Football is the strangest of breeding grounds. In the most rampant commercial environment, superstition is clung to as if a life raft in the swirling tumult and woe betide any who cast scorn on such beliefs. This morning, I intend to admit and deride in equal measure.
Oh, I’m no different from you; I just say it in a different way. I’ve had routines which must be adhered to, clothing which might be considered lucky, favoured pubs and food outlets along with the opposites of them as well. People too. Lucky mascots were encouraged to attend, on certain trains, met in certain pubs. I’ve dived in and out of doorways to be or not to be the first through the door as was required by the whims of fate. I’ve made quick exits when the accursed have entered the bar. Come back equally as quickly when they’ve bought me a pint. Superstitions are so shallow. I’ve adapted routines to suit a certain set of conditions, a particular fixture or ground. Anything I could do in my own little way, would be done to help the cause.
And it was all rubbish of course.
In the decades I have travelled the globe watching matches, I have encountered no end of folk whose pre-match routines I have managed to unintentionally wreck. And do you know what? It didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the outcome of the respective matches. It really didn’t.
Which is why I am struggling with those who cry “Jinx!” at the prospect of the following statement: Arsenal should really be making arrangements for the FA Cup final on 17th May. Genuinely, I cannot fathom any reason why any Arsenal supporter wouldn’t think that Wigan doesn’t represent the perfect opportunity to progress from Wembley to…Wembley. Yes, I know they have just beaten Manchester City and I doff my hat in admiration of their dogged – yet controlled – defending. I tap my cane at their win and I genuinely hope their supporters enjoy the next few weeks until the semi-final when I hope they have a thoroughly miserable afternoon. I wish them well afterwards, just not in the 100 or so minutes of that particular fixture.
I know that City fans will have exuded the same confidence when the quarter-final draw was made. Wigan. At home. Turn up, put on a professional performance and the win will follow. Except City weren’t professional, perhaps they felt turning up was enough. They didn’t learn from the problems that they had with Blackburn in the Third Round. Arsenal were the same last year, I know I sat miserably having witnessed mediocrity overcome by endeavour. I know the misery that City fans feel right now, we all do, we’re football supporters, we’ve been there before, we’ll go there again.
But we are Arsenal and this season we have shown that the lessons of previous failures have been learned, haven’t we? I mean, OK, maybe not in the transfer market but in other ways. OK, yes, I know we lost the crucial first leg of the Champions League Round of Sixteen but there is no denying we didn’t repeat the mistakes of the San Siro or last season, did we? This time around we found an entirely new way of screwing it up with a missed penalty and the goalkeeper being sent off. I don’t recall us doing that in the past at this stage of the competition so we learned the lessons of the past and didn’t repeat them.
But this isn’t about that or then. This is different. This is about facing a side who are seventh in The Championship with more than a division’s worth of teams between us and them. It’s not like they are top of e table and we are in the bottom three. Or the bottom half-a-dozen for that matter. In those circumstances, I would observe that the gap between the two sides is marginal. In those circumstances…what does it matter, these aren’t those circumstances.
I’m aware of pride before the fall. I was at York. I travelled to Wrexham and I stood miserably as Luton put their lucky hats on. I am well aware of them and all points in-between. I am very well acquainted with Bolton and Millwall. I haven’t forgotten Bradford either. Nor have I forgotten Birmingham. And I don’t care about them save for their part in the rich tapestry of this club’s history. So I do actually care about them but you know what I mean. I don’t care in the sense that this very morn, I am not going to take them into consideration as I strut my cocksureness.
And there are several reasons for that, not least of which is that I am not a player, manager or member of the coaching staff. I am a supporter, I am allowed to be so self-indulgent. I mean how much more self-indulgent can you get than writing a blog every day They are paid to be professional, it is up to me to blasé, to go beyond the limits of sanity and to believe such matches are a formality. Like them, I know that if they fall into such a trap there is a real chance of Arsenal losing. It’s why the players leave the glibness to me and they concentrate on winning matches. It’s a relationship which works most of the time; they keep to their side of the bargain on a regular basis, so do I.
Because let’s be honest, even though you won’t admit it, even though you hide behind your hexes and jinxes, you are thinking the same thing as I: Arsenal won’t have a better opportunity to win a trophy than this. The last four this season is one of the weakest in living memory. When the draw was made, all eyes were on the second semi-final thinking that one of two Premier League teams would win the trophy and it was a case of deciding which one. Well, there’s just one of that seemingly formidable pairing left in the competition now.
Which leads me to another observation you are thinking as well. Again you won’t admit it but if Arsenal cannot win the FA Cup this season, when will they ever do so again? OK, so it is nearly the same as the one in the last paragraph but it cuts the cloth slightly differently. Oh, I know it’s a bit fatalistic and overly dramatic but it’s a lurking truth that frankly you don’t want to answer. And to be honest, you are wondering how it took me 1056 words for that utterance to spew out. Me too, for it was the first which sprang to mind at the sight of the semi-final draw.
So, Arsène, having taken this competition seriously this season, won through the tests that the draw has thrown at you and the players, could we possibly have a couple more instances where you take the competition a bit more seriously. I mean, I wrote “The Cup Final Saturday And We’re Not In It Post” last year. I’d quite like to be able to amend it to “The Cup Final Saturday And We’re In It Post“. Selfish, I know, but one has to take these opportunities when we find them. So go on, Arsène, make an old man happy. And give these miserable Arsenal’s who can’t salivate at the prospect of two Wembley appearances in one season, a reason to enjoy the cocksureness that being a football fan is all about.