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London Calling – Part 3 A quest to recapture some old FA Cup magic!

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: A congratulations message is displayed on the scoreboard for Wigan Athletic during the FA Cup with Budweiser Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on May 11, 2013 in London, England
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11: A congratulations message is displayed on the scoreboard for Wigan Athletic during the FA Cup with Budweiser Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on May 11, 2013 in London, England

Brian Jeeves brainwashing his kids at Wembley Stadium

It never used to be like this, why has it changed so much? Let me enlighten you as to what FA Cup Final day was like....

When I was a kid, the Cup Final was right up there with Christmas or my Birthday. I had been counting the days since the semi’s, endless matches between the Wembley bound teams have been played out on the King Edmunds school yard using a tatty tennis ball and the customary jumpers for goalposts and now the weekend was upon us. Dad would set the tone, buying a copy of the Cup Final programme from the newsagent at Liverpool Street station. He would pass me the glossy magazine at breakfast; I would scrupulously study it, picking out who I believed could be the match winner while wolfing down my Golden Nuggets. Once the most important meal of the day had been consumed came the big decision, BBC or ITV? Making the wrong choice could result in weeks of playground torment. The telly heavyweights of that era would have a clutch of celebrities and ex-players spending the day with the respective charges, camera crews would capture their every move. No such thing as video recorders back then, miss an iconic moment and it was gone forever, you’d never live it down!

It was a real battle of the giants where commentators were concerned. BBC had John Motson, a wealth of knowledge and a safer pair of hands you could not wish for, while ITV’s Brian Moore displayed equally infectious enthusiasm. Even when describing an awful game he could get you on the edge of your seat.

Of course, if your team was not playing (and Southend United never were!) then you had to choose whom to support. During my childhood I spent Cup Final day on loan to Ipswich Town, Manchester United and both Newcastle and Sunderland. As the teams appeared from the tunnel amidst bright sunshine (Cup Final day was always sunny in the old days!) and were led onto the pristine Wembley carpet by their suited managers, dad would always mutter, “I’ll take you to Wembley if Southend ever get there”. As I got older, this became somewhat frustrating; the old boy knew the Shrimpers had sod all chance of reaching footballs Mecca. Indeed, quite sadly we never actually got to a game at Wembley together, one of my greatest regrets.  Anyhow, along with households around the globe, we would watch the drama unfold before our eyes, sharing the elation of the winners and the shear emotional heartache of those they conquered. If we were really lucky, the game would go to extra time, and if 120 minutes couldn’t produce a winner, we’d relive it all again with a midweek replay.

Once the game was over and the triumphant skipper had lifted the cup, I would race to the park where 50-a-side teams would re-live the day’s events until dusk. Dad would call me in from the park and I’d trudge home wearily to watch the highlights on Match of the Day.

However, about twenty years ago it all started to go a bit pear shaped. Along came the Premiership bringing big bucks. Players and managers arrived from all over the world and television coverage that surpassed anything we could have ever imagined. A place at the top table of English football became every ambitious clubs holy grail, as a result, cup competitions started to become secondary and in some cases, seemingly a hindrance. Clubs started to field under strength line-ups, but unquestionably, the biggest kick in the FA Cup’s knackers came in 1999, when holders Manchester United were “invited” by the Football Association to withdraw from the competition for the following season in order to compete in the World Club Championship. The powers that be believed that United’s participants to the global tournament would assist with their bid to stage the World Cup. Manchester United went along with the hugely unpopular decision, some suggesting they had little choice. However, whatever were the ins and outs of the situation, both the FA and United’s bid for global dominance failed abysmally!

In 2012, the “suits” were at it again. There has always been something traditionally English about the Cup Final kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, so don’t get me and hordes of football traditionalists started on this 5:15pm malarkey!      

Time for action me thinks, and there is no better place to start than at home with my kids. What with their father being football crazy, the boy’s upbringing has seen them experience the beautiful game at some vastly contrasting venues. Whether it be Stambridge Memorial Ground or the Nou Camp, Barcelona, it’s all football to them, being at the FA Cup Final is little different!  Nevertheless, I am keen for the boys to recapture some of the magic that made Cup Final day so special when I was growing up. Ever since securing our tickets, I have been brainstorming them with facts about the finalists as well as running endless YouTube clips of famous finals, Charlie George, Jim Montgomery, Graf Zeppelin - they’ve seen the lot!

Come Saturday 11th May, the boys are well drilled. Alfie, like me, will champion the underdogs Wigan Athletic; however, younger brother Stanley has a different philosophy. Despite being christened after a string of the games giants such as Matthews, Mortensen, Collymore and...Er, Accrington, Stan has been a late developer (for a 6-year-old Jeeves). He has studied the Premiership’s league table and will be backing Manchester City “Why would I support a team that’ll probably lose?” he tells me!

We arrive at Wembley early. I want the boys to have the full Cup Final experience; marching bands, Royal introductions the full Monty. As you might imagine, being six and eight, concentration often wanders during the low-key moments of a match. Nevertheless, this afternoon, whether it is the spine tingling wave of noise produced by the crowd, my “greatest cup competition in the world” classes or simply the promise of a McDonalds on the way home, Alf and Stan are transfixed by the occasion.

I will spare you any kind of expansive report, saving that for others. The game gave me everything I required to complete the kids FA Cup Final education. David v Goliath, the big save, the controversial talking point, the last minute goal courtesy of an unsung hero, which incidentally gave City no time to respond but just enough for Stanley to change his elegance and claim he had wanted the Latics to win all along! In addition, just to cap it all off, an unlikely name etched onto the famous trophy and into folklore.

I conclude, despite the carefree attitude of football’s greedy and seemingly uneducated, the FA Cup, at least in the Jeeves household is alive and kicking. The Cup had grabbed Alfie and Stan’s imagination, just as it had mine at their age. When the boys play football in the garden, Wigan v City “Cup Final” has been added to their creative fixture list that normally sees titanic struggles between footballing giants such as Southend United, Walsall, Great Wakering Rovers and Canvey Island.  Part One of my FA Cup Final rehab was complete...Now, about that bloody stupid kick-off time...

Result: Wigan Athletic 1 (Watson 90 mins) Manchester City 0

Manchester City: Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, Samir Nasri, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero

Manchester City substitutes (used): James Milner, Jack Rodwell, Edin Dzeko. (not used) Costel Pantilimon, Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov, Javi Garcia.

Wigan Athletic: Joel Robles, Emmerson Boyce, Antolin Alcaraz, Paul Scharner, Roger Espinoza, James McArthur, James McCarthy, Jordi Gomes, Shaun Maloney, Callum McManamann, Arouna Kone.

Wigan Athletic substitutes (used): Ben Watson. (not used) Ali Al-Habsi, Gary Caldwell, Roman Golobart, Fraser Fyvie, Franco Di Santo, Angelo Henriquez.

Referee: Andre Marriner

Attendance at Wembley Stadium: 86,254

Match highlights:

Time-lapse: The 2013 FA Cup Final in seconds:

Club Official websites:

Manchester City - http://www.mcfc.co.uk/

Wigan Athletic - http://www.wiganlatics.co.uk/