Today should be a day that all football fans have been waiting for with baited breath, counting the days until it arrived.
It is FA Cup final day. Years ago this was undoubtedly the biggest day of the season in English football. I remember all of the finals from my childhood. Television coverage of the teams in their hotel having breakfast, on the team coach on the way to the ground and even occasionally from inside the dressing rooms made it a very special day indeed for a young football fan.
Of course, in those days, we only had two highlights programmes a week to watch, and day time television was unheard of. FA Cup final day was definitely special. It was the only game of the season where you really felt that you knew what was going on.
Now with Sky Sports we are used to seeing everything that goes on behind the scenes at matches, and most weeks of the season you can watch a live game on television most evenings. Because of that the Ã¢â‚¬ËœmagicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of Cup Final day has somewhat diminished.
Even so, the competition used to have an air of excitement with everyone glued to their radios to hear the draw being made and dreaming of a glamorous trip to Anfield or Old Trafford for the Fourth Division donkeys that you supported. Names of the giant-killers in the FA Cup roll off the tongue for the older fan. Yeovil, Hereford, Sutton United, Wrexham and so many more.
Without us really noticing, the FA Cup has gradually lost its place in the hierarchy of football. The top teams rarely play a full strength side in the competition and real giant-killing acts have been few and far between. The chances of a glamorous trip to Wembley for the smaller clubs have declined. Since 1995 the only winners of the FA Cup have been the big four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
All of that has been true for a few years until this season. The FA Cup this year has been much more like it used to be. We have had the sad spectacle of Arsenal playing a severely weakened team at Old Trafford, showing the competition little respect, but on the whole, the big teams have played their big-hitters and the small teams have achieved genuine giant-killing acts.
Portsmouth beat a full strength Manchester United at Old Trafford. Barnsley beat a near full strength Chelsea as well as a Liverpool team that although not at full strength, contained eleven international players. Havant and Waterlooville beat League One runaway champions Swansea and gave Liverpool a terrible fright at Anfield. It has been great. Just like the old days.
In the final today are two unfancied teams who have got there on merit. Portsmouth havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t won the FA Cup since 1939 and Cardiff havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been victorious in the competition since 1927. Whoever wins the cup will be making history. Cardiff would be the first side from outside the top flight in twenty-eight years to lift the cup.
To get to the final, Portsmouth have won a tricky third round tie at Championship Ipswich, who were previously unbeaten at home, Championship side Plymouth at home, another Championship side, Preston, away, champions Manchester United away and Championship winners West Brom. Apart from the Manchester United game this may look like an easy run to the final, but Pompey have only been at home once and have only conceded one goal.
Cardiff have overcome non-league Chasetown, League two Hereford United, fellow Championship side Wolves, Premier League Middlesbrough away, and another Championship side in Barnsley. Again, this is not the toughest of campaigns but there were a couple of banana-skin games and like Pompey, Cardiff have only played once at home.
Portsmouth and Cardiff have never previously met in the FA Cup and they have not competed in the same division for twenty-three years. There are few recent encounters therefore on which to base any predictions. Portsmouth finished eighth in the Premier League, whilst Cardiff finished some twenty-four places lower in twelfth place in the Championship.
Portsmouth are clearly odds on favourites and the best price for Cardiff is around 2/1. For the first time in a few years, I think anything could genuinely happen and we might just have a good game of football. The outcome is far from clear and the game has an air of excitement and Ã¢â‚¬ËœmagicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ about it that the FA Cup finals of the past had.
I am looking forward to the day, the game and the occasion. Somehow, the final feels like an FA Cup final should do.
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