The FA Cup is centre stage with Wigan falling into the same trap of indifferent form as Arsenal albeit, losing at home to Millwall with a side that apparently had eight changes from the weekend. Arsène is casting envious eyes at his opponents, wishing he had eight fit players who he could rotate into the side. I don’t even have to impart the witticism about a lack of investment; you are expecting it so being of a like-mind, you don’t need me to reinforce it. Or being of an opposite, view you are relieved I decided not to impart it although having mentioned it, I suppose I have effectively shared my view on the matter but this way I feel a lot closer to the targeted 1k word-count for today’s post.
A short turn to the left this morning with Memory Lane a route down which to travel. History means little to a large number of people who now follow football and it is something Arsène has touched on in the past. It’s a by-product of the now society we live in. As Mr Chairman observed recently in the comments, “To them, we were Wimbledon before Arsene came along“, a cuttingly accurate observation regarding the disparaging of the club’s history, particularly the 1930s. It isn’t an issue unique to Arsenal, Sky have insidiously erased anything pre-Premier League era from the memory banks and I am sure when they lose the broadcasting contract, their successors will, over a period of time, erase the Sky-era of the competition. If it exists by then, of course; I have no doubt it will be rebranded and that will provide a suitable defining point for the digital removal of the game from our souls. It isn’t unique to broadcasters either, a recent exchange on Twitter saw the Cup Winners Cup triumph derided because it is a tournament which doesn’t exist any more, it doesn’t because UEFA moved it into the Europa League or the UEFA Cup as it was then. It was about the time the UEFA Cup started its descent in the shambles it is now but it was a shameful lack of awareness from an Arsenal supporter. It’s not just that instance either, I’ve seen others deride the Fairs Cup as well. The ignorance is baffling. It is a marked contrast to the growing band of football history websites such as The Arsenal History and books on any manner of the subject.
Anyway, I’ve digressed from the original train of thought for the post. Where was I? Yes, FA Cup semi-finals and a brief history of them. You don’t need me to remind you of mind-numbing victory over Middlesbrough in 2002 or the utterly forgettable win over Sheffield United a year later. I suppose Seaman’s wonder save makes it not entirely forgettable but in this instance I can’t even draw the winning goals for either of those ties into my mind’s eye. I vaguely recall the first one being decided by an own goal but the two have become statistics on the way to bigger things. Pointedly that view begs a question; how many genuinely memorable FA Cup Semi-Finals have Arsenal been involved in, certainly in my life time? The answer is not many and I am not sure there should be many. We tend to remember the good games for the later joy they bring. Victories over Spurs are singed into the memory banks in the same way that 1991s painful defeat was. That dreadful spring afternoon when George Graham’s marvellous side were undone in the first twenty minutes. It’s a wonder with the alcohol that didn’t touch the sides of the neck of the way home, that these memories are so clear, so well-defined. I have never watched that game on TV and any clips shown are immediately overwritten in my eyes as I see the ball passing Seaman from a similar position to the one I had for 1992’s European Cup final where I was afforded the perfect view of Ronald Koeman’s free kick. Or should that be I could afford the perfect view of Ronald Koeman’s free kick? I would wince now at the price of a similar seat for such an occasion.
I digress again. Back to the semi-finals. The painful ones are not so much whole matches but defining moments. 1999s penalty miss and Giggs goal are remembered more for being watched whilst on my honeymoon in Florida in the days where having a beer for breakfast was deemed acceptable and not a rapid descent into alcoholism. There weren’t many of those days before you ask and it was more to do with being on honeymoon that pretty much got me off the hook for most things that fortnight. Norman Whiteside’s goal at Villa Park is etched as it completed an unwanted treble in that season’s domestic cup with the Mancunians having won both legs of the League Cup. You get the drift about these things. It isn’t always bad memories which spring immediately to mind; Brian Talbot’s headed winner – was it in the fourth minute? – at Highfield Road in the third replay of 1980s semi-final, a series of four deadlocked matches in 19 days; how did they manage then to organise such events at short notice yet require a week and a half now? A different game of course, the two eras and the demands on players with the format of other competitions but when people ask about the romance of the cup, the answer invariably refers to the stamina-sapping ties such this one and the previous season’s encounters with Sheffield Wednesday.
Of course the mental images become more grainy, the further I delve back. I put it down to my youthfulness then rather than the age I am now and the dilution of my brain cells through decades of watching football. The first opportunity was always taken to recreate goals in cup semi-finals once the highlights had been shown; The Big Match was perfectly timed for Sunday lunch and no sooner had the closing titles begun than the back garden or the doors in block of nearby garages which took a fearful battering over the years. Nobody complained and periodically the council would come out to replace or repair those deemed salvageable. All this to the backdrop of the ball slamming into another door, a future client for the workmen. They never batted an eyelid, nobody was so precious and the kids were outdoors. Nowadays there would probably be four squadrons of the SAS and fifty community police officers on our doorsteps. The world is different.
Finals are the ones where the games really took centre stage though. The mid-70s was a barren spell for Arsenal so we made do with Tommy Taylor’s second against Fulham or Keegan’s against Supermac’s Newcastle. That was the same Supermac who repeated his 1974 anonymity in 1978 during the defeat to Ipswich. Charlie George’s celebration was more accurately replicated and surprisingly no-one was killed by cars as they trundled down the road toward the A3. Some goals were difficult to recreate, only one person dared to be Allan Clarke; there was blood everywhere from chaffed knees and hands as tarmac proved to be remarkably harder than human skin. That and frankly who wanted anything to do with Leeds at that time. Beyond Leeds supporters, of course. Rarely has a remarkable side united everyone against them so successfully.
I think it was Orient where the last recreation took place, even then it seemed to be a vaguely unsuccessful attempt to recapture our youth. If twelve year olds ever had that simple a thought process, it was probably the interval in a 8-aside game in the road; the end of the first match whilst some trudged off defeated and victorious, chirruping that they’d be back after tea. A much simpler life back then, angst over the injury list was nowhere as deep, we didn’t have the information then unless an injury was serious and known from the last match. There was no internet, no Sky Sports News, Channels Four and Five weren’t even thought of and Thursday night football? That was the preserve of the stamina-sapping cup-tie…