With Wembley on the horizon lifelong Royal Bob Lethaby swigs some Dutch courage and hopes for something biblical.
The great thing about the FA Cup suffering from ‘Big Club’ apathy is that it offers smaller teams the opportunity for a day in Wembley Sun and no one will be more grateful this year than the beleaguered supporters of Reading FC who have not had a lot to cheer about lately.
In a way, Reading have been perfectly placed for a cup run, bumbling along in no man’s land in the Championship, out of reach of the play offs and a safe distance from the trap door to oblivion. This has enabled them to put all their efforts in to the grand old trophy, dismissing on their way, opponents such as Derby and Cardiff, who had more pressing concerns at opposite ends of the table.
Indeed, Reading’s toughest test was that of League One Bradford, who, after dismissing a complacent Chelsea with higher ambitions and a Sunderland side in freefall, almost started as favourites at a muddy, hostile and expectant Valley Parade, despite being a league lower than the Royals.
It was with great credit that Reading stood up to the test and their dismissal of the Bantams in the replay at the Madejski, was surprisingly nonchalant, taking in to consideration league form that had scarcely improved since the dismissal of the bronzed man of a thousand clichés in present tense, Nigel Adkins, and the subsequent employment of Steve Clarke, who resembles a bear with a hangover sat in the corner of a condemned Zoo.
Reading couldn’t have picked two more contrasting managers if they had circumnavigated the globe. It’s almost as if they sent a job description to every agent with a picture of Adkins on it saying “Can we have the polar opposite to this guy please?”
Where Adkins and Clarke stand in common is that the FA Cup apart, they have both failed to inspire like Coppell and McDermott did before them and Reading, as a consequence, still seem in disturbing decline, with poor results in the league partnered by dwindling support as apathy sets in. Thank the Lord for the FA Cup.
On Saturday, Reading will walk out on the Wembley turf resembling Del Boy’s three wheeler standing alongside the purring Ferrari that is Arsenal, a team with the richest current form record in the top flight which, had it arrived a month earlier, would have seen them looking to knock Chelsea from their unchallenged perch.
For Reading to pull off a shock, something biblical will have to happen because the weather is set fair, the Wembley pitch will be pristine which will suit Arsenal perfectly and they (Reading) unlike the teams of McDermott and Coppell, look incapable of a sustained attempt at stemming the wave of Arsenal pressure and doing something unthinkable on the break.
In my opinion, for Reading to have had any hope of victory, it would have had to of been in poor weather conditions against an Arsenal team feeling brittle on confidence after a good beating at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the Nou Camp. However, this is an Arsenal side on the up, flowing as they usually do, but also looking stern and composed at the back for the first time in a decade or so.
This game is the equivalent of an apprentice bricklayer attempting to build a dam at the Niagara Falls, The Greens winning the general election, the guy who works down the chip shop actually turning out to be Elvis, or even more ludicrous still, a middle-aged man beating his teenage son at FIFA 2015 on the Xbox.
However, this is football and as a fan of Reading, when I walk up Wembley Way with a few pints of Dutch Courage swilling in my belly, I will become delusional and dare to dream. I will start wondering what might happen if Arsenal, beset with complacency, fail to click at the same time eleven men in blue and white, inspired by a once in a lifetime opportunity, have the games of their lives?
What will be unbearable is a heroic defeat, something I have been unable to cope with since a Paul Gascoigne inspired England succumbed to a tearful and bitter exit from the World Cup at the hands of those dastardly West Germans on a steamy and emotional Turin night in 1990.
Since then, I have seen Reading lose at Wembley twice, in 4-3 in 1995 against Bolton (after being 2-0 up) 4-2 to Swansea (after being 3-0 down) in 2011 and at the Millennium Stadium, 3-2 to Walsall (after being 2-1 up).
I think it was John Cleese who said “I can take despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand” a statement that rings true with football fans up and down the country and across the globe. I would almost prefer 6-0 drubbing, but where would football be without the hurt of a glorious defeat?
I’m going for 4-1 to Arsenal but only after Reading give the fans false hope by making it 2-1 in the 70th minute and hitting the bar a minute later as Arsenal panic before reasserting themselves and punish the Royals for their audacity.
At worst, I can say I was at the first Reading FA Cup Semi-final since 1927, when we lost to Cardiff who went on to beat guess who…Arsenal…is that an omen? No it isn’t, it is a ridiculous attempt at one, but please feel free to congratulate me on an outrageous bout of delusional straw clutching.
1927 was also the year that Mercedes Gleitzer became the first British woman to swim the channel but unlike Reading this Saturday, you can bet she wasn’t swimming against the tide.
However, who knows, come Saturday evening, I may just be doing an Alex Ferguson.
“Football eh…Bloody Hell!”