Belfast Telegraph

The FA Cup semi-final - a unique day, like yesterday

By Billy Weir

Wembley. A place of footballing dreams, where thousands of fans unite and in one voice join to sing lustfully and with passion to hint that Robbie Savage may possess some dubious personal habits.

Yes, it was FA Cup semi-finals weekend and once again the moral guardians of the game we love, the FA, had chucked out all hints of romanticism in favour of large sums of cash to have all four protagonists arrive a few weeks early for the biggest day in the domestic calendar.

First up on the BBC on Saturday evening were reigning champions Arsenal taking on Reading, or the Royals as they are known, and for those of you who aren't too bright, or have blue blood in those veins, the Beeb had dusted off the cobwebs from many old films involving kings and got a posh man to talk rubbish.

"Welcome to Wembley and an occasion fit for kings," said Prince Gary of Lineker, joined by Alan Shearer, Jason Roberts and a very grumpy Ian Wright who wanted to talk about a wrong.

"I don't like the semi-finals being at Wembley, it shouldn't be that easy to play at Wembley," he said, and I couldn't agree more, but obviously I'd rather you didn't repeat that to anyone.

He wasn't much happier at half-time as his beloved Gunners were mis-firing, despite leading through Alexis Colby-Carrington-Sanchez's goal which was also keeping the Arsenal cup dynasty intact.

"We've had 30-odd minutes of the grumpy Ian Wright," revealed Gary, but we all cheered up soon after when a video of the famous semi-finals of 25 years ago broke down, meaning some impromptu chat that took the hand out of Shearer.

"It's a wonderful experience winning the FA Cup, isn't it Wrighty?" asked Linekery.

"Don't start again, Gary," warned Shearery. "How many Premier Leagues did you win?" and all the while Jason Robertsy said very little.

Wright may have been fed up but it was nothing to how Reading keeper Adam Federici was to feel in extra-time as he let Sanchez's shot through his legs, giving Arsenal the win after Garath McCleary's equaliser, and the Gunners were on their way to Wembley, via Wembley.

"Arsenal are still on course to retain the trophy as Reading's dreams of a first ever FA Cup final slip through their fingers," concluded Gary, no doubt cheering up Federici no end but it had us all looking forward to a big day at Wembley.

We didn't have long to wait as we were back the next day, this time on BT Sport as Aston Villa took on Liverpool, with tales of kings replaced by fairytales.

"The romantics here from Merseyside would love Steven Gerrard, on his final appearance for Liverpool, on his 35th birthday, to lift the trophy," said Jake Humphrey. Ah well…

He was joined by a less than fab four in David James, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Savage, the highlight of the build-up a piece when two young fans of the respective clubs played out the path to the final in their garden. UTV are believed to have put the same idea to Rose Neill and Paul Clarke, but they weren't keen.

"Tom, a Villa fan, and John-Paul, a Liverpool fan, I wonder which band his parents liked?" chortled Humphrey as back in Scouseland, two parents, sat with John-Paul and his brothers, Francis and Benedict, wondered what he was on about.

There was a Christian around, in the shape of Villa forward Benteke, interviewed by Des Kelly, who asked if it was nice to be known as the beast, and suitably he replied, "I have a lot of belief in myself".

Villa fans were slightly less Christian when it came to greeting a Savage (pictured with Humphrey), his links with Birmingham City bringing some joyful hymns from the terraces, and they were to be singing all the way to the final with a shock win, thanks to goals from the beast and Fabian Delph.

"Some say the semi-final is the worst time to lose, at least you get a huge day out in the final," commented the always baffling and frequently boring Owen, who hadn't noticed they were having a huge day out, but there was to be no fairytale ending for Stevie G. Maybe he should have had a word with John-Paul's folks.

Belfast Telegraph


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