic London-centric view, as befits Capital Football. After all, nearly half of the finals (28 out of 60 since Tottenham’s 1960 triumph over Leicester City) have been won by a London side.
A third instalment of Chelsea v Man United at the new Wembley perhaps? Didier Drogba’s goal settled the first final back at the new arena in 2007 and Eden Hazard’s penalty secured another 1-0 win over United two seasons ago.
Maybe we would have a reprise of the Arsenal v Chelsea denouement of three years ago when the north Londoners triumphed 2-1 – the one which proved Alexis Sanchez used to be a great player and the winner from Aaron Ramsey was laid on by Olivier Giroud, against the club he would later join.
Our jaundiced London view is surely justified, given that 10 capital sides have made the 13 finals since they returned to Wembley after six years in exile at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium during the rebuild of the famous old Twin Towers venue. And that does not include Watford last year, who are practically honorary London members.
Maybe on Saturday it will not feel as big a loss as in days gone by. For most, the pang of regret will probably not greatly surpass the feeling of being bereft at the lack of Premier and EFL action. But for sure, there will be a few of us pining.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, the deprivation will not amount to much compared to this awful current reality preoccupying us all, which has devastated so many families. But it is another moment to realise that nothing we ever do, have done, or will do, can ever be taken for granted.