I knew that I should have taken an hour out last night to put something up on here, because I’ve now got enough material to last me for the whole of this week. So, coming up this week: another report from AFC Wimbledon, who provided us with another splendid afternoon’s entertainment on Saturday afternoon against Billericay Town last weekend, the all-important question of whether Tottenham Hotspur have turned an important corner over the last eight day or so or whether this is yet another false dawn in that particular corner of North London, and only team from Brighton with any chance of winning anything this season.
First up, though the Carling Cup Final, played yesterday afternoon at the Millennium Stadium. Arsenal’s young boys finally ran out of gas against Chelsea’s older and more experienced team. I will have to grudgingly concede that Arsenal’s younger team have set this cup on fire this season, to the extent that it’s perfectly valid to ask whether their more experienced players would have done any better. Certainly Jose Mourinho’s reaction at the end of the match indicated that the so-called “Special One” (his words, not mine) was placing quite a lot of importance in this competition, which says a lot for what Manchester United have done to the rest of the Premiership this season.
The back pages, of course, were taken up with the massive fight that broke out at the end. The rest of the world has been discussing whose fault it was, who deserve to be sent off and who was unlucky. I’m not going to get involved in this “debate”, largely because I couldn’t give a toss. What I would like to add would be that it was pleasing to see two teams reverting to their stereotypes so easily. I have occasionally wondered what a pantomime would be like if it the baddies had to take on another set of baddies, and now I know the answer. It’s very good entertainment indeed. I would suggest, in future, that if Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger want to do away with cup replays, they simply parachute a boxing ring onto the centre spot and let them fight it out. Last man standing wins. Of course, the suspicion is that this would give an unfair bias to Chelsea – at least it will so long as John Terry is fact. Terry confirmed my growing belief that he is filled with reinforced concrete yesterday afternoon by surviving having his head kicked clean of his shoulders. The situation went from him starting to turn blue on the pitch (taking club loyalty a shade too far, there) to being back at the hotel a mere couple of hours after the match had finished to join in the celebrations.
I’ll write a full eulogy for the Millennium Stadium when we can be sure that it’s the last major English match to be played there, but it’s certainly a shame that it went out in something of a state of chaos, with thousands of supporters stranded on the trains and motorways after an accident on the M4 and a points failure at Newport. Now, everybody that lives in this country knows what the trains can be like, and I would point out that we all know that they run a reduced service on a Sunday, so what the hell were the Football League doing, playing a major final with 70,000 travelling supporters in Cardiff on that particular day of the week? It has been pointed out before that getting into and out of Cardiff on a Sunday is a uniquely cheerless experience. We could all see the large number of empty seats inside the stadium. Further brownie points should be knocked off for not even countenancing the concept of putting the kick-off time back to allow more people to arrive. Clearly an orderly kick-off time for Sky TV is more important to the Football League than actually allowing the people that had paid vast amounts of money for tickets to actually see what they’d paid for. Still, at least (with a bit of luck), it will serve as a timely reminder ahead of the Olympics and any World Cup bid that this country needs billions of pounds to be spent on its transport infrastructure.
So, that’s one cup down, and there are still three to play for. I have just one further question: with Chelsea and Arsenal playing in next season’s Champions League, would the other losing semi-finalists from this competition, Wycombe Wanderers, qualify for next year’s UEFA Cup if Spurs qualify by some other means? They should at least get a run in the Intertoto Cup for their troubles – and, after all, starting off in Europe in the middle of the summer hasn’t done Newcastle any harm this season, has it?