FA Cup Final: Who are YOU backing?
Everyone is holding out for a Blue win today. You can do it lads, the nation is behind you and we all believe in you! A victory would, of course, be MASSIVE and return you to your rightful place at the top table of English…pop music.
I’m of course talking about my third favourite event of the year (after the Champions League final and the Royal Rumble…), the Eurovision Song Contest. Normally I’d hate those smug, smarmy gits and there clichéd, pseudo-R’n’B stylings from Blue but all sort of music taste goes out the window in my house when it comes to Eurovision. Ta ta Stone Roses, so long The Cribs, bye bye Morrissey (who is, in fact, also a massive Eurovision fan), Eurovision is all about tat for me.
What’s that? There’s another big event today which could allow great success for some Blues? Ah of course, the FA Cup Final and the second biggest prize up for grabs in English football this weekend…
Now pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to who doesn’t come from Stockport or Liverpool has nailed their colours to the mast of Stoke ahead of this one, and it’s not just United fans either (despite the fact most people I speak to are from the South East…). In many ways it’s the ultimate David and Goliath final, harking back to ’73, ’83, ’88 and ‘04.
One’s a team from a small industrial city – a traditional club now back in the top flight and playing solid, if slightly unattractive and unspectacular, football against one of English football’s current powerhouses – in the Champions League, spending money like it’s going out of fashion and attracting controversy wherever they go (thanks largely to Mario Ballotelli).
The funny thing is, five years ago I’d wager that Manchester’s most MASSIVE club would be most neutral’s team for the day. It’s hard to remember but in 2006 Man City finished 20 points behind Blackburn, 13 points behind Bolton and 8 points behind Wigan…and 40 points behind United. In fact, of the seven North West teams in the Premier League that season, City finished seventh. A year later? 13 points behind Reading, 12 points behind Pompey…47 behind United. And I don’t include that to taunt or mock (although it handily does manage to do both those things), but to show how far City have come.
But back then City were the loveable losers. I’m loathe to say this as a United fan (and indeed I found them anything but loveable) but they were a lot of people’s second team and had been for a while. Down the years they had the like of Shaun Goater, Georgi Kinkladze, Uwe Rosler and Paolo Wanchope, players who entertained and endeared themselves to the masses through skill or guile or just seeming to love the game. And they were always value for money, as shown by the last Manchester derby at Maine Road (the one time I was angry at my beloved G-Nev) or the 1999 playoff final (Ok Si & Jim, they were everyone’s second team apart from United AND Gills fans).
City were in a bracket with Newcastle and Spurs – sometimes great, sometimes terrible, usually entertaining and often hilariously lacking in self-awareness (indeed as website Republik of Mancunia said recently – if Manchester City didn’t exist we’d probably make them up for a laugh). Yes there were delusions of grandeur, but there was also a feeling that they deserved a higher station given their admittedly dedicated fanbase and past glories. And more than anything, how many non-United fans just wanted to see them win something to annoy us? To bring an end to the banner on the Stretford End and the chants?
Now though, City have taken over from Chelsea as the nation’s favourite example of everything that’s wrong with football. Now they’re no longer the sleeping giant, they’re the small club who bought success. No longer are they the entertainers, now they just buy talent with little regard for future nurturing and discard managers like they were old socks regardless of whether the socks have holes in them or not.
For every Rosler you have a greedy, disloyal Tevez. For every Kinkladze a thuggish De Jong and for every Goater you have an arrogant, delusional, confrontational (and, to be fair, often hilarious) Ballotelli. No more do they have likeable, if limited, managers like Joe Royle, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce and Sven. Now they have a revolving door of managers signed for glory and discarded when they don’t bring it. A Mark Hughes can be easily replaced by a Mancini, who in turn can be replaced by a Mourinho or Van Basten or Rijkaard or Hiddink, and so on until they’re back at Brian Horton.
And I’ll be honest. Back in the days when City were underdogs, even I didn’t hate them. Sure I wanted to beat them, but the intensity never felt like it was against Liverpool or Leeds or (more recently) Arsenal. They were like the little brother, or indeed the noisy neighbour, who was forever trying to wind you up but ultimately ended up on the losing side. In fact, when their fans immaculately observed the silence in tribute to those who lost their lives in Munich (including ex-City keeper Frank Swift), I actually wanted them to grab fourth that season (they were still in with a slim chance). Now of course they are scarred by the same problems United have with glory-hunting fans, lacking in awareness or appreciation of the past and acting disgracefully (see the Munich chants at Blackburn, and for an unbiased view the persistent Wenger chants by United fans).
I’m no fan of Stoke City. I was tipping them for relegation as recently as early March and find their particular brand of football unpleasant to watch and I imagine unpleasant to play against (they’re still not as dirty as Frodsham Under 11s were). But I, like many, will be roaring them on today as if they were my own side. If this final was happening 5 years ago I’d still want them to win, but I dare say that most people would be happy to see a Blue Moon rising. Now, I’m certain most people would like few things less.