The Magic of The FA Cup Part Two (The Semi Finals)
Just when it appeared all romance had vanished from this year’s FA Cup, the quarter finals threw up a string of results which restored everybody’s faith in the tournament. The current holders still in and fighting, a club from League One, a mid-table Premier League team, oh, and the Gooners.
My heart would love to see a Sheffield United – Wigan Athletic final, but the head says it’ll be Arsenal – Hull City. But league position and form count for nothing in the Cup. Anything can – and will – happen. The only thing taking away some of the gloss off this wonderful semi-final line up is the FA’s decision to play the games at Wembley. Obviously, Wembley Stadium cost so much to redevelop, they need to play as many games there as possible to make it pay. However, it seems absolutely ludicrous to move the all Yorkshire semi of Sheffield United – Hull all the way down the M1 to North London. I would dread to be travelling on the motorway that day – 60,000 Yorkshire residents making the M1 the biggest snarl up in Europe. Is it just me, or would playing the game at Elland Road in Leeds make a hell of a lot more sense, and be a darn sight safer too for all those travelling fans? But when did the FA make any sense?
The Arsenal – Wigan tie is just as bad. The Emirates is barely eight miles from Wembley, so guess who’s got one hell of an advantage before a ball has even been kicked. This match should be played somewhere geographically between the two clubs locations, i.e. in the Midlands. The only stadia of sufficient crowd capacity and ease of access would be the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, Villa Park in Birmingham or Molineux in Wolverhampton (although in all fairness, despite Molineux having a generous capacity, it’s a complete ball ache to get to off the M6 across the Wolverhampton suburbs). The other two grounds have impeccable access to the motorway network, but the home of Aston Villa would edge it once again on the capacity issue.
In true FA Cup style, all four clubs have stories that pull at the heart strings a tad as to why they should make the final. Sheffield United, managed by Nigel Clough, will want to win the one trophy that eluded his famous father. The other interesting point is if the Blades win the Cup, and therefore qualify for the Europa League, does Clough hold a UEFA coaching badge so he can manage them in European competition? I remember when Millwall were beaten finalists in 2004, but assured of their UEFA Cup spot due to Manchester United (their victors) being in the Champion’s League. Millwall manager Dennis Wise did not hold the relevant coaching qualifications, so in Europe Ray Wilkins took charge, who did have said badges to his name. As regards qualifying for the Europa league place, it would be nice to see two teams not guaranteed of European football in the final (not Arsenal then), as it will mean more to the other three clubs.
Wigan’s story as cup holders has exceeded expectations. Hands up who thought they’d be eliminated in the fourth or fifth rounds, like most holders? It’ll be a near miracle if Wigan can retain the trophy, something only Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs have done in the last thirty years (a London-based club trait, perhaps?) It’s all the more remarkable with the change in management the team has endured, besides scrapping away in the dog fight that is the Championship. However, the one reason Wigan should not win the Cup again, is we’ll see the tedious footage (yet again) of Wigan owner, Dave Whelan and how his career as a footballer ended prematurely. I didn’t include him in my ‘Career Ending’ series, as his tale was mentioned in every newspaper and on every television channel to such a point, I think even my cat knew what has happened to him.
Of the four semi-finalists, Hull City have never played in the FA Cup Final, let alone lift the trophy. It would be fantastic to have a new name on the trophy. Additionally, it’ll be a first to have a team managed by one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s former players make the final. Steve Bruce lifted the trophy on several occasions in the heart of the Manchester United defence in the early nineties, so should know what it takes to win the competition.
Arsenal have not won any silverware now for nine long years. By their own high, illustrious standards, that’s pants. Gooners fans are desperate for the Premier League crown, especially with United out of the running this season, but it’s looking like the Cup might be their best bet of ending that trophy drought. My fear is Arsenal may well have ‘peaked’ too in the competition, playing their best football before the Wembley showpiece (convincing victories over Coventry City, Liverpool and Everton). It happened to Manchester City last year - they looked a shadow of their normal themselves in the final and Wigan took full advantage.
So, who do I really think will make it to the final? I reckon Nigel Clough’s side will be the surprise package and beat their Yorkshire rivals, meanwhile Arsenal’s luck will hold for another ninety minutes getting them into the final. As for who will lift the trophy out of these two, I reckon Ol’ Big Head’s son will be taking the famous old trophy home to put on top of the TV and eat a fish and chip supper, just as his father did after getting the European Cup home. Every the romantic, me.
Related Wigan Athletic News