The annual pilgrimage towards Wembley, the home of English football, begins and ends today as 80000 fans of Chelsea and Manchester United will amass in London hoping their team will be victorious in this year’s FA Cup Final.
The Football Association Cup Final is the oldest domestic cup trophy in the history of soccer and was first played in and won by ‘Wanderers in 1872. The early years of the competition were dominated by the Public Schools system. The sport was designated to the organized and like many sports were dominated by the Upper classes. However, the game was soon kidnapped by the lower classes especially in the North of England as well attended social clubs were created out of large industrial and travel companies thus enabling soccer teams to be born out of the collection of men that attended such organizations. In fact, many of the top players of the day would join soccer clubs just to get a better-paid job at newer companies.
The list of early winners includes Oxford University, Old Carthusians and in 1883 the first working-class team attended the final. Blackburn Olympics overcame their upper-class rivals, Old Etonians, by 2 goals to 1. This would provide a monumental shift within the game and this was especially represented in the winners of the FA Cup final as no team South of Birmingham would win the Final until London based Tottenham Hotspur beat Sheffield United at the turn of the century in a reply 2-1.
As the second world war engulfed the world soccer in the UK was obviously pushed to one side – Portsmouth would hold the trophy during those years as the winners in 1939 smashing Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-1. During the post-World War years, the FA Cup became a national treasure, an annual event that would see family and friends lean over their radios and tune into coverage of the biggest soccer match of the season. Wembley stadium became the traditional home of the Final and would exceed 100000 attending supporters for over forty years.
Television soon replaced the radio and installed itself as an English tradition. The BBC would commit itself to a day of television programs in the run-up to the traditional 3 pm kick off adding to the occasion an in-depth analysis of the players not yet seen before on television. During the Premier League era with the extra financial benefits, the competition has been dominated by the larger clubs those teams with quality and quantity of depth within their squads.
This year’s final between Manchester United v Chelsea, unfortunately, may not be a classic, both teams are stoic and have had their success via their defensive style and toughness. Chelsea will once again start with three central defenders including breakthrough defender Andreas Christensen who has increasingly been used by the volatile Chelsea manager Conte in the big games.
Rumours are rife in the media that this could be Italian Antonio Conte’s last game in charge, pragmatic at best Conte has brought a solidification to the Chelsea ranks – proving his tactical nous last season by adjusting the team’s tactics and storming to the Premier League title – however that squad was eroded in the summer, the club allowing a swarth of highly talented youngsters to leave the squad, thus leaving Chelsea short of numbers despite the extra pressure of the European Champions League.
Never has a manager gleaned such polar public opinion than the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ and once again Jose Mourinho seems to have split the Manchester United fan base. United have been really spoiled over the last thirty years as Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt team after team to continuously play swashbuckling football and win trophies. Mourinho has never been that type of manager. He is a winner without doubt but there is a curious suppression to his tactics an almost stale approach to the game despite having such riches as Paul Pogba and homegrown speed merchant Marcus Rashford at his disposal – Mourinho prefers a more pragmatic approach and will put his side out to
squeeze the life out the game.
We can hope for the World-Wide audience that the game will be a free following, entertaining goal feast but unfortunately with what is at stake for both managers (Conte’s last game and another Manchester United season without a trophy) it could well be unfortunately a low scoring game and a war of attrition – a game that may well be decided in extra time or penalties.
Manchester United: Nemanja Matic
Chelsea: Eden Hazard
Score prediction Chelsea 2 – Manchester United 1