Saturday, Wembley Way. The tribes will gather, demarcated by red and blue – though Mancunian fashion by-laws dictate all adult males must wear white ankle socks below thigh-revealing shorts, should temperatures top 15 degrees. It’s likely to be bad-tempered; it always is between these two, but rail strikes and lengthy motorway delays from Congleton downwards are hardly likely to ease the mood.
The sound of a disembodied Clive Tyldesley on a frequent loop, dishing out the Brent Council booze regulations and the size of bag allowed (A4 paper-size, max) may further antagonise. Many are fearing a match where, in terms of Manc pride, winner takes all, and the cost of defeat. Forget this meaning more, this means all. The treble is at stake for both teams, for City in the here-and-now, for United in the there-and-then.
For City, as it was for United 24 years ago, this FA Cup final is a staging post on the way to true, historic glory. It still registers as a shame that the world’s oldest knockout competition has become supplementary to winning Our League and Big Cup. Liverpool fans sob when they recall last season’s failed Quad hunt, despite beating Chelsea on penalties to claim the Cup. Winning the famous pot in 2021 didn’t provide much of a fig leaf once Brand Brendan went off-beam at Leicester.
Many yearn for the days when the FA Cup final stopped a nation and the japes that preceded the action stretched from Saturday breakfast time on TV. For dedicated Shoot readers, it sure beat Ceefax, Noel Edmonds et al for a laugh. Brucey and Tarby joining in the fun, Stan Boardman’s chippy, all-access footage from team coaches, Chas N’Dave, the injured teammate running down the lads’ nicknames and bad clobber, Cup final singles that all sounded the same, proper brass bands ...*sobs*.
And it all kicked off at a proper time of 3pm, rather than trying to pick up a “peak audience” at 5.30pm ... [hang on – Football Daily Ed] from You’ve Been Framed and …[check the bleedin’ TV schedules! It’s a 3pm kick-off – increasingly narked FD Ed] Where were we? Ah yes, the Cup. This competition’s true glory these days is to be found on November days like earlier this season, when seventh-tier Alvechurch beat Cheltenham. Or when Sheffield United ignited Antonio Conte’s inferno in knocking out Spurs in the fifth round. Or when Grimsby Town got to the quarter-finals.
By the time the final comes around, though, it’s almost certainly the usual suspects. The FA Cup’s modern merit relies in showing off English football’s proud pyramid, good and proper, man and boy, Bovril and balti pies, no matter what the gilded elite serve up at Wembley. This Saturday, let’s hope football is the winner and everyone behaves themselves. It’s only football, lads.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
Spend a big Saturday of finals with Big Website – join Rob Smyth for coverage of Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City (aet) at Wembley at 3pm, plus Women’s Big Cup coverage of Barcelona 4-2 Wolfsburg with Sarah Rendell (also 3pm). Then it’s off to Hampden, where Will Unwin is your guide for Celtic 3-0 Inverness CT (5.30pm).
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Phil has made a real contribution to the culture of our club with his qualities as a leader and knowledge as a coach. Sometimes in this game, we have to make the toughest decisions and sadly we feel the time is right to make a change. I want to personally thank Phil for his hard work, his passion for our club and for his integrity as a person” – having recently ordered a reporter to “show some effing respect”, Phil Neville is shown the Door Marked Do One at Inter Miami by David Beckham.
The Football Weekly book is coming in September, and you can pre-order your copy right now. Featuring: Mark Langdon’s World of Meat! Car Parks with Ben Fisher! And an exclusive David Squires cartoon. Treat yourself, it’s the weekend.
FOOTBALL DAILY LETTERS
“This is a European tea-timely e-mail, and with this kind of editing, it is hard to accept. If we talk about editing situations, it’s not two or three: it is many, quite apart from the big decisions. Those of us who have been in letter-writing a long time realise immediately what is going on. Perhaps it is only a prizeless day, and mine may well not have been as funny as I thought it was, but this is a disgrace. I’ll be waiting in the FD Towers car park” – Kevin Worley.
“So, Beckham has ushered Phil Neville through the Door Marked Y’all Do One now, Ya Hear (This is the South, after all). Who next? Frank Lampard is on the market” – Pat Condreay.
“Re: Mourinho and clamping down on managers misbehaving (Thursday’s Football Daily). In handball, if your manager gets a red card, one of the players has to leave the court for two minutes as well. Football should follow that lead with a sin-bin option; it would force managers to think twice” – Admir Pajic.
Send your letters to email@example.com. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Kevin Worley.
Next week, we’ll have five copies of The Three Lives of the Kaiser, a biography of Franz Beckenbauer by Uli Hesse, up for grabs – so get scribbling.
This is an extract from our daily football email … Football Daily. To get the full version, just visit this page and follow the instructions.