On Saturday, whilst relaxing leisurely on the veranda of my estate, pink gin in hand, barking at the gardener that the lawn wasn’t going to water itself, I turned to a refined and respectably drunk old chum from Cambridge and repeated the old malady about how things used to be so much more civilised before the English had the good sense of fair play to give back India and Persia (obviously remarking on the “bloody mess they’ve made of Rhodesia” to boot).
It was a typical Saturday.
Neither hooliganism ( © the rest of the world), Syphilis ( © the Tahitians ) or fat children ( © the Daily Mail) are really the English disease . The real English disease is the distorted sense of pride attached to deluded notions that everything used to be so much better (preferably when we were in control of said everything) than it is now.
Admittedly such revisionism is not confined to the Inselaffen – see the new notion that the Prussians were actually a rather enlightened lot, who may have been hard done by history (as embodied by the disgusting amounts of money being spent on rebuilding the Schloss in the middle of the city) – but it is the English who have developed it into an art form to be held up there with post-impressionism, Ming era pottery and the Cruyff Turn.
It was the FA Cup Final that dragged this natural, though normally, thankfully dormant, state out of me. As it is the oldest football competition in the world, it must necessarily still be the best. A perfect occasion played out at 3pm in front of a beloved Royal on a gloriously hot Saturday afternoon, the Chelsea pensioners’ medals glinting in the sun, toothless old men with rosettes and rattles cheering on the better team, “Abide With Me” sung with gusto and a brave match winning performance (possibly, and who would have thought it, even by a German).
Generations before me will have played this game. “Of course The White Horse Final was the last great one”, “It’s all been rubbish since the Matthews Final”, going all the way along through time to “getting rid of replays killed it” or “I remember when the BBC started their build up at 9am with a special broadcast of FA Cup Saturday Superstore”.
I mused over all of this just before watching this years Budweiser FA Cup Final, featuring two opposing star players that have spent half of their season caught up in racist scandals, kicking off at 5:15pm in front of a load of sponsors and their mates that were still eating their lunch 20 minutes after the second half had kicked off.
Needless to say, at that point, everything used to be a whole lot better.
In comparison, the German DFB Pokal was only started in 1935, and it was only in 1985 that it’s final had a regular home in the Olympic Stadium – giving the German fans, at last, a version of “Wemberley, Wemberley. We’re the mighty (insert team here), and we’re off to Wemberley” to sing, in the oft chanted dirge of “Berlin, Berlin, Wir fahren nach Berlin”.
It was moved to Berlin on political grounds as the capital city was barely registering a flicker on the ECG of German football, and it was necessary that the game didn't neglect the place, but this proved to be a masterstroke. The occasion has grown in importance exponentially (although actually this process has been happening since the 1970s) , and is undoubtedly now held in greater esteem here than the FA Cup is in England.
Saturday sees the holders, Bayern Munich, take on the league champions, Borussia Dortmund, in the final and the country will be watching in the way that they used to in the home of football. The Waldbühne has been set up to receive up to 18,000 Dortmund fans in a spectacular show of “Up yours, Bavarians” from the authorities, the pubs will be packed to the rafters and the Olympic Stadium itself will be a sea of yellow and black, red and white.
It should be a great denouement to the season, and a spectacular game between the country’s two best teams.
I, however, will be keeping up memories of home, sat sullenly in an old man's boozer, muttering about how it was so much better when you had games like in 1958 when Stuttgart beat Fortuna 4-3, or when Günter Netzer came on, having already declined the option of coming on to the pitch earlier, to score the winner for Mönchengladbach in 1973.
You know, when times were better, and the cup “really meant something".