Watching the FA Cup final on Saturday was as weird as it was difficult.
Weird, of course, because Wembley was empty and difficult because VAR refused to show its pathetic face - especially when Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez appeared to catch the ball outside the penalty area.
Terrible decisions lost Chelsea the game and not a peep from the nerds at VAR HQ?
Anyway, well done to Arsenal who won the match 2-1, it’s a big one for Mikel Arteta. Looks like North London is gonna be busy on Thursday nights!
But it wasn’t football and the FA Cup as I know it - certainly not without fans. Football-wise, I feel very fortunate to have been born and brought up in London.
Well, wasn’t always easy being a Chelsea fan in the north of the capital, but over that side, you don’t just pick any team, you get what you’re given - either inherited through family (like myself) or born in a certain area attached to a side.
When I say fortunate, I just mean being in the middle of it, the ability to choose a game on a Saturday and just go, pay a couple of pounds on the turnstile (or duck underneath) and get to be part of it all. Also the era I was "growing up" in (early 70s to mid-90s) was arguably the greatest in the history of the English game.
I’ve often spoken about my first trip to Anfield, in the away end with the hair standing up on my back as the whole stadium belted out “You’ll never walk alone”.
Moments like those sold me, as a kid, into football life.
Even being * !ssed at Old Trafford (when the away enclosure was under United seating)... brings back fond memories.
In those days there was of course the madness of football violence, boot boys, taking ends and running battles on the streets.
As a young teen, away days at Manchester United, Tottenham, West Ham and the likes were what we lived for. Packed into a caged standing room, all male, all up for it, all passionate about supporting (and defending) our name.
Fast forward to the late 2000s and between government, security services, the Premier League and FA it all disappeared.
And with it the game on the pitch as we knew it. Strict public laws, stringent refereeing and the lust for profit made up the three-pronged attack that took the people’s game, chewed it up and [email protected] out the sanitised version we have today.
I’ve never succeeded in articulating this opinion to ‘normal’ people without them thinking I’m some kind of violence-promoting bigot.
But I guess if you weren’t there, you’ll never really understand how those times, places, events and situations effected those involved.
“Yes Nick, but the quality of the football today is so superior now you can take your family to games without a risk”.
Sorry, did someone say something?
I imagine Friday nights at Hartleyale 30 or 40 years ago were much the same?
Maybe not the violence, but that electric buzz, that excitement, the passionate fans, free from R50 hot dogs and people wearing Man Utd shirts.
With fans at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup final on Saturday, we certainly would have seen a different game.