As we await our own Champions League final against Southampton, Stephen Goldsmith reflects on yesterday’s rousing win by Wigan over Man City that restored some of the romance of the FA Cup 40 finals since our glory of 1973 – and winces at commentary idiocies …
Just 45 minutes of football. That’s all it appeared to take in palpably restoring people’s faith in the FA Cup.
I’m not sure I can recall as much enjoyment of a final in recent years. If comments on Twitter can be used as a gauge, then the country had the integrity of the FA Cup written off as much as Wigan themselves prior to the game.
By the conclusion of it, fans of midtable clubs suddenly seem to be interested again. I feel no shame in saying Wigan, a side I’ve never really taken to, were an absolute pleasure to watch and proof that some of these modern ties will be remembered in years to come.
I would be lying if I said a huge part of me wasn’t wondering just how much of my enjoyment was inadvertently down to the reliable work of Clive Tyldesely.
He and Townsend never fail in unintentionally amusing the listeners with their cliches and their desire to state the obvious, Tyldesely in a manner that is so OTT it has you reaching for the sick bucket. Townsend does so in a way that informs the viewer how he would have done it, ie as the pro. At uni we were taught that this was their “credible expert frame”.
Except telling us in hindsight he would have put the ball to the other side of where the keeper saved it, or that he would have used his stronger foot to have a shot is hardly enlightening. Top trump catchphrases such as, “If anything he’s hit that too well” prevail so much during a standard ITV commentary, that if you were playing some sort of student originated drinking game that required a shot to be necked every time you heard one, you would be drunk to the point you didn’t know your arse from your elbow. A bit like Adrian Chiles.
So a bit like the swingometer that was pushing my love for the competition back into the favourable zone, this comedy gold improved the more the game progressed. At around 67 minutes, Tyldesely patronisingly roared,
“be honest, who thought that Wigan would still be in the game at this point?”, referring to a match involving two established Premier League sides with little over an hour gone. Backed up by Irish international Townsend, he continued to purr about how Wigan could be on the verge of befalling the mighty Man City, a side currently ten points behind Man Utd and who have failed spectacularly in Europe. Ok, at least they’ve played in Europe but they’ve also lost on their last three visits to the Stadium of Light. So there.
Wigan started getting closer, or to cliche it, “started knocking on the door”. As Shaun Maloney curled a free kick onto the top of the crossbar, Tyldseley exclaimed “I’m not sure he meant that”. I’m not sure he meant to land the ball on top of the crossbar either, but we’ll have to ask him. Man City made the move to push Yaya further upfield but still Wigan held firm. Callum Mcmanaman’s influence continued to grow, practically guaranteeing himself to be the source of an overpriced transfer scramble should Wigan be relegated. Maloney sent another free kick over the bar, though I’m not entirely sure he meant it.
And with belief and positive attitude came the winner; proof to Martinez that corners being delivered into he box are more effective than working them back into your own half. In a game I had declared myself impartial for, the goosebumps I got when the goal went in suggested otherwise. And just like that, my faith appears to be restored a little in the competition.
But the whole things needs looking at. It would be stating the obvious to bemoan the decisions to host the semi finals at Wembley and the like, so unlike Tyldseley and co I’ll refrain from doing so. We all know it, so must they that make the decisions.
But the clubs need to address the issue also. Before Martin O’Neill, we had two managers that changed their side so much for an FA cup game that we expected nothing other than to feebly surrender at the first hurdle. Why should people spend money they barely have to witness it? The clubs can help combat the kick off time changes and the heartlessness that’s creeped itself into this fine competition by making it appealing to fans financially. At what cost is it really to clubs with big stadiums to offer the first couple of cup home games on your season card? They may lose a few bob through ticket prices but will have double the potential to make on catering, pints and merchandise.
At what cost should the clubs wish to see their stadium full and not half empty, soulless and offering no advantage to the home team whatsoever? And although the duty of playing a strong side is with the manager, a competition that suddenly attracts the country’s upmost interest and respect can only help sway their ideologies in that sense. But ultimately, what cost for them to give something back and help spark some life back into a competition that people annually lament the deterioration of?
Because few do anything about it, and at a time when the football fan critically comments on the modern game with one enviable eye on the German way of doing things , our beloved clubs can help make this about our beautiful game again. Please.