Portsmouth meet Cardiff City at Wembley on Saturday in a final the FA Cup has been crying out for, even if the absence of familiar names may prove the competition’s lack of appeal for the big clubs.
It is the first time since 1991 that none of the current ”big four” have contested the final (add Everton and Tottenham Hotspur and you have to go back to 1975) and for both combatants it has been a long time coming.
Cardiff manager Dave Jones said he hoped the achievement of his Championship (second division) side in reaching the final would ”stop people going on and on about 1927”.
That was the year Cardiff became the only non-English club to win the Cup in what was their last appearance in the final until this season.
”We want to make our own history,” said Jones. ”Maybe, over the last few years, the FA Cup has lost that little bit of magic because it has been the same teams [in the final].
”Portsmouth and ourselves have broken the mould this season and I don’t think that will happen again for a long, long time.”
Portsmouth must go back to 1939 for their only success and for manager Harry Redknapp, who has been trying to get to a Wembley final as a coach and player for more than 40 years, it is an overdue reward for a lifetime’s dedication to the game.
”It’s great for everyone at the club,” he said. ”I look at where we were two years ago [almost relegated from the Premier League], or five years ago when we were near the bottom of the Championship and now we are in the Cup final.”
Saturday’s showpiece is a fitting end to a wonderful season for the FA Cup, and neutrals around the world will surely tune in with much more interest than had it been, for example, a 21st meeting between Chelsea and Liverpool in four years.
Both those teams fell victim to Barnsley in memorable upsets before the Yorkshire club lost to Cardiff in the semifinals.
Like Cardiff, who beat Middlesbrough in the sixth round, Portsmouth have only had to play one top-flight club en route to the final, but it was Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Cynics, or perhaps realists, might argue that instead of celebrating the season of upsets and the unlikely final it has produced, English football should be mourning the debasement of what was once the jewel in its crown.
For half a century the FA Cup final was the only domestic game available live on TV and for generations of fans it held a magical place in the calendar.
Endless live soccer has undermined that legacy but Saturday’s match feels like a throwback to the 1970s when the final was always dramatic and the sun always shone.
Second division teams reached the final four times in eight seasons from 1973 and Cardiff have a great chance to match the achievements of upset winners Sunderland, Southampton and West Ham United, the last second-tier team to win the Cup in 1980.
Paul Parry, Joe Ledley, who got the superb winner in the semifinal, and 17-year-old midfielder Aaron Ramsey could be the names to turn the game Cardiff’s way.
Captain Darren Purse will be extra grateful to be playing at Wembley, having had a suspension controversially overturned on appeal by the Welsh FA.
Portsmouth are a more experienced side but will hope the likes of centreback Sol Campbell and goalkeeper David James are not kept too busy.
League form is unlikely to be much of an indicator to the outcome because Portsmouth lost their last four league games, scoring one goal, while Cardiff, who finished halfway down the table, managed just two wins from their last six games. — Reuters