Saturday, 30 May 2015

Jumpers for goalposts

I awake with a certain amount of excitement this morning.

Not only because it's Saturday; we get one of them every seven days or so and the weekend dance is over twelve hours old. Not just because it's sunny; don't get me wrong I enjoy a bright, blue-skied 7am as much as anybody but it takes a very dark, overcast mizzly morning to dampen my demeanour. No, this morning I awake with the anticipation and excitement of a 1980s me: it's FA Cup Final Day!

There's a certain nostalgia which accompanies the celebration of what is (for most) the last day of the season and if it wasn't for various unforgivable footballing atrocities, Mssrs Murdoch, Sr and now Jr, Monsieur Platini et ses antécédents and anyone else involved in inflating egos, incomes and wages to ridiculous levels, it's a nostalgia in which I would not be able to indulge.

The 1980s brought some of the biggest perms, smallest shorts and happiest footballing days. Everyone looked forward to the Cup Final; equivalent to the Grand National being the only day in the calendar where utter novices find themselves confronted by the bewildering bookies' interior, the Cup Final was the one match of the year where everyone sat down to watch.

The day would begin early with bacon-flavoured breakfasts and televisual marathon preparation. Up and down the land, experimental furniture formations would aim to mimic opposing stands or tiered living room seating to provide the best view of what was probably a 14, perhaps a 24 inch telly. Curtains were drawn to maximise viewing pleasure and to remove unwanted shadow reflection on the slightly convex screen.

The TV would be switched to One late morning, just in time for the start of FA Cup Grandstand. Three top-whacks and the picture would stabilise enough to bring Bob Wilson's Football into Focus and we were off. BBC-rented helicopters would capture the teams leaving their hotels for the trawl into Wembley. There's the Bell Hotel, the A40 ("we go down there sometimes don't we, Dad") and the painstakingly slow coach trip in amongst thousands of Capris, Granadas, Princesses and Allegros.

The A-Listers would be out in force, slightly high on life, free tickets and warm Piat d'Or. There's Tarby backing the reds and a giggly Cilla doing likewise. Cannon and Ball are there and there's Bernie Clifton, barely recognisable without his ostrich. Wembley Way is a purple wave, the reds and blues intertwined in good natured banter, dodgy burgers and shandied singing. Children struggle under their good-idea-at-the-time flags, passing out as their hats and scarves prove better suited to winter than this sweltering May day.

The match would be played out in glorious sunshine, John Motson's facts usurping Barry Davies' astonishment. One team would win and the captain would lead the way up the 39 steps to be presented the trophy by some medium royalty. Emlyn Hughes would end up in a tiny celebration hat whether he was playing or not.

Mum arrived with a tray of tea and cake as the cup arose to an almighty roar. Then it was time to re-enact the highlights; a Villa swerve, a Moranic tackle, a Whiteside from the right side before bed and the promise of re-living it all again on Monday before first bell.

The eighties ended. Along came Murdoch to spoil the party. Sky robbed future generations of regular sport viewing, stealing from the pockets of the few in a quest for insane wealth with the result of the national teams having poorer pools from which to pick. The FA Cup was sidelined, largely forgotten as the stronger teams fielded weaker sides, saving their best for their Champions League aspirations. The season-ender was no longer the calendar's last and interest waned.

Twenty-odd years have passed and we're back. I don't know what's changed but I suspect it's me rather than it. We still have spiralling salaries, a dwindling dearth of home grown players and teams targeting European gold but something about this year's Cup has caught my imagination.

Nothing's like it was; there are no helicopters from hotels, second-rate Scousers or furniture formations. Kick-off is 5.30 because the TV audience is bigger (that's not really the point is it, Greg Dyke; what about inspiring the kids to go out and play after the match, instead of just going to bed?) and half of the teams playing are one of the top four. Be that all as it may, I am gripped by Cup fever. The tea cups are washed, the cake is in the oven (not mine; the baker's) and the Lego trophy has been made, presented and smashed. Bring on the Villains.

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