14 May 2011

Football's Big Day

Of all the decisions the FA  and the Premier League have taken since the PL breakaway from the Football League today has to be it's most shameful disregard for tradition yet.

Today is FA Cup Final day, where Stoke City who are playing in their first final in this competition take on Manchester City, who are trying to win something for the first time in ages. The show-piece of the tournament often referred to as The Greatest Knockout Competition In The World kicks off in a couple of hours. Yet as I type am listening to one of several Premier League games taking place on this special day (they are not alone there are also League 1 and 2 play off matches today).

The "official" excuse is that as Wembley is being used for the final of the Champions League this year, and the CL insists on the stadiums availabilty, unused, for 2 whole weeks before their game, then there was no choice but to play the final today instead of the regular end of the domestic season finale. No choice possibly, but the PL certainly had the choice to insist that all of this weekends league matches were played tomorrow. Fair enough, none of the matches are being played whilst the final is taking place but, apart from the fans of the teams taking part, the whole magic of the day has been robbed for the neutral.
Approaching 50 years old I have great memories of FA Cup day from my childhood. I remember watching the replay of Chelsea v Leeds in 1970 (in black and white) but my first "proper" memory was the following year when Arsenal played Liverpool (in colour so the families first ever colour tv must have arrived during the intervening months). Along with subsequent years, except for Southampton's famous win in 1976, I had no allegiance to the teams taking part but it was still a special day. As far as I can recall it was the only opportunity to watch a live game on TV all season, even England games were recorded highlights on Sportsnight. Both BBC and ITV would show the game, and both would try and outdo each other with their build ups, often starting ridiculously early in the day. Camera crews would follow the teams at breakfast, walking round their hotel grounds, on their coach, arriving at Wembley, out onto the pitch even into the dressing rooms and search out the "craziest fans. Such was the overkill you really felt you were there, and felt the tension rising as kick off approached. Special programmes would be shown with tenuous links to the teams or cities taking part such as Cup Final Mastermind or It's A Knockout. Celebrities from A list to Z list would be given air time to announce their allegiance to one of the finalists (whose supporters often had no idea they shared their love of their team with such "famous" fans). 

I have yet to hear one comment in favour of playing this years final and league matches on the same day - even Harry Redknapp thinks it's wrong and looks genuinely upset by the decision,  and It's rarely I ever even believe, let alone agree with a word he says. Charlie Georges winning goal in 1971 is still etched in my mind, I doubt I'll be saying the same in 40 years time about today's winner.

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