Want to know the worst ever match of my life? Easy – it was a Cup Final. We lost to Luton, after being 2-1 up. Worse, at 2-1 up I was dead certain we would now cruise through to victory. After all we had George Graham as manager, and we knew a thing or three about defending a lead.
But apparently not.
What made that so bad was not just the defeat in the stadium, but coming out afterwards and having all these people in straw hats meeting up and hugging each other with looks of total disbelief. And so they should – I didn’t believe it either.
The defeat to Birmingham. Again totally unexpected, again depressing, again utterly awful. I seem to remember vast parts of the Wembley area being unfinished. Great pools of water sitting on the ground, signs missing, that sort of thing. A desperate dismal place. Maybe it was just me though. I mean, losing it in the last couple of minutes. Really.
The only bit of light relief I get from either of these events is the fact of where these two clubs are now. Luton Town have spent years in the Conference and have only just finally managed to escape to the charms of League Two for next season. It’s hard to forget they were once a first division team.
And Birmingham… with their chairman in jail, the club being run by his relatives, total uncertainty about their debts. This past season they managed to avoid relegation into League One on goal difference. Next year they probably won’t be so lucky.
So am I bitter and twisted? It certainly sounds like it, but in reality these were just bad days, and I don’t particularly wish either club ill, although I do hope Luton have improved their ground since I last went there for a league match. I had the feeling that if I used the toilet I’d get cholera – but that was a long time ago and health and safety inspections must be better by now.
But it leads to the question, why do I keep doing it? Why did I go to the semi-final this season and put myself through the shoot out? Simple: because when we got through I had such a feeling of joy, such a great moment hugging my mates, such delirium.
And why go to this cup final against Hull? Simple: because I want to experience that again. If we win, I want to have been there, and remember it. I want to be part of my club, and going to a cup final is how I do it.
You remember the Man U final in which we were 2-0 up and they equalised with minutes to go? Alan Sunderland scored and the old boy, who now resides in splendid retirement on the tiny island of Gozo in the Mediterranean, ran around Wembley like a maniac.
Now if you remember that you’ll also remember that as he ran around the pitch with his arms out he was shouting his head off. Well, he came to the Emirates Stadium a couple of weeks back and did the half time interview – and he was asked what he actually said – although with a reminder from the interviewer that he was being asked the question before 9pm and there could be children listening.
Without pausing Alan said, “Blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank, blank-ing brilliant.”
So yes, we remember the good moments – the classics – as much as the failures. And although I remember the bad times, there have been some great moments, not least the three amazing doubles.
But since them we’ve had the wait. However we should remember we have won our last three FA Cup finals (beating Man U, Southampton and Chelsea), and maybe of those I particularly remember the Man U game because it was so boring, dull and awful.
I can also recall the Southampton game – just a 1-0, and I do remember the side footer from Robert Pires which won the match because I had a good view. But strangely for that season it wasn’t the final at all that I remember most but the match a week before. We beat Southampton 6-1 and Pires got a hat trick – including the most amazing outrageous lob over the keeper.
Now that season we could have won the league, and I thought we would win the league – but we lost 2-3 at home to lowly Leeds with three games to go, and that was that.
After the particular game I felt utterly, utterly lost, and couldn’t even face going home. I went for a wander around Covent Garden on my own, ate a truly atrocious Italian meal and spent a dismal evening just watching people. Sometimes it gets me like that.
But I came back for the Southampton league game, saw the glorious display, and my faith was restored. And I remember thinking not only that we would win the FA Cup but also that we would we would be back to win the league the next season. “This team is good,” I remember saying to myself, “they will win more,” and I believed it.
And you know what happened next. That victory in the league against Southampton was the first of the 49. The following season was rather fun, if you recall.
So what happens against Hull?
I’m delighted we have Ramsey and Ozil back, because those two can run the show. I know Ozil has his critics but I am not one of them – I want him to be invisible, because when he is, he turns up in the most unlikely places and puts through the most unlikely pass. We need Ramsey and Ozil, and I am much less optimistic when that wonderful combination is not on the pitch.
Of course we should win easily, but I’ll take any sort of win – preferably without extra time.
But I have been around here a long time and in football you never really know. In truth, I’m just pleased to have a ticket, pleased to be going with my mates, and pleased that I can find enjoyment in such events, even at the expense of occasional misery.
I don’t think we’ll lose, but even if we have another Luton, I’ll still be there next season. In fact I’ll be there before that, watching the Women’s Cup Final on June 1. That’s just what I do.