I love the FA Cup. Well when I say I love it I don’t mean that I want to marry it and have 2.3 children (or even live in sin with it come to that!), but there is something special about the whole competition. It may well have gone down in value for all of those United fans who live on the outskirts of Manchester in North Devon, but it still means something to me. From watching the draw and seeing some has-been fiddle with his balls right up until the moment we actually get down to action, there is a certain buzz.
Today was no different, we even had the added incentive of it being cold, bloody cold, so cold that we found penguins on the way to the ground that had died of hypothermia, and playing on a pitch which made the sand pit against Charlton look like a billiard table.
Luckily for us Ray, good old Ray, said that he knew a pub near the station. Of course he did not tell us exactly which station he was talking about, it was probably nearer Fulham Broadway than Watford Junction was. So after a near on 300 mile hike we found the pub had a few beers and set off for the trek to the stadium. We must have looked a right motley crew on our long, long journey. There was Piers whose conversations on his mobile are so loud that you wonder why he needs a phone at all. Chris looking resplendent with an inflatable FA Cup that Piers had so kindly donated to him. The lovely Carol looking like a film star in her pink cap, Ray leading us up and down various streets, “it’s just round the corner now”, poor Rue wondering what the heck he was doing with this strange group of individuals and of course there was little old me.
Somehow we did finally manage to make it to the ground. True we nearly lost a couple along the way as the rations ran out, but the huskies managed to drag those that had started to show signs of slowing up. Once we got into the stadium, if that is what you can call Vicarage Road, we knew it was going to be a bit of a battle. Claudio, despite his promise of treating the Cup seriously, had tinkered once more with the team, and the pitch – I call it that only out of habit – looked every inch a battlefield left over from the Somme.
The real shock of this game I suppose was that we managed to hold out against lesser opposition for a full five minutes before deciding to give away a belated Christmas present. But the ‘when is a goal not a goal’ question was never more pertinent than it was here. A cross from the right and world superstar Helguson was allowed a free header. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced back into play. The Referees Assistant, D. S. Bryan then signalled that the ball had crossed the line. This was odd bearing in mind that (a) it hadn’t and (b) not one Watford player claimed that it had. The Referee decided to accept the word of DS Bryan (I assume that DS stands for Doesn’t See) and we were 1 down.
It could have been so much worse when Sullivan, looking every inch a Scottish goalkeeper, somehow managed to palm the ball directly to a Watford player. He shot straight at goal but fortunately Marcel had stationed himself on the line to block and we somehow scrambled the ball clear.
On the half hour we were back in it when Jesper Gronkjaer tumbled at the feet of super Lenny Pidgely after being sent through on goal by Lumpies pass. Eider coolly slotted home the resulting spot-kick. That was bound to be it, sanity restored, and we could get on with the job of finishing off a less than average side languishing near the foot of the first division. However, we decided once more to press the self destruct button when another punt into the box was headed back across goal by Marcus Gayle for Mahon to nod home Watford’s second. Unbelievable!
We did managed to go in at half time all square, probably undeservedly, when Jesper laid the ball into the path of the onrushing Lumpie for him to hit the ball – albeit with the aid of a slight deflection I think – past Super Len. That at least served to shut up the Watford fans, well the half dozen that had bothered to make some noise in the first place.
The second half failed really to live up to the excitement of the first half. Super Len pulled off one excellent stop, Watford possibly should have had a penalty, and Sullivan even managed to catch a ball!
So game over, cue the long walk back. “Don’t worry” says Ray. “I know a quicker way back than the way we came.” Yep, like fools we trusted him! We did finally manage to make it back to the pub after crossing some seven counties and the meridian line twice. Once defrosted, we reflected that at least we were still in the cup and we had a free game to come in the shape of a replay.
Although today could have gone so much better, it could have been so very much worse. Surely neither the weather, the pitch, Claudio or Watford, (looking like demented bumble bees) can stop our march onwards to Cardiff. Famous last words? I bloody well hope not!
Team: Sullivan – Johnson, Desailly, Gallas, Babayaro – Gronkjaer, Makelele, Lampard, Geremi – Gudjohnsen, Mutu.
Subs Not Used: Hasselbaink, Cole, Melchiot, Huth, Ambrosio.