As I write, less than a week on from that unforgettable day at Wembley, I’m already starting to see some of the focus shifting from winning the FA Cup to who we should and aren’t going to sign this summer among other things, and the bitching has started in earnest.
Fine, if that’s your bag, but it’s not mine.
Not at the moment anyway, I am going to milk the fuck out of winning the FA Cup, thank you.
So I thought I would relive my experience of that day with you all.
Now the dust has settled, the hangovers have gone, it seems a bit easier to look back on exactly what happened over that weekend.
The sense of euphoria that came with Arsenal’s FA Cup win is one that will long be remembered.
Not even the gallons of alcohol that were consumed by Gooners everywhere will wipe that from the memory.
Such was this euphoria that it’s easy to find yourself getting so caught up in it and carried along in a tidal wave of emotions that it can take a while for it to sink in.
Listening to and reading friends and fellow supporters accounts of their experiences in the days that followed just goes to show exactly what this trophy win means to us all.
With that in mind, forgive me if this next bit seems a little self-indulgent, but I wanted to share my cup final experience with you, and I’m pretty sure some of you can relate to it at least….
Countdown to Wembley – The Tension Builds
I feel I should start with the build up to the game in the days before it.
The nerves have been there since we beat Wigan, to be honest, but by around Thursday evening I was proper shitting myself.
An almost surreal bout of nerves hit me from Friday evening onwards, totally different from the end of the last two seasons when the nerves were due to needing to win to finish above the shit up the road to finish fourth.
No, this was a whole different kind of nervous.
Nervousness tinged with anticipation, the feeling that this really could be the time when our long wait for silverware came to an end.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience Arsenal win trophies in the past, and lucky enough to witness some of those victories in the flesh, but having been a while I had almost forgotten what it was like.
Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but somehow this felt different.
Maybe it was because during more successful periods we almost EXPECTED to win things.
Looking at Twitter around 1am on Saturday morning, it appeared that the insomnia inducing tension was building everywhere…..
The Road to Wembley
Trying to keep myself busy on Saturday morning for the couple of hours at home before it was time to leave did no good whatsoever, and when my wife asked me how I was feeling, the only response I could muster was along the lines of “I’m fucking shitting myself….”
Anyway, having avoided any underwear damage, I made the short journey from my flat to Piebury Corner, meeting a few mates there for a Charlie George to line the stomach and a Lasko beer to settle the nerves.
(Make sure you follow @PieburyCorner and @LaskoBeer – top pies, top beer and top Gooners)
The nerves were still there for all of us, but it was time to start enjoying the day for what it was, any worries about the game being put temporarily aside in an attempt to soak up the atmosphere that was building on Holloway Road, a few songs were sung, cars passed draped in red and white with horns blaring, the sun was shining – proper FA Cup Final weather.
This was what it’s all about, the magic of an FA Cup Final.
Next it was another short walk up to The Tollington for a few more nerve settling beers and a chat with a few more friends.
The nerves now being slightly diluted by adding a dose of uneasy optimism to the mix, resulting in a cocktail that brought on a strange kind of rush.
The general feeling being that although we had struggled against Wigan, our form was that much better going into this game that our optimism wasn’t that far misplaced.
None of us were “bullish” though.
Being an Arsenal supporter and being bullish before a game often only has one outcome.
The wrong one.
Oh, and Dave Quinnan from The Bill was in the pub as well.
After bidding farewell to those who were not joining us at Wembley, vowing to return later for celebrations if we won, it was on to Finsbury Park station, where there was a big crowd outside the Twelve Pins in full song.
Now, every so often I felt an almost involuntary clap and rubbing together of the hands while muttering something along the lines of “let’s do this”.
The loosening of the tongue, easing of the nerves, and lubrication of the throat helped along by the early beers led to a bit of a sing song on the tube on the way to Baker Street, and by the time we’d met up with a few more mates for another beer and headed back towards Baker Street tube we were in full song, which carried on throughout a memorable journey on the Jubilee Line to Wembley Park.
She certainly did wear a yellow ribbon.
After a few photos on the famous walk down Wembley Way and a sneaky beer outside the ground, we bumped into a more friends, including one who had only found out he had a ticket that afternoon, and who we were unaware would be there. There were hugs all round (manly hugs, of course). What a lovely moment that was.
Let’s Do This
I know we were only at Wembley a few weeks back for the semi-final, but nothing can beat walking to your seat for a cup final to be greeted by a sea of red and white, yellow and blue for an actual cup final, and while I’m one of those who believes that semi-finals should be played elsewhere, the notion that it takes the gloss off of the occasion for the final itself is totally forgotten on the day.
I’m coming to the conclusion that playing a semi-final at Wembley only takes the gloss off of anything for the losers.
For instance, ask any of the 40 odd thousand Gooners who attended the semi-final and ask them what sort of day they had!
Excitement and expectation reached fever pitch by kick off, then as if just to prove the old adage “what goes up, must come down”, we did a bit of an Arsenal, and found ourselves 2-0 down within EIGHT MINUTES.
I wasn’t too bothered after the first goal, to be honest, as being 1-0 down after four minutes is by no means the end of the world, but being 2-0 down to Hull after EIGHT MINUTES, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking “for fucks sake, here we go again…..”
After Kieran Gibbs cleared one off the line to prevent Hull going 3-0 up, and surely ending our chances of winning the cup, I felt the pent up frustration of the recent trophyless years starting to release itself in the complete opposite way to what I had hoped.
“For fucks sake sort it out Arsenal!”
“Look like you fucking want it!”
And other stuff along those lines…
I spied a couple of people looking round at me from a few rows in front and thought to myself “Oh shit, I’m turning into one of those people”, the kind of people I hear week in, week out doing nothing but complain for ninety minutes.
I found myself thinking “have I been wrong all this time? Are they right?” Such was the intensity of the emotions I was feeling at that time.
Then, I heard one of “those people” from behind me, and turned round to see who it was, as those in front of me had when I’d had a little moment.
He was a lot worse than me.
I managed to gain some kind of composure after that….
“Get a goal back before half time and we’ll win this….Hull will get tired”
Then, we got that free kick.
Believe me or not, I just had a feeling we were going to score from it.
That feeling you get that 99 times out of a hundred means the ball will either hit the wall or end up in row Z.
I think I celebrated that goal that took us to 2-1 down as if it had put us 3-2 up.
The thunderous celebrations were a bit much for the young boy behind us, but a couple of high fives soon cheered him up.
The belief came flooding back.
I can’t say I remember much more of the first half.
Nothing to do with the beer and Jaegermeister, I just wanted half time to come.
Again, I don’t really remember much leading up to Laurent Koscielny’s equaliser, other than the fact that I thought my prediction about Hull tiring was right, and that the goal was coming.
When it did come the sense of belief was eventually replaced by one of “DO NOT FUCK THIS UP ARSENAL”, something I think we’ve all said at least once in recent seasons.
From then on I felt it looked like there would only be one winner which, as Arsenal supporters, we know only too often ends up being the team it doesn’t look like being. You know, the other team and stuff.
Kieran Gibbs blazing a sitter over the bar didn’t help that feeling one bit.
The final whistle brought about that uneasy feeling that extra time always brings, but there was still a huge sense of relief that we had gotten this far after that hellish opening 10 minutes.
Then, it happened.
Aaron Ramsey, the one player I would have wanted most to score the winner at Wembley to clinch us the FA cup, ending our nine million year wait for silverware, scored a superb goal to put us 3-2 up.
3-2 up, after being 2-0 down.
“DO NOT FUCK THIS UP, ARSENAL”
The rest of extra time passed in a blur of nail biting, buttock clenching and outright prayer.
Never more so than when Per slipped in slow motion, and Fabianski came Manuel-ing off of his line.
Thankfully, 25,00 odd Gooners inhaling deeply while clenching their arse cheeks prevented the ball from going in.
Up the other end Rosicky was in, but passed when he should’ve burst the net, denying us the chance to celebrate the goal that would have sealed it beyond doubt.
It didn’t matter though, as seconds later the final whistle went, and I sank to my knees as if I were on the pitch myself.
There are no words to describe that feeling after the final whistle.
Delirium, would probably be the closest I could manage.
There were tears, I don’t mind admitting that.
An explosion of pure, unbridled emotion.
All the shit we have had to put up with over the last few years, every single missed chance, late goal conceded, everything else you can think of, came flooding out in an instant.
Outside Wembley, we met up with a few friends by the bar outside the ground, and every single one of them admitted to shedding tears.
The mood among us was hard to describe.
Every one of us had a headache, as the emotions took their toll on us, and we took a while to let things sink in.
The headaches were forgotten about on the tube journey back, and I’m amazed the train wasn’t derailed at some point.
Bumping into more friends on the way back made the journey back even better, and by the time we made it back to the Tollington my throat was so ruined I sounded like Lily fucking Savage.
The celebrations carried on there, with people who had made their way back from Wembley, and those who had watched the game on the big screens at The Emirates or in the pubs nearby.
Hugs of relief and joy all round.
North London is Red
The parade the following day continued our celebrations, and as I live five minutes from the town hall, I was lucky enough to get a good spot so that my wife and children could enjoy the moment with me, in the glorious North London sunshine.
They seemed just as excited at the chance they might have been caught on Olivier Giroud’s camera phone as I was at Ramsey’s winner, I think.
Like I said earlier, I’ve been lucky enough to witness Arsenal winning trophies over the years, but hand on heart, this one felt different.
Our celebrations may have been mocked by others, but we all know, and so do they, that they mock because this is eating them up.
So, bollocks to them, it’s been long time coming, and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to milk every last minute of it.
Islington born and bred, Arsenal through and through. Supported the Gunners for all of my 46 years (so far!) through thick and thin.
Clickbait: Life as a Modern Football Fan – released 2019
Currently working on my next book – Over Land and Sea (and Lockdown), Arsenal 20/21 – A Diary of a Season – due for release Summer 2021.
I will back the club I have in my blood to the hilt and I don’t care what you think about that. UTA.
AGAINST MODERN FOOTBALL.