This weekend, the oldest club competition in the world of football will crown its 127th winner. While the familiar faces of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea fell in earlier rounds and failed to make the final for the first time in 17 years, this season’s final could turn out to be one of the most exciting.
Dave Jones’ Cardiff City are vying to become the first side outside of the top flight to take the trophy since Trevor (now Sir Trevor) Brooking’s solitary goal saw off Arsenal as West Ham United lifted the Cup in 1980. A win for the Bluebirds would also see the Cup leave England for only the second time in its history, repeating the club’s 1927 feat against Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal.
The Welsh side will come up against Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth who finished 8thin this season’s EPL. The last time Pompy reached the final of the FA Cup, the Spanish Civil War had just finished, Thailand was still called Siam and a second war with Germany was just 4 months away.
To the uninitiated and those who weren’t following English football until the Premier League took it’s first strides in 1992, this season’s final is the worst case scenario for a knock out competition. For many who fail to see past the supposed elite of the “big four”, the clash between a Premiership also-ran and a Championship side from Wales will be a big turn off. To those of substance however and a penchant for tradition, this is the best thing to have happened to the Cup for many years.
The dominance of the richest clubs in England over this competition has had detrimental effect to the stoic façade of the competition. When holders Manchester United opted to drop out of the competition in 2000 to play in the World Club Championship, many thought the Cup had lost its value and purpose. Last year’s final, a much anticipated meeting of England’s best two teams – United and Chelsea – was an enormous let-down. 120 minutes of turgid football that shimmered with one brief piece of brilliance in the 116thminute as Didier Drogba’s effort hit the net to claim a Chelsea victory.
This year then, the Goliaths have been slain and two plucky Davids, one slightly smaller than the other, will go one on one for not only the historic FA Cup but for a place in Europe. Portsmouth’s goalkeeper David James is hoping to be on the winning side in a final for the first time in three attempts and should he play, Cardiff’s Robbie Fowler will be looking to add to his winners medal from Liverpool’s 2001 win.
While the temporary home of Cardiff’s Millennium stadium was a wonderful venue fit for the occasion, there was always a nomadic detachment hanging over the competition. Now that Wembley was returned as the home of cup finals after the seven year long transformation of the original stadium, the FA Cup has got back the cornerstone of its tradition. It somehow seems fitting that Cardiff City is visiting the new Wembley to contest a final after the city played gracious hosts for six years.
Although those doubters who are still bemoaning the absence of a top four EPL team will remain, this year’s final embodies the pure essence of the cup that began all those years ago. The point of the tournament was not to pitch the best the country have to offer against each other but to throw all the minnows in with the big fish and see who came out on top. 731 teams have contested this year’s competition with sides made up of builders, accountants and estate agents going toe to toe with some of the wealthiest and most talented in the business.
On Saturday, the culmination of over 900 games that began back in August will be played out between two teams who have not lifted domestic silverware for nearly 70 years. No matter what the outcome, English football’s eldest statesman will show that even after 136 years he is still alive and kicking.