The F.A. Cup Final.
The F.A. Cup is seen as the holy grail of English football. My team (Crystal Palace, sadly releagted from the Premiership this season) have only ever got to the final once, back in 1990.
We beat the then dominant Liverpool 4-3 in the semi final, which was a huge result for us, largely because they’d inflicted a record defeat on us (9-nil) earlier in the season. We faced Manchester United in the final, which ended with a 3-3 draw. We came so close to winning it right at the death but alas it was not to be. We eventually lost out 1-nil in a replay.
I was absolutely gutted. For a team like Palace to have got that far at all was a huge achievement, but to have come so close to winning, against one of the biggest teams in the country, and then have it taken away like that was really harsh.
Which is why I have some sympathy for the Manchester United supporters this time around. Believe me, part of me is extremely happy that Arsenal lifted the cup – mainly the parts that have an intense dislike for Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane (on the other hand I’m not so keen on Arsene Wenger either), but United didn’t deserve to lose the way they did.
To their credit, Arsenal managed to keep United from scoring at all, but this wasn’t really down to their superior defending. Their goal keeper, Jens Lehmann, was on inspired form and pulled off a string of fantastic saves, but that was about it. United (especially Ronaldo) broke through their defence countless times only to fluff it at the last moment. Rio Ferdinand did manage to get the ball into the net once but he was (correctly) judged to be offside. Goal disallowed.
But even then United wasted so many chances it was almost funny. There were shots into the crowd, free-headers into the crowd, mis-kicks galore and Ruud Van-Nistelrooy even failed to connect with the ball at all on a couple of occasions. Every time they went forward I found myself thinking “this is it, they’re finally going to do it” but the goal never came. Chance after chance after chance came and went until eventually, after 90 minutes of normal time and a further 30 of extra time they were still deadlocked. Nil-nil. A goal-less draw.
These days they don’t hold a replay a few days later. It goes straight to a penalty shootout. Arsenal scored all five of theirs and United only managed to put four away. Arsenal went home with the silverware and a lot of very happy fans. Despite supporting the better team for most of the match, the United supporters went home with their heads hung low.
I guess that’s football for you.