Classic FA Cup finals have become almost as rare as Chelsea being awarded penalties by Norwegian referees. Looking ahead to next weekend’s Wembley showdown, what are the chances of it being one to remember for Blues fans as well as neutrals? Well, for most supporters all it takes is a win for a cup final to be considered great. But for those whose teams are not represented, the criteria are significantly more stringent.
The key ingredients of any truly great cup final are stand out moments of brilliance on the pitch, a compelling back story and atmosphere by the bucket load. All of these lead to the one overriding barometer of cup final greatness – whether it is still being talked about years after the event by people from outside the winning club. So how do Chelsea’s previous triumphs measure up against these decisive factors?
The 1970 win against Dirty Leeds indisputably ticks all the boxes. The on-pitch magic came in the form of Chelsea twice fighting back after falling behind on Wembley’s beach volleyball pitch to force a replay at Old Trafford. There the brilliance was Peter Osgood’s glorious diving header to equalise again and his emotional celebration, followed by the glory of Dave Webb scoring the winner with his ear in extra time. The back story was the fact that it was the first time the Blues had won the cup and the two clubs had a mutual dislike to rival that of Israel and Palestine, only more explosive.
Being a mere babe in arms at the time, I cannot pass judgement on the atmosphere, but a record television audience of 28 million looked on as the two sides kicked seven shades of you know what out of each other until Ron Harris eventually lifted the trophy. That final is still talked about to this day by football folk of all persuasions, which by my criteria makes it a definite classic.
The fact that it took another 27 years for Chelsea fans to celebrate winning the cup again goes a long way to making the 1997 victory another to rank among the finest. Having waited so long, the supporters were keen to savour it and the atmosphere at Wembley that day was electric. The on-pitch celebrations lasted an age after the final whistle before the partying moved back to west London. As for the match itself, Roberto Di Matteo’s 42-second goal was the defining moment. Sadly, the brilliance of his long-distance strike is often overlooked as it is remembered solely for being the quickest in FA Cup final history.
Eddie Newton’s goal to seal the two-nil win at least provided another dimension, but the game is not particularly well remembered by the neutral, mainly because Middlesbrough were never really in it. As such, we cannot hand-on-heart say that it is still talked about today outside Chelsea circles. As such, despite this being my best moment as a Chelsea fan, I have to say that this final was not a true classic.
The 2000 FA Cup final was the last to be played under Wembley’s twin towers. Regrettably, this is just about all that it is remembered for by anyone not associated with the Blues, outside of David James’s sleepless nights that is. Calamity gifted Di Matteo the only goal of a tepid match against Aston Villa, most of which had been forgotten by the time that we had sobered up the following day. The atmosphere was great but not as on-edge as three years previously. Although the day was much enjoyed, I doubt whether the DVD ever troubled the top of the sales charts and you will not find the match subject of much conversation now. Thus I fear that it falls well short of the classic standard.
A weekend in south Wales can seem like a long time, so the six years the FA Cup final spent in Cardiff felt like an eternity. When the showpiece finally returned to Wembley, so did Chelsea. Not only did the one-nil victory over Man Utd exorcise the demons of 1994, but it also ensured that Chelsea were the first to win at new Wembley as well as the last to win at old Wembley. However, the lower ticket allocation at the swanky new venue left many season ticket holders, including myself, ticketless and furious. I cannot speak for the atmosphere at the match, but round at my flat it was fantastic, culminating in dancing around the garden before heading to Fulham Road to party long into the night.
Sadly the match was similar to a holiday in south Wales – not much to write home about. Didier Drogba’s extra time winner is the only moment to stick in the memory. While the victory is held in high esteem by all Chelsea fans, especially given the injustice of 1994 (Orwell was ten years out with his vision of a morally bankrupt society), there was not nearly enough magic for it to be considered a genuine classic by outsiders as well as the Stamford Bridge faithful.
And so we come to 2009. The back story has already been written – temporary manager turns around ailing season, wins adoration of players and supporters, refuses to go back on his word to return to Russian national team and last game in charge is FA Cup final. Winning the trophy would be the perfect end to the Guus Hiddink story at Chelsea, for now. He has done a fantastic job in his limited time at Stamford Bridge and conducted himself in an impeccable manner. Few people outside Everton could begrudge him a win at Wembley.
While we the supporters cannot control what the players do on the pitch on Saturday, we can still have a big impact on another crucial factor for a classic cup final – the atmosphere. To say that the noise level at the semi-final against Arsenal could have been better would be the biggest understatement since Noah stuck his hand out the window and said: “I think it’s just a shower.” For the final there will be fewer of us in the stadium and we face the very real prospect of being out-sung by Everton. We must not just turn up, sit on our hands and expect a win (see Carling Cup final 2008).
If you are not prepared to wear your colours, make as much noise as possible and sing your heart out for Chelsea, then please give your ticket to someone who will. At the game, try to encourage those around you to join in the singing but do so with a smile rather than a sneer. Do not have a go at people who are not making noise but encourage them positively to join in. Have a joke with them, offer them a pint after the game, ask what their favourite chants are and try to get them going. The usual abuse that quiet people get only seals their lips all the tighter.
Keep it friendly and the result should be greater volume, better atmosphere and hopefully another trophy. Let’s make this a classic FA Cup final that people will talk about for years to come as the one when the Chelsea fans rocked the Wembley arch as they roared their team to glory.