Sport Comment: Cup final thriller proves there is life in the old competition yet

John Inverdale
SOMETIMES it is good to be wrong. Having convinced myself on Saturday morning that this year’s FA Cup final had all the must-see elements of a McBusted concert, I planned a football-free TV day which involved possibly getting home from a long journey in time for the last five minutes to see the trophy lifted, and possibly not.

I switched on Radio 5 Live at 5pm to hear the familiar and reassuringly grumpy tones of Alan Green announcing that it was too much like the Superbowl, was kicking off at the wrong time, and Arsenal were going to walk it anyway.

Suitably reassured as to my indifference, I listened to the first 30 seconds of the match and then stuck the new Michael Jackson album on. (Not bad.) I went back to the football 10 minutes later just to check. And never left.

The FA Cup will never be what it was. The footballing landscape has changed too much with so many matches live on TV, and the millions who have turned away from the competition feel let down by the big teams fielding weakened sides in the early rounds, and the preponderence of matches at Wembley which makes last Saturday appear almost an aperitif to the main course of the Football League play-off finals.

And yet there is still something, and that something is history. Images of Charlie George in 1971 and Alan Sunderland in 1979 pixellated from the car radio as Mike Ingham, as brilliant as ever in his last cup final commentary, became ever more agitated as the inevitable Arsenal fight-back gathered momentum.

As the shops began to shut, and those millions of misguided shoppers who had turned their backs on the day that used to stop a nation hit the streets, I wanted to wind down the window and scream “why aren’t you watching, go home quick, this is great”.

It’s a strange world when you want every London traffic light to be red, and a journey to never end. Those two-and-a-half hours with the radio and a mind awash with Wembley memories restored a lot of lost faith in a great sporting institution.

Sorry Michael – up there somewhere – I will get round to hearing the rest of the album this week.

Saturday was a genuine thriller, and all of us should be delighted about that. Because while not pretending for a second that Arsenal would not prefer to win the Premier or the Champions League, after their heroics on Saturday, the FA Cup lives.