I’m sorry to say that I missed this past Saturday’s F.A. Cup Final, the last one to be played in Cardiff and the first one I’ve not seen in a decade. I was in Los Angeles on business over the weekend and did for a moment consider waking up at 5am and shelling out $20 to watch the match in the company of various ex-pats at a local tavern. After flashing on the possibility, however remote, of running into Steve Jones, I thought better of it and slept until noon.
And who says I can’t write about intense personal stuff?
People who claim the build-up to the Cup final is not as extensive as it used to be simply aren’t trying. At 7.30am Brian Alexander was already ensconced in Leigh Delamere service station on the M4 interviewing fans on behalf of Five Live.
From 9am there was two hours of Eamon Holmes on a bus. No more enticing than it sounds, this involved Holmes closing out non-interviews with, ‘Aled, mate, thank you very much for your perspective.’ Holmes signed off with: ‘Let’s forget Malcolm Glazer and let’s concentrate on the football.’ A sentiment that obligated me to concentrate on the protesters.
And the news bulletins were encouraging. At 11am the top news story was: ‘Police have warned Man United fans that they won’t tolerate any kind of demonstration.’ By midday this had changed to the police ‘issuing a stern warning’. At that rate of progress they would be parking their water cannons on the pitch in time for kick-off.
Furthermore, Gordon Farquhar who was on ‘Glazer watch’ promised there would be a demonstration from the Prince of Wales pub at half past two that he imagined would be ‘pretty vivid’. There was encouraging talk of turnstiles being blocked and beach balls being thrown. In the event, it was something of a damp squib, rain dampening any fervour. And confusion being sown by the team and protesters deciding to wear the same outfit. Couldn’t they have rung each other beforehand?
Ah well, there were other consolations, with referee Rob Styles talking to Five Live about his ‘responsibility to the game, to thousands of referees around the country. In a sense I’ll be living out their dream’.
Now I have no certain knowledge what referees dream about, but rudimentary psychology suggests that such authoritarian figures are prone to the odd submissive fantasy. Would Styles do something he might live to regret. Would the game go down in history as ‘The Mysterious Affair of Styles’? Worries were not eased by Styles bragging to Garth Crooks: ‘There are a lot of tools in a referee’s armoury.’ Typically baffled, Crooks responded with a question: ‘Can you legislate for strong tackles?’ Styles replied he couldn’t. No surprises, then, that Styles’ performance had become the talking point. ‘I personally think it will all boil down to the referee,’ said Lee Dixon. ‘It might depend on the referee,’ added Alan Sunderland.
The subsidiary discussion revolved around the likelihood of violence on the pitch, and how much everyone was looking forward to it. There was a loving history of past confrontations and eager anticipation of who might front up to whom. The inevitable celebrities – Shane Ritchie for United, Rory McGrath for Arsenal – suggested neither club has as wide a fan base as they might claim. A welcome flash of humour was provided by live coverage from a sports bar in Tampa where no one was watching.