We bumped into Frank McLintock outside our turnstile at Wembley on Sunday and I was hoping that this might be a good omen. I jokingly suggested to our double winning skipper that “I wouldn’t mind having you in the middle of the park this afternoon”. Little did I realize quite how prophetic this would prove to be. Instead of a steely leader of McLintock’s calibre, facing down the Blues’ physical challenge, we had the far too lightweight likes of Thomas Rosicky fart-arsing around at the Gunners’ fulcrum.
I don’t really want to point the finger at our Czech midfielder. After all, it’s not his fault he’s not Cesc Fabregas. But without Fabregas’ finesse and with Tommie’s frustrating tendency to hit the deck at the slightest touch, he certainly wouldn’t be my first choice to play at the heart of this immature Arsenal side, when we are crying out for the sort of effusive stand firm leader who’s capable of galvanizing the young Gunners.
At the end of the day it was absolutely gut-wrenching to be the architects of our own downfall, only moments away from an additional thirty minutes of football, which might well have allowed the Arsenal to impose our superior technical abilities as Birmingham began to flag. Yet if I’m entirely honest, from the moment we arrived at Wembley on Sunday, I couldn’t escape the sense that the Bluenoses wanted it just that little bit more than we did.
While we Gooners are whinging about several silverware starved seasons, our cup positively overfloweth compared to most Brum fans, who hadn’t seen their side win a trophy in their entire lifetimes. As a result, everything about Sunday afternoon seemed to reflect a "Big Four" club that was perhaps just slightly more blasé about playing for the least illustrious of four potential tin pots this season, against a more modest Midlands outfit, who were hell bent on making the most of their best and perhaps solitary opportunity to bring home the shiny bacon.
Having done my utmost to obliterate the nightmare of our semi-final outing a couple of seasons back, I headed for football’s most famous stage wondering if I could remember the old routine of backdoubles to a favorable parking pitch that used to be such a familiar traffic free trip to our former home from home. At least this lack of familiarity ensured that I set out in time to soak up some Cup Final atmosphere before kick-off.
I’m told there was little change from 400 quid for the “cheaper” club level seats (face value!). But despite football’s best efforts to price itself beyond the reach of the ordinary fan, there was something quite nostalgic about the irreverent sight of pissed up fans peeing in every available nook as we trod the hallowed path towards the bronze statue of Bobby Moore.
I’d felt quite optimistic when I’d opened the curtains that morning, to reveal the bright blue sky of a crisp autumn morning. I thought that having the sun on their backs might suit the Arsenal’s pass masters, but as the day deteriorated into a grey wet drizzle, it occurred to me that the Midlanders might feel more at home in such muddy weather.
In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if I was cursed for giving the cold shoulder to the gypsy who accosted me with some shiny trinket at the petrol station. But then this would be a lot easier to swallow than the obvious lack of mystery to the Gunner’s misfortune.
From the Gooners living in close proximity who rolled up an hour before KO, to the Blues fans who’d spent all day getting tanked up in honour of their “up for Cup” occasion. From the raggedy-arse Gunners who bowled up in their regular tracksuits, to the besuited Blues, in outfits that were doubtless made for their big day out. From the sight of a forlorn Fabregas and Walcott, nursing their frailties on the bench, to the likes of Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell who hadn’t trained all week but who turned out in spite of their niggles.
Not that it makes me feel any better, but I suppose there’s a certain justice that with nothing else to play for (as surely McCleish’s “kick it to the big fella” football won’t succeed more than once?) Birmingham’s journeymen prevailed over the Gunners’ precocious talents, who potentially still have several paths to glory.
Bob Wilson swears that bitter taste of defeat to Swindon in ’69 was the making his double-winning team. If the sense of disappointment of Wenger’s side is indeed as deeply felt as that of their fans, then we can but hope that the weekend’s events will be the motivation, starting Wednesday night and over the coming weeks, to prove that they are made of similar mettle?--
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