Is it a product of my age or of the age we live in?
Probably a bit of both, but the uncomfortable truth is I find myself rather more excited about the prospect of John Motson night on BBC 2 than FA Cup final day on BBC 1.
Of course, we’ve been here many times before by now: Another FA Cup final arrives and us greybeards can’t help boring the young ‘uns with our memories of how glorious an occasion it used to be, with what felt like the entire television schedule devoted to the build-up and the game itself affording millions of us the rare and cherished thrill of seeing an entire 90 minutes, or even — oh please, holy God, I promise I’ll be good — 120 minutes of football beamed live and direct into our homes from the Twin Towers.
And, of course, over the decades Motty himself played his own part in contributing to the ineffable magic of the Cup, from his career breakthrough commentary on the day in February 1972 when Hereford United humbled Newcastle United in the Third Round mud at Edgar Street (“Oh what a goal! Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford! And the crowd are on the pitch. What a tremendous shot by Ronnie Radford”) to the day in 1988 when Wimbledon shocked Liverpool in the final at Wembley (“The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club!”).
It’s only fair to acknowledge that this season’s competition did its best to live up to such excitement in the earlier rounds: Think Rochdale’s last-minute equaliser against Spurs, and Wigan going one better by downing Manchester City thanks to that memorable Will Grigg goal.
On paper, this final should be whetting our appetites too but for different reasons.
With the minnows and the rest of the also-rans left to reflect on what was and what might have been, a competition which began with 737 teams eligible to take part has finally come down to a head-to-head between two of the biggest in the land. And how, you might reasonably ask, could Chelsea v Manchester United ever be anything other than a heavyweight contest of epic proportions?
Well, it doesn’t help that the 2018 FA Cup final feels like something coming both before and after the Lord Mayor’s Show, stuck in a limbo between Manchester City’s swaggering, record-breaking league title and the mouthwatering prospect of Liverpool v Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
If ever unforgiving context was going to do its bit to facilitate the creation of a Consolation Cup Final, there you have it.
But the problem with this year’s Wembley decider is also of the two sides’ own making.
Second in the league might, as Gary Neville has stoically maintained, represent “progression” for Manchester United but, compared to the thrills and occasional spills generated by City and Liverpool, the largely workaday manner in which Jose Mourinho’s team have ground out that runners-up spot has left even the Old Trafford faithful pretty underwhelmed while doing little to convince neutrals that the Red Devils might have it within them to illuminate the Wembley turf today with a showcase of expansive, attacking play.
Ditto Chelsea, whose abject 3-0 loss to Newcastle United on the final day of the Premier League brought a disappointing campaign to an embarrassing full stop, condemning the former champions to a fifth-place finish and, one presumes, hastening the exit of Antonio Conte from Stamford Bridge.
Given the quality of some of the players at their disposal, both sides could and should do better — indeed, have done so but, frustratingly, only in spasms throughout the season — so it’s possible that if class acts like Eden Hazard, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez really show up today, Chelsea and Man United can still give us a cup final to remember. The presence of Romelu Lukaku, if fit, and Willian, if selected, would help too.
We’re always told footballers should play the game, not the occasion, but for the good of this Wembley decider it would be no harm at all if the occasion were to get to these players a bit, at least to the extent that they are inspired to try and apply some shine to the cup’s faded glory.
Clearly, my old mucker the Duke of Cambridge isn’t holding out much hope, however, with Kensington Palace confirming that he won’t be there to hand out the medals, supposedly on account of “his responsibilities as best man at his brother’s wedding”. Yeah, right.
But I’m pretty sure he’ll be making his excuses and leaving the afters in good time to get home to put the royal feet up and watch BBC 2’s celebration of all things Motty tonight.
Marking the recent retirement of the Beeb’s voice of football after 50 years of broadcasting — during which he covered 10 World Cup finals and European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals, over 200 England internationals and more than 2000 other games — we’re promised “a poignant but fun-filled” biog called ‘The Man Behind The Sheepskin’; ‘Motty Mastermind’, a quiz show with the great man moving into John Humphry’s chair and — guaranteed not only to round things off nicely but see all us old codgers waving foaming tankards of Complan in the air — ‘Countdown To The Full Motty’, a compilation of some of his greatest moments in the commentary box.
‘Motty Night’ kicks off at 8.30pm. The FA Cup Final kicks off at…ah…5.15pm.
Yeah, you’re right, I had to check.
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