Every football lover will remember when they caught the footballing bug. My moment, was after my first live game, it was after my first major competition (World cup 94) and came as late as the end of the second season that I collected football stickers. It was the first time I was truly excited about a game, a goal and a player all at the same time.
During the 1996 FA cup final I was sat in the back of my mothers citroen BX (great car) with my mate Paolo, stuck in M25 traffic on the way back from Godstone farm. For those of you who haven't been, Godstone is more than just a farm - there is a first rate adventure playground with an ice cream parlour of some note.
Tired from the morning'sexcitement and a generous picnic, Paolo took tan executive decision to have a well earned snooze and left be with BBC radio 5 live's coverage of the cup final.
The game was Manchester United vs Liverpool. A rivalry I was yet to understand. The score was 1-0 and the scorer was Eric Cantona. The game is described by the history makers as an unmemorable one and perhaps I was lucky to hear it on the radio rather than watch it on tv. At 8 years old, my imagination allowed me to witness a far more vividly exciting game than any two teams could have realistically produced. I distinctly remember receiving a fairly serious reprimand for my reaction to the goal. It was a celebration of epic proportions, not because I supported United (I actually wanted Liverpool to win the game), but because of my surprise at the racket provided by the commentators.
A month later, Euro 96 kicked off on home shores and I was hooked.
Since 96, the cup final has provided many of my favourite moments in football. Di Matteos record breaking goal in 97, Owen's late brace against Arsenal in 2001 and the thrilling 2006 game between Liverpool and Wham!, Gerrard's last minute equaliser being the best I have witnessed in an FA cup final. Aside from the final, the cup has brought many exciting moments for me. The Giggs goal vs Arsenal in 99, Darren Ambrose's stunning strike against Villa last year and a Leeds side led by Jermaine Beckford turning United over at Old Trafford.
Bearing all of this in mind, it might surprise you to know that I couldn't care less about tomorrow's cup final. It even surprises me. Aside from Palace's involvement, I haven't been too bothered about the FA cup for several years. The only thing that is getting me up for tomorrow's game is the 20 squid I have on Stoke (paddy power are offering 7/2). What worries me is that I am not alone in my growing apathy towards the competition. The thing is, I want to care, and I want other people to care but the clubs, the premier league and the manager's don't take it seriously any more.
You can choose to believe the regurgitated bollocks provided by the managers, players and commentators about the relevance of the cup and the magic that is “still alive” within the competition, or you can face the facts (I'm not trying to get a job in the sun I really am that pissed off).
Last season Chelsea's top scorer in their cup-winning run was... wait for it... Daniel Sturridge. During City's game against Tottenham in midweek, the commentators told us in their infinite wisdom that City would rather finish 4th than win the cup and to top it all off nicely, the big game tomorrow isn't even the cup final. It is the game at Ewood park, where City's rivals could seal their historic 19th league title against Blackburn.
It is bad enough that the cup final is during the regular season, the Champions league obviously has to take preference, but the Premier League's refusal to move Saturday's fixtures to Sunday is a perpetuation of the attitude towards the cup which has contributed to its demise. It is possible that City will kick off the final minutes after United are presented with the league title. If City do win the cup, a United league and champions league double would take the gloss off it somewhat.
For Stoke it is a red letter day. No one would ever expect them to win the cup and even after a 5-0 drubbing of Bolton in the semi's, they are big underdogs. The FA Cup however has become a cup for the Stokes and Boltons. Not relegation candidates, but not challenging in Europe or for the title. The competition is a big anticlimax – exciting whilst Crawley are involved, then increasingly drab. It is big for the small teams. Massive for the middling team, and a bonus for the great sides. How did this all happen in the last 15 years? The answer is probably money. How do we fix it? I haven't the foggiest. All I know is, I want my Cup back.
Ps/ if you work for the sun and want to give me a job, I will obviously take it