So here we are, fans of football – the end of another Premier League season is upon us – and oh, what a season it was! Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea parked their big, blue bus in the space reserved for champions, and never looked like moving – or receiving a ticket for inappropriate occupation. Elsewhere, Manchester City disappointed, Liverpool capitulated, and Louis Van Gal’s Manchester United zipped between revival and regression at their own indecisive will. Other stuff happened too, no doubt. Some teams were relegated, some teams weren’t. Charlie Adam scored a goal. Nigel Pearson called a human man an Ostrich. Even whilst I write this, Chairman Blatter’s iron-grip on world football is growing ever-looser. The end is nigh! Football for the people! Fight the power! Viva La Revolution! Russell Brand!
But stop right there, aforementioned footballing fanatics! All is not finished! No, no – we aren’t even close. For this Saturday, at 17:30, on the grassy battlefield of Wembley Stadium, Arsenal and Aston Villa face each other in the FA Cup final. Two chivalric bastions of English football, going to war in the game’s most honourable of competitions. Whilst the rest of British football looks to hit the pillow for the summer, here are two teams that refuse hibernation. For another few days, at least – it isn’t over.
‘But do people still care?’ I hear you ask – oh sad, cynical reader. ‘Is it even an important date in the increasingly over-flowing calendar of English football?’ Well, it’s a fair point you make. A very fair point indeed. Please, allow me to retort in an equally fair manner. I give you but four words:
‘Magic Of The Cup’.
Magic! Of The Cup! Of course people care about magic! Footballing magic! Magic on the football pitch! This is the FA Cup, for crying out loud – Dynamo could milk a television series and arena tour out of last year’s third-round replays alone! He probably will! Who would blame him?! Certainly not me. Nope, I just won’t have it. Preach what you will about corporate imperialism, and save your accusations of an overriding capitalist agenda – this one is still for the fans. Because businessmen can be fans too! And so can empty seats!
‘But they’re not real fans’ you continue to moan, ‘even the FA Cup has sold out’.
Real fans, real fans… the age-old proverb – who are the real fans? Are they the ones who go to away games? The ones that sing the songs? The ones that live down the road from, or sometimes inside, their team’s stadium? The ones that wear the colours? The ones that fight each other? Am I a real fan? If not, then what am I? Am I even a man? What even is a man anymore? Must a man have a beard? I certainly don’t have a beard. Do real fans need to have beards? Do they need to retweet Gary Lineker’s Twitter-based puns? Am I simply nothing at all – an unspecific, untraceable nonentity – beardless and without a ticket to the FA Cup final that I so desperately yearn to attend? Well, am I? Answer me, Gary!
… Oh right, of course – the final. Yep.
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa. Arsene Wenger vs. Tim Sherwood. Two strict binaries – opposing ideologies on rattling towards a conclusive collision.
In Arsene Wenger, we have Le Professeur. The smirking aesthete. The enigmatic revolutionary seeking to secure a record 12th FA Cup victory for his side. A charming and cultured man, who speaks primarily in riddles – he might well be a prophet.
His counterpart, the polarising Monsieur Sherwood. The gaffer. The geezer. The facilitator of the recently-patented footballing/banter complex, and laddish regenerator of flailing sides. He’s the type of bloke you’d like to share a pint with, depending on what you like to drink – and how you like to drink it.
On Saturday afternoon, these two men will go head-to-head, brain-to-brain, suit-to-gilet, and only one of them can reign victorious. Will it be The Gunners and their delicate brand of sexy-football? Or will the born-again Villains, spearheaded by the unsmotable Christian Benteke, cause an upset worthy of a HBO adaptation?
For Wenger’s Arsenal, the holders, a win will be viewed as a stepping-stone for next season – much like last year’s victory against Hull. Because they stepped from fourth place in the Premier League, to third. Winning this one, plus Arturo Vidal, should secure them second next year. Add another after that and you’ve got yourself some champions! See, the FA Cup’s magic. For Villa, the underdogs, this would be a physical representation of Tim Sherwood’s galvanising effect. A trophy trophy. A shiny red sportscar to contrast ex-manager Paul Lambert’s battered hatchback. ‘Uncle Tim’s not trying to replace your dad, kids – he just wants to be mates’. If the proof is in the pudding, then the FA Cup is a big old slice of cheesecake. ‘He kept ‘em up, and now he’s won the cup!’ Well, would you look at that – it rhymes. The FA Cup. Magic.