by Adam Trask
Even though you are a grown man, with flecks of grey hair at the temple and a mortgage the size of Bradford (and Bingley), you bounce down the stairs in a pair of Danger Mouse pyjamas you have specially purchased for today. They are understandably a tight squeeze, and you look like Tom Hanks in Big, but that’s okay. You don’t intend to change until teatime when you will run into the street and impress the neighbours with some keepy-uppies.
In the kitchen your father – who you picked up from his home the previous evening and instructed him to briefly indulge you before going about his day – lowers his newspaper and peers at you. ‘They don’t stand a chance today’ he mutters gravely.
All credit to the old man. He delivers his line to perfection.
You pour out a huge bowl of Frosties – an early-morning sugar rush you haven’t allowed yourself for years – and, cola cubes aside, this will be your only sustenance for several hours.
You rush excitedly towards the television, spilling some of the milk from the bowl, and turn it on. The TV is forty inches of plasma widescreen HD wonderment. It is the only concession to modern times for this dream final. After all not everything from the past was better.
You splay yourself onto the couch, like Cleopatra awaiting Anthony, in the sure knowledge that today of all days you own this couch. Indeed you actually do own it quite literally – you have the paperwork somewhere in the office – but the satisfying full-stretch and sigh of contentment comes from the cool-ass meaning. You have full possession of this couch, this remote control, and this living space, and no big sister is going to come in this Saturday morning and claim elder sibling rights (a contract that you never actually saw), and switch over to ogle New Kids On The Block on Going Live.
She can’t anyway. Linda lives in the midlands now and will presently be taking your niece and nephew swimming.
After a courtesy flick through Match magazine noon finally arrives. The weatherman gives a special mention to Wembley – ‘glorious hot sunshine for the football later’ – and, after a brief spin of the globe, Grandstand begins.
Wait, something’s not quite right. After a moments panic the memories come flooding back. We are so habituated into believing that the BBC provides the best coverage of everything that its easy to forget that there was once a time when, whisper it, ITV was quite good.
A quick zap of the remote and Saint and Greavsie appear, wearing the most God-awful sweaters known to man. The Scotsman is barely able to speak due to the hysterical banter of his colleague who at one point whips off his sweater – the acrylic audibly fizzing as it brushes his ‘tache – to reveal a Chelsea shirt.
‘Come on you blues’ he exclaims, prompting a surprised St John to nearly hyperventilate with laughter.
Then it’s over to Wembley Way where rookie reporter Jim Rosenthial is joined by Jimmy Tarbuck (under the mistaken belief that it’s an all-Merseyside final), Suzanne Danielle and Lofty from Eastenders. It soon becomes apparent that Danielle knows little about football but finds John Terry quite attractive – ‘He’s got the clean-cut good looks of an old fashioned film star’ she gushes.
You imagine her husband Sam Torrance watching at home, brooding and growling.
Soon after comes the first genuine heart flutter. Shots come in of the players leaving their Hertfordshire hotel, tracksuited and carrying their own luggage.
For some strange reason this brief tableau – the hotel courtyard, the team coach with its sleek modern lines and the exaggerated curve of the wing-mirrors, the fronds of the incongruous palm trees in the foreground, and a group of footballers queueing to board the coach, attempting to look relaxed but appearing visibly pensive – finally brings it home to you that its truly here. Cup final day!
Then its straight back to the studio where Greavsie is making puns about Frank Lampard’s other half Christine Bleakley – ‘She reminds me of a barmaid I used to know down the Nag’s Head. Lovely girl she was. She had an arm like Popeye from pulling all my pints’. St John has tears trickling down his face.
The next hour is a joyous combination of celebrity interviews outside the stadium (including the obligatory serious thespian attending his first ever game but claiming to have always loved the ‘drama’ of the occasion), helicopter coverage of the two coaches as they snake their way through London traffic and, best of all, a reporter on the coaches themselves asking each player how they feel.
The reporter gamely moves up and down the cramped confines of the aisle asking several of the foreign players what the F.A Cup means to them and receives the same polite white fib from every one of them – how the player’s entire home town sat down together and watched Lawrie Sanchez nod the ball over a flailing Grobbelaar in ‘88.
When its Jamie Carragher’s turn, the shaky camera hovering above him, Charlie Adam uses the opportunity to bluff him off the pot as they play three-card rummy.
Soon after the iconic outline of Wembley – the Twin Towers Wembley for this is the dream final – hones into view through one of the windows. Andy Carroll can be seen lowering his over-sized headphones and taking it all in.
You switch over to the Beeb as kick-off beckons. Now is the time for John Motson, the smooth charms of Des Lynam, and yes even Jimmy Hill.
They’re showing the pre-match charity kick-about taking place on the Wembley turf and featuring an array of b-list celebs and sports stars who are essentially the precursor to the modern line-up of Strictly Come Dancing. Snooker star Tony Meo scores a thirty-yard screamer – keeper Stuart Adamson from Big Country barely moves – and Meo later claims it’s the greatest achievement of his life. No-one disagrees.
Following some lively punditry between Hill and a combative, and clearly pissed-up, Cloughie the scene is set for the players to walk from the tunnel.
Earlier, as they ambled awkwardly around in their suits, they were, to a man, wearing expensive sunglasses. Now the dazzling May sun blinds them as both teams troop out, led by their respective managers. They seek out relatives in the packed crowd, shielding their eyes with hands that wave as they recognize wives or girlfriends. Or both.
Abide With Me is played by a bunch of guys who probably need to get laid more often, rather than polish their flugelhorn, and the sacred and stirring prayer is sung lustily by both sets of supporters, who have already warmed their collective pipes up with heartfelt renditions of their own hymns that merged into one. One man went to mow but he never mown alone.
There is not a Russell Watson or Katherine Jenkins in sight, pulling their daft expressions as if they’ve just been cured of lockjaw, and butchering a perfectly decent tune by showing off their vocal acrobatics.
The teams dutifully line-up as they prepare to meet the dignitaries. Except this is the dream final so there are none. No minor royal or unpopular prime minister, who can’t understand why someone doesn’t just pick the ball up and run with it. Instead an elderly supporter from each club walks out proudly to deliver a short profound pep talk to each player, meeting each gaze and gripping each outstretched hand firmly as they walk along the line.
The roar is near-deafening as the referee finally puts the whistle to his lips and the match begins.
1st Minute – Just like in the 1997 Cup Final between Chelsea and Middlesbrough there is a goal almost immediately. After just forty-two seconds in fact. And, like Di Matteo’s strike, it is a long-range dipping effort that almost breaks the net.
The Italian nods in approval from the touchline and experiences profound deju vu.
Chelsea 1 – Liverpool 0
14th minute – Harsh but every final needs a disgruntled keeper. From Watford’s Steve Sherwood feeling he was unfairly impeded in ’84, to United’s Ray Wood being physically assaulted in ’57, right through to Bruce Grobbelaar’s comical rant at McManaman in ’92. We don’t wish to see any injustice in this final so we’re plumping for the latter.
Pepe Reina launches a furious tirade at his left-back Enrique as the reds struggle to gain any foothold in the game.
38th minute – The big occasions are made for heroes. But far more hilarious and entertaining are the wannabe heroes who just don’t quite fit the mould. In 1986 Ian Rush rounded Bobby Mimms to equalise for Liverpool against their arch foes from across Stanley Park. Except that wasn’t the whole story of the goal. With absolutely no danger of it being cleared, and the ball virtually over the line, in swooped shameless glory hunter Craig Johnson in a bid to claim it with a desperate lunge.
Thankfully the goal was rightfully credited to Rush who had done all the hard work. If it hadn’t…..and Johnson had been offside…it would have been possibly the most farcical moment the twin towers had ever witnessed.
Here Chelsea’s Ramires, who only passed a fitness test just prior to the game, rounds Reina and slots it away for their second. Daniel Sturridge slides in to no avail.
Chelsea 2 – Liverpool 0
Half-Time – You raise yourself from the couch for the first time in hours and head back into the kitchen. There you make a cherry soda-stream which you bought recently from e-bay for this very occasion and time. You have not tasted one in perhaps thirty years.
Briefly you consider going out into the yard for a kick-about against the wall. Until you remember the pyjamas.
56th minute – Liverpool have come out much stronger in the second period and already there has been a handful of missed opportunities. They’re now pressing further up the park and the ball is regularly breaking for Kuyt, Downing and Suarez who are combining well. Speaking of Suarez the generously toothed firebrand receives the ball wide on the Liverpool left. He reaches the edge of the box unhindered before jinking to his left, past one, then two, before adjusting his body shape and cutting back inside. As Cech rushes out to block the angles he slides the ball beneath the keeper’s body. It is an exact replica of a fellow South American’s mazy wondergoal in ’81.
Chelsea 2 – Liverpool 1
63rd minute – The game has now become a tense but thrilling classic. Numerous chances go begging for both sides. Just past the hour mark the Chelsea right-back punts the ball out to an unmarked Mata who is sprinting into the Liverpool box. The diminutive magician flings himself at the ball, connecting fully with a superb diving header. It is, for all the world, heading for the far right corner of the net. Until Reina somehow manages to throw himself across and paw it away….right into the path of Fernando Torres. Torres instinctively sweeps at the ball and redirects in goal-wards but amazingly, incredibly, the agile Reina recovers in time to hurl his body towards it. The ball bounces off his elbow, up onto the crossbar, and is eventually launched away to safety.
It is a truly astounding piece of heroics not seen at Wembley since….well, Jim Montgomery in 1973.
Even in the countless slow-motion replays it is hard to decipher exactly how the Spanish stopper managed to pull off such a feat which keeps the reds still firmly in the game.
71st minute – Now it’s the Merseysider’s turn for a spectacular diving header and this one is put away. Like Keith Houchen’s in ’87 the ball is played out wide to Craig Bellamy – who has just come on as a substitute – who curls a teasing cross into the box. Another of their recent subs, Andy Carroll, maligned to the point of ridicule but fast developing a reputation for being the big man for the big occasion, throws himself forward and connects sweetly, sending the ball past the hapless arm of Cech.
Chelsea 2 – Liverpool 2
72nd minute – The burly Geordie runs back towards the centre-circle and realises there are no team-mates around to celebrate with him. Instead, like Charlie George’s iconic pose in ’71, he falls onto his back, his arms out wide like a resting Christ.
80th minute – No matter how entertaining the football and no matter how tense the drama every great occasion needs the spice of controversy. So it proves here with a late sending off for John Terry.
Like Kevin Moran’s in ’85 there is little dispute over the decision from a neutrals point of view; as Spearing finds himself in the unfamiliar situation of being put clean through the last man scythes him down with the ball nowhere near. Even so Terry departs in the manner befitting a man twice stripped of the national captaincy. Pointing up to the referee’s wife in the stands he makes a clear lewd gesture. Then he blubs while preparing his excuses.
89th minute – The FA Cup Final has a legacy for producing unlikely heroes. Bobby Stokes in ’76 went from obscurity to his name being emblazoned across the back page of every newspaper in the western hemisphere with a single drive of his left foot. Brooking in ’80 (not so much by scoring but with his head!). Lee Martin, of all people, saving Ferguson’s hide in 1990.
As the minutes ebb away on an enthralling, exhilarating encounter the Chelsea boys are getting noticeably weary. The ball is lofted into their box and a tired leg half-clears into the path of Jamie Carragher. The Kop legend is better known for his goalscoring prowess at the wrong end but here from fully thirty yards out, in a strike reminiscent of his best mate Gerrard’s against the Hammers in 2006, he swings a cramped right foot through the ball and sees it whistle snugly into the corner of the Chelsea goal.
There is uncontained euphoria from the red half of Wembley as thousands go ape-s**t. The whole team jubilantly mob their captain for the day whilst the Chelsea players crumble dejectedly to the ground, their brave fight over.
Two minutes of uneventful injury time is played out before the ref signals the start of chaotic ecstasy.
Chelsea 2 – Liverpool 3
The after-match celebrations – As is traditional in these circumstances a player finds it amusing to place the cup lid on his head and wear it like a hat. In this instance it’s Dirk Kuyt
As the tired players embrace and jig a lone figure in blue approaches. Speeshishly he acknowledges his former team-mates and, sweeping the fringe of his lady-hair from his eyes, sadly reaches out to touch the cup.
We said earlier that there was no place for injustice in this dream final.
We never said anything about poetic justice.