FA Cup Final
(Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey)
Every kid in England dreams about scoring in an FA Cup final, or indeed just playing at Wembley. When you realise that a lot of professional footballers don’t even get the chance to play at the national stadium and my lack of ability playing football, the next best thing would be to watch a game there.
I have been lucky; I saw my team, Crewe Alexandra play (and win) at Wembley twice in a year. The 90,000 capacity ground (the second largest in Europe) was less than half full (24,029) when the Railwaymen beat Cheltenham 2-0 to gain promotion to League One on the 27th May 2012. Just under a year later, I watched Crewe beat Southend 2-0 to win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final in front of 43,842. My first two visits couldn’t have been more perfect, my team won twice, something that I was lucky to witness as a trip to Wembley doesn’t happen for everyone.
My third trip was special in a different way. Following a work placement with Wrexham FC whilst at university, I was invited back to be part of the media team when the North Wales side reached the FA Trophy final in 2015. A low crowd of 14,585 were spread across the bottom tier as North Ferriby United caused an upset, beating Wrexham on penalties after the game finished 3-3 after extra time. Being in the press area for the game was special, a meal before, great facilities, access to tunnel area and press conference room for post match reaction gave me an inside look at such an iconic stadium.
After my first three visits, I wasn’t sure when I would next get the chance to go to Wembley. I have always wanted to see a big game there, without showing disrespect to the games I saw previous, I wanted to see Wembley full, either for an England game or the FA Cup final.
I have always loved the FA Cup final. I used to sit with my dad and watch the entire build up on the BBC, showing the highlights of the season, the history of the greatest cup competition in the world and the like. As for watching FA Cup games live, I never really watched past the third round due to Crewe never making it any further and having a season ticket at Gresty Road, the lower league games usually play the same day as FA Cup weekends in the later rounds.
As the 2016/17 season started and I began to plan my fixtures, I was drawn to Verwood Town’s FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round Replay game with Hengrove Athletic. Verwood was a new ground for me and from there I thought it would be possible to go to a game in each round and see how far I could go.
Trips to various Non-League grounds followed as I managed all of the qualification rounds before the introduction of Football League teams in the First Round Proper.
My route to the final is listed below;
Extra Preliminary Round (R)- Verwood Town 3-1 Hengrove Athletic
Preliminary Round- Wimborne Town 1-1 Alresford Town
First Round Qualifying (R)- Fareham Town 2-4 Alresford Town
Second Round Qualifying- Basingstoke Town 0-1 Hungerford Town
Third Round Qualifying- Hungerford Town 1-4 Leiston
Fourth Round Qualifying- Eastleigh 6-0 North Leigh
First Round Proper- Eastleigh 1-1 Swindon Town
First Round Proper (R)- Crewe Alexandra 1-4 Cheltenham Town
Second Round Proper- Luton Town 6-2 Solihull Moors
Third Round Proper- Brentford 5-1 Eastleigh
Third Round Proper (R)- Southampton 1-0 Norwich City
Fourth Round Proper- Southampton 0-5 Arsenal
Fifth Round Proper- Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Quarter Final- N/A
Semi Final- N/A
Final- Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea
I hit stumbling blocks in the Quarter Final and Semi Final but against the odds I was fortunate to be given two complementary tickets for the Final just days before the game.
Having a girlfriend who is the sister of YouTube star James Kingston definitely has its advantages. The climber/free runner, who has racked up over 500,000 subscribers leads an interesting and adrenalin fuelled lifestyle where his humble Parkour beginnings led to a Channel 4 documentary and YouTube fame, globetrotting around the world climbing some crazy buildings, cranes and some iconic landmarks. In June 2015 James scaled the Wembley Arch as part of EE’s launch of their latest camera and it was through these contacts he was able to sort out two tickets for me and a friend.
I instantly messaged my dad to see if he fancied coming with me but he politely declined my invitation. I did manage to convince (not that he needed much convincing) a friend from university, Dan, to accompany me to the game.
I didn’t have a clue where we would be sat, all I had when I reached Wembley Park station was a piece of paper telling me where to collect the tickets from. I met Dan at the bottom of Wembley way, collected our tickets (which were for Club Wembley) and we wandered around the outside of the ground, grabbing some food and soaking up the atmosphere.
I have never seen so many people around Wembley, after all the attendances of my three previous visits combined didn’t add up to the overall attendance from this game. The weather was amazing, everyone seemed in good spirits and we entered the ground at the main Club Wembley entrance, we were escorted to our seats, seven rows from the front, just to the right of the Chelsea dugout and the halfway line. Arm rests and padded seats, with a cup holder was an unusual feature but very comfy indeed.
The ground is incredible, it is huge, a vast contrast to many of the grounds I have visited this season, there was a perfect split of red and blue in a classic football encounter, and I was there, lapping up every moment. Despite the size, I think Wembley still feels fairly compact, maybe I can only say this as I have never sat in the top tier but and have been relatively close to the pitch on all four occasions.
Just to put the game into context, over 700 teams entered the competition that started in the first week of August, a cup competition that rivals no other. No other country can boast the football league system/pyramid that we have and this historic cup is inclusive to so many clubs up and down the country. The competition is nearly 150 years old and this was the 136th Final.
It was everything I had see over the years on TV and better, seeing the players warming up, the managers up close, the BBC and BT Sport presenters and pundits all going about their business. The pre match buzz was there to see as both teams came out and were greeted by Prince William. Abide with Me gave me goose bumps, the national anthems made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, it was spellbinding.
Now I wont bore you with a generic match report, many of you will have watched the game or at least seen some highlights by the time I get this online but the game was unreal. Arsenal really went for it and Chelsea never looked settled, the early goal by Alexis Sanchez really set the game alight. The second half was intense, Victor Moses seeing red for a dive in the box looked to be the defining moment of the game, only for Diego Costa to level the scoring with 14 minutes left of normal time. However the lead lasted just three minutes as Aaron Ramsey headed home the winner to make the Gunners the most successful FA Cup team in history.
The day was perfect, one of the best days of my life (most of my best days of my 22 years have involved football and Wembley Stadium). The game was a great spectacle featuring two great sides and I managed to grab pictures with Gabby Logan and Ruud Gullit and one of my all time heroes Dan Walker.
I have one more game to do before my season ends, a trip to Dublin with my dad next weekend will see my season come to a close, however today would have been a fitting way to bow out.
It is another thing ticked off my bucket list and I will never forget how lucky I was to be at the 2017 FA Cup Final.
2016/17 Games: 135
2016/17 Grounds: 70 (11)
Total Grounds Visited: 158 (42)