It’s a Friday evening during the football season , but here in the Northwest, from where two teams will shortly compete for the most famous knockout trophy in the world, things now seem very muted. What’s it like in the Northeast, where two teams have a really serious weekend coming up?
It’s an FA cup final weekend but not a proper one. How can it be? The league hasn’t finished. There will be Premiership games on the Sunday. The final itself kicks off at 5.15 on Saturday, to suit God knows who, presumably not the thousands of fans who will struggle to get back to Greater Manchester. Money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world and bugger the poor supporters, as ABBA could have written.
Of course, it’s not just the timing of the final and the continuance of the Premier league. The Press and TV in the Northwest this week has been full of one manager’s resignation and another’s appointment, not long after covering a Merseyside derby which included a legendary player’s almost last appearance. It’s only now that the TV down here has turned to Wigan and Man City, and it feels quite exhausted in doing so, as if football has been done to death, which maybe it has.
Even so, I’ve managed to pick up a bit of excitement on telleh. I’ve watched Wigan players catching the train to London and seen archive footage of Dave Whelan breaking a leg followed by the man himself speaking about leading Wigan out at Wembley. There have been reporters outside the DW stadium, where police smile and the stewards are friendly, and the Etihad, where I’ve never been even though I helped pay for it (and so did every other taxpayer). But when it came to fans in the pub (not a pie in sight) singing along to a specially written song I gave up ideas of going off to enjoy the atmosphere in Wigan tomorrow.
So I’ll probably spend this Saturday like many other cup final Saturdays since 1973. Keeping one eye on the game but not really all that interested in the result. It won’t make any difference to me who wins, unless something happens which helps Sunderland’s cause. And I really do not wish anyone ill. Another broken leg is the last thing I want.
Which makes things tricky, doesn’t it. Wigan winning could drain their emotion and wreck their chances on Tuesday. Wigan losing could drain their emotion and wreck their chances on Tuesday. Wigan could be so buoyed up by a win they blow Arse and Villa out of the water and… … I could go on but I won’t. You’re reading this, so you’re doing it for yourself anyway. You don’t need me to go on on your behalf.
None of that means I don’t have an opinion, or feelings. My head says Citeh, with their cash, will win. But I don’t know anyone related to Citeh, and even though my taxes helped fit out the Etihad I have no link to the club. That’s not the case with Wigan. There’s a link. It’s tenuous but no less real for that. My former colleague Keith Trencher, a stalwart Wigan fan, told me he was the fourth official at Springfield Park for the mud slide game.
As I retired Keith gave me a present, a football biography – “Mild and Bitter were the days”, by Ken Barlow. It’s the 1970 diary of a teenager who grew up supporting Wigan when they were in the Cheshire League, which they left to become founding members of the NPL. From my reading of it I believe one may have taught the other, although I won’t say which is which. Since then Wigan, founded in 1932, have reached the Premiership, where they play attractive football on a limited budget, and will now appear in an FA cup final. Don’t you want a club like that to succeed? I do.
I want Sunderland to stay up. If that means Wigan have to go down so be it. But best wishes go from an underdog of forty years ago to Dave Whelan, Roberto Martinez and Keith Trencher, and to Ken Barlow, who bunked off school to watch snow being cleared from the pitch. I hope you have a brilliant day and that we meet again in the premiership next season