On not winning the FA Cup

So on Saturday, Stoke City didn’t achieve something most serious people expected them not to achieve but thought they might just.

I went to Wembley, which was full of brass bands, red and white flags, parachutes, and people with clipboards. I took sandwiches.

Manchester City’s fleet of deluxe go-faster humanoids came marching out alongside our brave boys, some of them hobbling rather, one or two creaking a touch; no one, as far as I could tell, missing a limb, or with old teddy-bear stuffing showing through the parts where the elbows had worn away.

The humanoids needed it more than the unstuffed teddies. Not so much personally: they’d still have gone home rich enough to take two aircraft carriers each for a water ski holiday if they’d lost. But their master was starting to look like a man who had a terminal knack for not achieving things that all reason and resource said he should manage with his underpants wedgied into his rib cage.

In this, the humanoids were quite the opposite of Stoke.

And they deserved to win. They were better.

But we were there too. In my 27th year of being a Stoke fan, I watched them play in an FA Cup final, something which, even in March this year, I never dreamed I’d ever do. I wish dearly that we’d won it, but we didn’t.

I went to my first match in 1984, aged 5, and watched Stoke beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in the old First Division. England winger Mark Chamberlain was playing for us; I recognised him from his guest appearance with Matthew Corbett on the Sooty Show. That season we only won one other game and were relegated with (then) the lowest points total in league history. I didn’t get see Stoke play another top flight match for 24 years.

But supporting Stoke runs in the family (my father is a Stoke fan, and his father was too), and it has endured humiliating Wednesday-night defeats by five goals to Walsall, being knocked out of cup competitions by Hartlepool, brawls against Telford, repeated (apparently constant) playoff failures, managerial defections, delusional boards of directors, and the ground being bulldozed and rebuilt (in Steven Foster’s phrase) on a ‘wind-blasted hill by an incinerator’.

And there’s the reputation: the hooliganism tag which has been hard to shake off, and the ‘rugby’ one, probably a lot more adhesive. An acquaintance of mine described the FA Cup finals as being “the enemies of football against the enemies of football.”

But here we are, runners up to the FA Cup and on an aeroplane to play in Europe. I’ll be going along too.

In the words of a humanoid, “Why is there water coming from my eyes?”

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~ by David Thorley on May 16, 2011.

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