Thursday, April 10, 2008

Up for the Cup?

There' s no pleasing some people is there? A lot has been made of the FA Cup being devalued in recent years, with many people citing when Man U decided to take part in the World Club Championhips instead of the FA Cup in 1999 to 2000 as one of the main reason for this. Then they moaned about the competition becoming too boring as the big four dominated it in the last few years and the competition becoming too predictable. Then, this season we have had giant killing aplenty, with non-league Chasetown knocking out Port Vale and Barnsley disposing of both Liverpool and Chelsea, and now they aren't happy because no big teams are involved in the final.

In my opinion Portsmouth, who are in 7th,afterall v Cardiff is a throw back to when the FA Cup was more fun. I used to love the FA Cup as a kid and wanted Villa to win it more than I wanted them to win the League, although maybe that was because I am lucky enough to remember Villa winning the League, something I doubt I will see again. I remember the build up for the whole morning on TV, something which has since stopped. I can still remember all of the cup finals of the 80s from Spurs V Man City in 1981;with Wimbledon 's shock win over Liverpool and Coventry's epic victory over Spurs being the most memorable

I haven't been in England for a cup final since 1995, but I still have some good memories of watching it on TV, although to be honest up until this year the dominance of the big 4 hasn't really led to me searching for it in bars, and often I have contented myself with a local league game. I mean, over the last few seasons, Millwall have been the only club out of the top 4 to make the final, and we all knew how it would end, and they were hardly the loveable underdogs either. I remeber watching the 1996 Cup Final between Middlesbrough and Chelsea. I watched it with Alan and Dan ( a Boro fan) on a crappy black and white TV in a satellite town of Moscow. I remember how excited Dan was, only for him to start smoking his celebratory cigar after 6 minutes when Di Matteo scored for Chelsea in what was to be the only goal of the match. I also saw the 2 cup finals of the late 90's in which Newcastle lost to Arsenal and then the following year againt Man United. The first one in a bar in Moscow and the second in a bar in Rome. In both matches Newcastle completly froze; seeing Geordie ex-pats in tears isn't a pleasent site, I have to tell you.

The last cup final I actually watched was Villa v Chelsea in 2000. I think the trauma may have put me off since. The final was dire and Villa lost 1-0, however, what made it worse was that I had to watch it in a bar in Sassari, which was full of Italian Chelsea fans,the reason being it was Gianfranco Zola's hometown.

I have also seen a few foreign cup finals, and they don't seem to compete with the English equivalent. The first I attended was the Russian cup final between the 2 Moscow teams, Lokomotiv and Spartak. It was held at the then, recently reconstructed Luzhniki Stadium, where the Champions League Final will be held this year. Since then Russian football has undergone a renaissance, and most of the Moscow team seem to have picked up a reaonable amount of support. However, back then Spartak were the only team to have a really big fanbase and they made up so much of the 60,000 attendance (there were about 20000 empty seats) that it felt like we were the only people supporting Loko. However, our support obviously did the trick as Loko won the game 1-0.

I have also seen a few Cup finals in Ukraine the first was between CSKA and Shakhtar, which we were at with a couple of injured CSKA players and had shirts on. However our support and the support CSKA had borrowed from the army (including their surprisingly entertaining brass band) and Dynamo wasn't enough to stop Shakhtar winning the 2001 cup 2-1. To be honest this wasn't the first cup final in Ukraine I had been to, as earlier in the month we had witnessed the 2nd division cup final at CSKA Stadium between Pollisya and Titan. Pollisya ran out 4-0 winners with the backing of their obnoxious fans. At the end of the match I ran onto the pitch and patted the owner of Pollisya on the back as he hobbled off with the cup. Despite his appearance of a limping old uncle from the Caucuses in a particularly badly made suit, I later found out he was one of the mot dangerou men in Ukraine. Oh well, I lived to tell the story!

2002 and 2003 saw a couple of truly fantastic cup finals, both involving Shakhtar and Dynamo and both played out infront of packed crowds at Republikansky Stadium . In 2002 Shakhtar won 3-2 and in 2003 Dynamo won 2-1.

The last FA Cup final I saw was in Azerbaijan when Baki took on Inter Baku. I was there with Joe, who doesn't like football and the mad driver, Sasha who does. The match took place at Tofiq Bahramov Stadium, which is oddly named after the linesman who gave England that dodgy goal in the 1966 Cup final. The stadium is also odd in that it it slopes on one side from what look like a Northern Premier League Stand to an International sized stand on the other side. We were sat in the non-league stand with a couple of hundred other fans and 30000 mosquitoes. As you may expect of a country that names its national stadium after a linesman, Azerbaijan isn't that big on sporting heroes and the game wasn't great. Inter finally lost 2-1, much to Sasha's chagrin and the most memorable moment was when they had ex- Dynamo and now Tavriya forward Lucky Idaho sent off for fighting.

Needless to say I was looking forward to the Ukrainian Cup Final this season. It's usually held on Kyiv Day, which is the last Sunday in May. However, I had already heard that the final had been moved to Kharkiv this year, and I thought fair enough, I'll get a train down there. Nevertheless, my hopes have been dashed by the fact that for some reason it's being played mid-week (in an incomplete stadium with a ruined pitch ........hmmmmmmm.......), . So who knows, this year I might even go to a plastic paddy pub and watch the English version for the first time since Villa's traumatic loss.

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