I spent the last week really getting caught up in the history and hype (my first honest to god usage of that word in a positive context in a long, long time) of the FA Cup; a daunting task given that there are 130 years worth of FA Cup finals to ponder.
The only comparable event American sporting life can offer is the Kentucky Derby, but its strong stench of Southerness and short running time has always given me pause (and if any extant smell should raise doubts it is the acrid, umistakeable smell of pure Southern comfort and pride) and, honestly, prevented me from ever really appreciating it. The only Derby I ever remember with any regularity took place one gorgeous afternoon sometime during the Aughts at an off-track betting joint I used to frequent in Western PA. People were everywhere, spilling out on to the lawn which had been turned into a patio party. We were buzzed and bet blissfully on the wrong horse. All was well until halfway through the ride home when Huck told us he’d had inside info. on the winning horse.
Stoke City boss Tony Pulis got all this started anew for me (one of my favorite, most studied parts of the Rough Guide to Cult Football is the “Top Ten FA Cup-Winning Teams”) when he made the following remarks during the run-up to the semifinal match between the Potters and the Bolton Wanderers:
“When I was younger the only live games you watched were the FA Cup. That was so, so special.
I understand the world moves on and we get a little bit blase because there is so much live football on the television. I do recognise you have international football and Champions League, the Premier League, then the FA Cup. That’s sad.
The FA Cup used to be the pinnacle. But it will always be special to me and to people of my generation.”
“In 1964, when footballing legend Bobby Moore held the FA Cup aloft for West Ham, Micky Smith was in the crowd, experiencing the unique thrill of seing his club emerge victorious.”
These are the amazing little pieces of football knowledge that this blog was conceived to compile, share and revel in.
Going into yesterday’s match, I was firmly on the side of Stoke City as they sought to extend Manchester City’s much publicized trophy drought. The atmosphere at Wembley was wondrous! City absolutely dominated the first half, controlling possession and tempo with emphasis and ease. I finally was able to see brief intimations of Mario Balotelli’s “genius” in contrast to the always-on-display brilliance of David Silva, who orchestrated City’s 1st half attack in his typically smooth manner. Stoke fought back in the 2nd half and made a match of it before City regained the advantage. Finally, the scourge of these FA Cup finals, Yaya Toure banged in a shot in the 75th minute to net the so-called “noisy neighbors” some hard-earned silverware.
According to the Guardian, City had been “accused of being lumpy, defensive and dull by their critics” and I’ll be the first to plead guilty to those specific charges, but there is no denying the fact that they deserved this FA Cup victory. As the season progressed, I started to respect Roberto Mancini’s tactical instincts and sauve stubborness. In many ways he has grafted a defensive, grind-it-out Serie A style and mentality to a side brimming with quality, yet searching for an illusive level of cohesion. Mancini’s approach didn’t always make for excitement and/or aesthetically pleasing matches, but as the campaign wore on both Mancini and the players were able to grow into and effectively utilize this hybrid style of play to garner impressive results. David Silva, in particular, got more and more impressive as he became the team’s offensive catalyst, adding a level of fluidity and invention that ignited the mercurial talents around him to score enough big goals to qualify for the Champions League. All in all, I’m surprised to actually feel happy for the Sky Blues.
I hated to see Stoke City leave Wembley empty-handed and I really hope their supporters reward their efforts accordingly. I’m already excited to see what kind of damage the Potters can cause in the Europa League.
More on the drop soon.