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Saturday 27th May 2017 ko 17.30

FA Cup Final

ARSENAL 2 (Sanchez 5 Ramsey 79)

CHELSEA 1 (Costa 77) Moses sent off 69 (2nd booking)

Att 89,472 at Wembley Stadium

Entry £45

Programme £10

I’m old enough to remember the FA Cup when it took over all of the television on whatever Saturday it fell. You could watch “Cup Final Multi-Coloured Swap Shop” if you so desired, such was the importance attached to the final game of the season. Then after lunch I’d sit with Dad and watch the game, preceeded by the marching band, and the singing of “Abide with me,” and it goes without saying that from the moment I first set eyes on the spectacle I wanted to go to a final. There were a few problems with my idea though….

I was certainly never going to go as a player, I still blame Mother for sending me in wellies to my first training session at Quarry Nomads’ ground for that, but following Oxford United was no help either. Yes, we won the League Cup in 1986, and is the only time we’ve featured in a major final, and at the old Wembley too. But the League Cup is different, it lacks the lustre of the FA Cup, and when you scratch the surface of the FA Cup Final you see why.

Take any Arsenal vs Chelsea game. It will sell out pretty much wherever you play it and in whatever competition. The Premier League is important, so is the League Cup, and so is the Champions League. By definition this is two of the capital’s biggest clubs, but the FA Cup is about so more than just the two finalists, and that is how Robyn and I came to be present.

Let’s look again at the Premier League, that contains 20 teams, the League Cup 92, and the Champions League 32 clubs (in the group stage). The FA Cup this season saw 736 clubs enter with 5 Extra-Preliminary Round ties played on the 5th August. And its this broadness of entry that makes the FA Cup what it is. The 146 year history, the 136 competitions, the clubs that started out in August some 6 promotions from the EFL had dreams of reaching this stage did so with little else out but those dreams.

It is, of course those dreams that make the FA Cup special, the tear in my eye during “Abide with me” was remembering Dad telling me the traditional singing of the hymn started as King George V was present at the 1927 final (Cardiff City 2 Arsenal 1) and it was his favourite hymn. Incidentally that final was the first to carry a radio commentary with a grid printed in the Radio Times to help listeners place where the ball was. The grid idea didn’t last long, but the phrase “Back to square one” did!

But some of those dreamers were at Wembley with Robyn and I. The great beauty of the FA Cup Final is that the grassroots is there. I’m a committeeman at the North Berkshire League, we get the chance to buy 2 tickets, and I’m humbled that our committee selected me to buy the tickets.

And once you understood the final is more than just a game between the two finalists you started to spot the pairs of League reps dotted about (in our case) the Chelsea fans. It seemed to anchor the whole occasion, yes this was a Chelsea vs Arsenal game, but the roots lie so much more deeply than just them. It seemed that everyone was represented from Prince William to the bloke to helps out at his local league. That in a nutshell is what makes the FA Cup final special.

Of course no event can exist in a bubble or as a museum piece, it must evolve or die. I expect there to be more razzmatazz, that’s the way of the world, although I’m no fan of the game kicking off at 5.30 although this time the later-than-traditional kick-off did take the edge off of the temperature in what was a sweltering day.

The final took place in the backdrop of the Manchester atrocities, and the increased Police presence managed to be sizeable, non-intrusive and reassuring, to the point that a regular sight was fans approaching the police to thank them. The walk down Wembley Way is part of the experience, and the small boy in me loved being virtually the first person in our block watching the stadium fill and the atmosphere build. The pre-match build-up included tributes to the Manchester victims and I have never known a minute’s silence like this one. So quiet were 90,000 people that I could hear the extractor fans from the concourses way below my seat.

For once the game lived up to all the expectation. Maybe Arsenal’s makeshift defence missing the injured Gabriel and the suspended Laurent Koscielny encouraged them to attack, and it was Alexis Sanchez’ opener that gave the game impetus. That feeling would have included Chelsea and their fans.  Many would argue that Aaron Ramsey was clearly offside and interfering with play in the build-up. But this in so many ways was Ramsey’s final. I was expecting to see the energy of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante drive them to victory, instead it was Ramsey’s runs, and the sheer obduracy of Per Mertesacker and the youthful Rob Holding in the Arsenal defence that caught the eye.

Chelsea’s Victor Moses caught the eye for all the wrong reasons, his second booking for a dive made him the fifth player sent off in the FA Cup final and for arguably the most shameful of reasons- blatant cheating. Nevertheless 10-man Chelsea rallied to equalise through the pugnacious Diego Costa only for man-of-the-match Ramsey to head home Olivier Giroud’s cross two minutes later to win the cup for a record 13 times for his club, and a quite unbelievable 7 times for Arsene Wenger his manager. On the way back to Wembley Park underground station the Arsenal fans were extremely quick to point out to the Chelsea fans that Wenger has won the FA Cup more times than Chelsea have!

I hear the modern FA Cup criticized routinely and the arguments although sometimes cogent and justified, aren’t a topic I’ll discuss here, it wasn’t the time to rehash, more to relish. This was a fulfillment of a near 40-year dream for me; and for Robyn and I it met every expectation either real or supposed.

If, like me you love the FA Cup then I’d recommend Phil Annets’ excellent site FA Cup Factfile, some of the statistics are from there.