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It's a very long way to Wembley

By Billy Weir

Published 04/06/2015

One is not amused: Prince William tries to lighten the mood with his world famous Tommy Cooper impressionany
One is not amused: Prince William tries to lighten the mood with his world famous Tommy Cooper impressionany

The cliché always trotted out for winning league titles is that 'it's a marathon, not a sprint' so the FA Cup final should really be no more than a 100-metre dash, with a few awkward hurdles to clear on the way to Wembley. Not this year.

It was back to the future as the BBC made a triumphant return to staging the big day after whipper-snappers ITV snuck in and pinched the rights a few years ago, but the Beeb were back and if there is a backside to be ripped clean out of it, by jingo, they're just the chaps for the job.

You couldn't avoid it, with Gary Lineker kicking things off with the excellent On the Road to FA Cup Glory, which was conveniently repeated on final day to help fill the endless hours of build-up.

There is a common-held myth that in bygone days everyone was up with the lark, glued to the telly and the sun was always splitting the stones outside but why let the facts get in the way of some lovely misty-eyed and sweaty-armpitted nostalgia.

Gary popped up the night before as well as the guest presenter of Have I Got News For You, where, in a spirit of nostalgia, it would have been nice to have brought in original presenter Angus Deayton.

Of course he was ousted after some alleged shenanigans, but, in the grand scheme of things, it was a drop in the ocean compared to some at the home of the nation's moral guardians, but I haven't watched it since and Lineker taking over wasn't going to change that. The team captains were probably Paul Merson and Shaka Hislop.

A two-channelled attack on the senses was launched on BBC2 by Guy Mowbray with FA Cup Rewind and a look back at the classic final of 1973 when Sunderland defeated the undefeatable Leeds United.

I don't imagine in 42 years when we're all sitting on our hover-sofas watching the television built into our heads that they'll be rewinding to Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0, but at least we did get to see Brian Clough scoffing at thoughts of a Sunderland win.

"Look, we used to believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden," he said, but a fairytale is one thing, Aston Villa winning a trophy is the stuff of miracles.

From the sublime of Ian Porterfield's goal, that save from Jim Montgomery and Bob Stokoe's mad run in brown Mac and trilby, it was to the ridiculous of MOTD Kickabout, the children's version of Match of the Day, the highlight of which was the FA Pup final, presented by canine puppets, Hacker and Dodge. They think it's all Rover…

Moving swiftly along and worse was to follow with the toe-curling delights of Rio Ferdinand and Helen Skelton (Hacker and Dodge were clearly unavailable) for the oft-repeated 50 Greatest Moments of the FA Cup and another chance to see Ryan Giggs score that goal. Again.

If you wanted a break, Saturday Kitchen on BBC1 provided it, with Dion Dublin ensuring there would be no mention of footballing success, although I'm delighted to say he didn't break an egg and a flamboyant French chef didn't rush in to take his place.

A quick bite before Football Focus came on, which was a good thing as Martin Keown was on and he'd put Hannibal Lecter off his lunch, and thankfully a chance to see that Ryan Giggs goal. Again.

The highlight was Lineker, off, in the words of Dan Walker, "to see a rather nervy Villa fan" - is there any other kind? - in the shape of the Duke of Cambridge. That's Prince William, not Dion Dublin, who, as President of the FA, would get to present the trophy. Villa are a bit like his father, so close to the big prize, but missing out on the crown.

And on we went, Gary Lineker On The Road to FA Cup Glory again, the highlight being a chat with Ian Wright in a London café, where the understated one summed things up: "The FA Cup made me dream of being a footballer. I still think it's the best thing ever." What, better than Creamola Foam? I think not.

A moving meeting with Fabrice Muamba and chats with Steven Gerrard (remember him?) and Jose Mourinho followed with the latter reminiscing about his own canine tribulations in 2007 where he was arrested for bringing his dog into the country before Didier Drogba scored the winner in the final against Manchester United.

"The dog got you into jail and the Drog got you out of it," interjected Lineker, showing why he got the HIGNFY gig and suddenly my 'they think it's all rover' joke doesn't seem so bad.

And talking of bad, and I warn you there are going to be more initials here, there was an FA Cup TOTP2, with some awful football-related music which left you longing for Keown to come back, or even Robbie Savage.

We didn't have to wait as Pointless Celebrities (insert own insult here) featured Mr Savage in another repeat before we were on the road to Wembley and when we finally got there just before four, a mere eight hours after we'd set off, it was time for the build-up to start. Pyramids took less time to build up.

"To travel a 1000 miles you have to start with a single step," began Lineker, but we'd already been travelling for hours so we were well on the way, and he was joined by Alan Shearer, Keown and Dublin, who all expressed hopes for a good final.

Like Villa, their hopes were dashed, as the Gunners gave the Villans a damned good thrashing, and at the end the Duke of Cambridge, standing beside Randy Lerner - that's the Villa owner, not his younger brother - looked suitably cheesed off at handing the trophy over.

Just time then to show that goal by Ryan Giggs, voted as the greatest in Match of the Day history, before we were told that the hoped for chat with Villa boss Tim Sherwood wasn't happening because they were locked in the dressing room.

They'd have been better doing that about 5.30pm and not coming out. I'm sure the Beeb could have filled the time by showing something, maybe a Ryan Giggs goal or Gary Lineker reading the news?

Belfast Telegraph

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