A third FA Cup final involving Arsenal and Chelsea evokes memories of one of the great cup final goals and story.
The London rivals first met in an FA Cup final in 2002 when, with Wembley being rebuilt, the decider was held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Unusually, the cup final took place the week before the final two rounds of Premier League matches presenting Arsenal with an opportunity to complete a famous double by securing the title at Old Trafford the following Wednesday.
To achieve that, the Gunners first had to beat Chelsea and the Blues were proving stubborn opposition until Ray Parlour emerged as an unlikely hero with a glorious curling effort that flew into the top corner after 70 minutes before Freddie Ljungberg wrapped up victory with a fine individual effort 10 minutes later.
Understandably, Parlour was in the mood to celebrate afterwards but as he would outline in his autobiography, The Romford Pele, his initial efforts to do so would be thwarted by the eagle eyes of Arsene Wenger.
“We flew back from Cardiff on Saturday evening after the FA Cup final and as the stewardess walked down the aisle of the plane I asked her for a beer. I was just about to take a sip when Arsene Wenger appeared and said: ‘No drinking’.”
“What, boss? I've just scored in the cup final!”
“No drinking. Big game Wednesday at Old Trafford.”
“But boss, that's four days away. I'll be fine by then.”
“No drinking, Ray.”
Undaunted, Parlour did his best to defy his gaffer.
“I ended up slipping to the back of the plane where my mum and dad and my brothers were. I said: 'Give me one of your beers, Jimmy.'
“I was just about to take a sip, but Arsene, who had walked all the way to the back of the plane, caught me before I got a taste. 'If I see you drinking, that's a fine of a week's wages.' Hmmm, £30,000 for one beer? I decided that was a bit much so I gave it back to Jimmy.
“That night I had a restaurant booked in Upminster. I walked into the restaurant and it was full of Arsenal fans. Champagne was popping, then the tequila slammers started. I was dehydrated from the game, which accelerated the effects. In the end, I was so drunk I stumbled out, falling over three tables.”
Luckily for Parlour, social media and camera phones weren’t a thing then.
The day after the night before brought another misadventure.
“On the way to my mum and dad’s house, I went past the Rush Green Social Club and knew my brothers were there so I thought I would pop in and say hello,” Parlour wrote.
“I walked into a wave of happy faces and congratulations. As I am local most of them had backed me as first goalscorer, odds of 20-1. Someone had put a bet on 2-0 with me scoring at 100-1. Everyone was thrilled. ‘Come on, have a beer,’ they all said. I tried to explain: ‘Seriously, I got really drunk last night, we have a massive game on Wednesday. Just one and I’m off.’ Next thing I knew I had downed 10 pints of Guinness. No word of a lie. I was hammered.”
It was hardly the ideal preparation for a title decider but it didn’t prevent Parlour from producing one of the best performances of his career as Arsenal beat Manchester United 1-0 to wrap up a stunning double.
“Walking down the tunnel, we were all celebrating and I was pulled aside as they had awarded me man of the match,” Parlour would later recall. “Sky came to fetch me for the interview, and they gave me this gigantic bottle of champagne. I stopped for a moment to take it all in. What a stunning week I have had. This is beyond belief. I felt so full of myself, walking back to the dressing room with this champagne, and the next minute Arsene Wenger taps me on the shoulder and says: ‘I want a word with you, Ray.’
“Oh no… I was thinking someone from that restaurant had landed me in it. I braced myself. Arsene pulled me over and said: ‘You were fantastic tonight, absolutely brilliant.’
“Boss, it’s been unbelievable. Winning the double here, scoring in the cup final. The lads have been brilliant.”
“You were superb Ray. Do you know what it was that made the difference?”
“No boss, what was it?”
“I stopped you drinking that beer on the plane.”
“He looked delighted, and I tried not to gasp too much. ‘That’s why you are the best manager I’ve ever had, boss.’”