March 21 2009
How can I explain what the FA cup means to a British Football Fan? It has a magic maybe granted by the God of Small Things and all those small things seep into the cracks of your soul and light up the dark, dark places the Premiership forgot.
It means that Kettering fans appear on the message board and they actually want to talk about football. They are passionate and grateful for the opportunity to see Andy Johnson play. They ask us 'will you keep Hangeland in the summer' and how we feel about this season - they tell us about players we never heard of but we can hear the pride in their voices as they tout their own favourites. We all breathe a sigh of joy and fall over ourselves to tell them about our own beloveds....Dempsey 'he plays up front for the USA' ......Pantsil 'our bargain of the season from Wet Spam'........bit of a nutter but we love him.
On the day we get to stand up, like in the good old days, on old concrete stands and watch a match with real mud, eating pies which don't taste of plastic and drinking beer we didn't have to queue 30 minutes for. We are condescending and gracious and already formulating excuses just in case we are the victims of a giant killing.
The cup means we get to go to the Cottage for an extra evening match and hear the Swansea fans sing. If that wasn't the best singing ever heard in the Putney End I will post my beloved FFC scarf to anyone who can tell me of better. Two thousand voices raised in song and every word as clear as a bell. Welsh humour has to be savoured like fine wine but I bet Simon Davies laughed about being called 'a bar steward cheating English' as did Clint Dempsey!
So here we are and we get the chance, slender though it might be, to do some damage to the best team in the Premiership. That slender whisper of a chance being due to an ex Chelsea manager, and Tottenham finally putting up a fight this season, just add to the spice and the serendipitous nature of the cup.
The cup even shakes up the faithful as the ticket hiccup means we are scattered around the ground and not in our usual seats. Keefy, Richard and the yanks are in Hammy and Sarah and I are back in our old seats at Riverside X. I moved to block S this season after the offer of a wonderful seat overlooking the Hammy End goal and I really liked the guys who sit around that area, (Hi Mark) and the view, so I stayed.
So we begin our preparations early on Friday morning when we collect Mikey's parents from Heathrow. Then we get a call from Wendy who has a unexpected spare for the match and 'would Sarah like to go?' Sarah would trample her Grandmother to get a seat so now we have a full coven for the match - this is a GREAT omen.
A Ferrari parks right next to me in the supermarket car park - this is one goal for us - will it be enough? All over the South of England rituals are being observed, match winning underpants are reserved, ancient scarves are resurrected, emails and text messages fly. The tiniest rumour is scrutinized and endlessly discussed. The word is whispered. The word appears. No-one dares to breathe it but it raises like a phoenix from last years ashes.................sshhhh........Wembley.
Richard and his girlfriend (essential as she came to Arsenal and Chelsea) collect Sarah. The yank contingent is on the train. Keefy and I grab lunch while we watch the previews and are surprised at the favourable mentions (NOT a good omen) we are getting from the pundits. The sun is shining and a mass of little purple crocuses open their faces to the sun as we pile into the car and set off shivering with terrifying optimism in the Spring sun shine.
These days the traffic in Putney will add a half hour to the journey, even on a non Manure day, so we park at the top of Putney Hill in Gwendolyn Avenue. This is a seriously expensive road and a woman in luxurious fur jacket and elaborate matching hat pulls her Aston Martin into a driveway. Gwendolyn Avenue? Wear the fox hat?
The pubs in Putney High Street are spilling over with Red shirts and scarves. Manure have a small local following (probably larger since the troubles at Man City) but the majority of their fans have been to Old Trafford less times than I have. For every Mancunian fan there are ten with London accents who have both red and blue shirts in their closet. Today they get the chance to see 'their' team so they have all come out for their day in the sun.
The old jokes are the best. Q. How many Man.Utd. fans does it take to change a light bulb? A. Only one but allow four hours for him to drive up from Surrey.
In the Larrick the songs are more robust as the true travelling fans gather.
We meet up with the message board gang and the visiting FUSA fans in The Cottage Pub where there is slightly more chance of actually getting a) in the door and b) a drink. Wadey became a Granddad shortly before I got to be a Grandma and we greet each other by those titles - our boys, we are absolutely sure, will be the new CF pairing for 2030 so look out for them. Text messages arrived from The French Connection who had abandoned the French ski slopes for a bar with a Sport TV and Rob in a bar in Tenerife. I imagined all the FUSA fans with their 'eggs and beer' and Mikey was getting messages as they waited in anticipation for the game to begin.
All three witches are here for the first time this season and Katy (misswitch2) is sporting THE lucky red tracksuit top and on the outside of several red bulls with vodka. Sarah (MISS WITCH) has left her new son with his Dad and is engaged in a cross examination by Mike who has his first due in May and wants to know what life with a new baby is like. I think I hear the words 'train wreck'.
The Majority of the Premiership and all of the lower divisions are supporting us today. Not only are Manure fans the most arrogant of them all but they are the original glory hunters. I am nearly taken out by a flying elbow as a group surge past me and jeer at the badge on my lucky fleece. I yearn to send them home miserable but have to be satisfied with tripping up the next one past me and then looking contrite. We old ladies get away with most things.
So the Cottage was really rocking. It was strange for Sarah and me to go through the Putney End turnstiles again and under the tunnel but although I was in my original seat there wasn't a single familiar face around us. Just before kick off a family arrived in the seats in front and the two little boys both had Ferrari jackets on - ah the omens came thick and fast to no avail.
We started very brightly. The H block opposite us was rocking and the players picked up the atmosphere. Dempsey had a near miss and initially we took them by surprise - for fifteen minutes the dream was not only alive but manifesting itself in front of us. Alas the almost mystical skills of Tevez dampened the dream although their first goal was truly against the run of play. By their second even the most stalwart blawhifan could see we were outclassed by the Fergie machine. The referee gave us absolutely nothing, Vidic fouled Zamora blatantly right in front of the referee and we got nothing, nor the second time he did it, or the third. Dempsey was bought down in the penalty area by the two CB and again absolutely nothing, the fear of Ferguson looms large at the FA.
But we were going to have to be satisfied with small victories. The General (Murphy) was far from outclassed and again and again beat his man and emerged with the ball at his feet - his passing was sublime. Danny Murphy, released from his job of minding Bullard, has looked like he is really enjoying his football again this season. When Dacourt came on he was far from out of his league as well and gave them a lesson in midfield holding. Zamora, Davies, Johnson and the H block (Hughes and Hangeland) worked tirelessly only to be worn down by their impressive forward strength.
We had a couple of moments of pleasure. Pantsil who started the match like a rabbit in the headlights steadily improved and was well up for the challenge until a yellow card dampened him down. Dempsey decided to tackle Rooney. Not only did he tackle him, and bounce off him like he hit a brick outhouse but he bounced back and took Rooney down. There was a tangle right in front of us before the referee came to sort them out and they both got up smiling - as they parted Rooney laughed and patted Dempsey and we would love to know what he said.
Van der Saar was greeted warmly by the Fulham fans and was obviously pleased to be back though we couldn't remember a single player on the pitch who was here when he played for us. I bet he would have preferred Hughes and Hangeland in front of him than the endlessly bickering Ferdinand and Vidic.
So the dream slipped away and, in saving our players for Blackburn, the defeat became almost humiliating as the fourth went in. Now we knew what Kettering and Swansea felt like. The cup is a great leveller. Unlike previous years it will be the big teams who will contest the semi-finals but the journey has been full of hope and an excitement missing from most of the weekly league battles.
Sarah and I walked down to the Cottage through the back streets, unwilling to listen to the garbage being spouted by the plastic fans. Keefy walked up to fetch the car and became an unwilling witness to an altercation between the two sets of fans. He was happy to point out the perpetrators to the attending Police and hopefully saved the two young FFC fans who were the innocent victims of these plastic louts.
On a more pleasant note we met up with everyone at The Cottage and most of us had enjoyed the match. There is a difference between losing by being outclassed and losing from a 92nd minute freak mistake. Stanley was here from the USA and we are always delighted to see him, this time he bought his wife who was looking a little bemused as to why she was handed a pint glass of beer when she had expected a coke but, brave woman, she drank it. Katy was in conversation with a Manchester United fan who actually had a Mancunian accent and he was fulsome in his admiration of our Ground and our fans - you don't get many from Manure or Chelscum who are gracious in victory or defeat. We were pleased to have met a bunch of genuine fans.
Hugs all round and we departed. The journey home was subdued but by the time we reached Chessington we were already talking about the Blackburn game and who we fancied to win the cup this year.
You have to be resilient when the omens just don't work out.