So we’re off to Wemberlee – and the desperate struggle for tickets can now begin. Remarkably, it will be our first Wembley final since winning the FA Cup in 1998 against Newcastle. Of course, between then and now we have enjoyed something of a cup final spree (record in Wales: five finals, 60% success rate). But the new one has been graced by our presence just once, in 2009, when an Arshavin-less Arsenal succumbed to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. Remember how much opprobrium was poured on Wenger for not starting that game with the pocket Russian? As it happened, he went on to score that monstrous quadruple at Anfield three days later, of which I said:
“So let me get this straight: the man deemed surplus in the FA Cup semi-final scores with both feet, from all distances, and has the ability to hook and slice his shots as if he was on a fairway. Absolutely superb stuff.”
Oh for a return to that kind of fearsome reputation. Come back, Andrei, come back!
I obviously remember the League Cup final of 1987, when Champagne Charlie Nicholas scored twice to sink Liverpool. It was a big moment for Arsenal and Graham – it really did kick things off – and also the first game Liverpool had ever lost in which Ian Rush had scored. But the next year, against Luton, is seared more strongly into my memory by dint of being the first cup final I had ever been to. In those days, those of us who weren’t season ticket holders had to collect and cut out cup tokens from the back of the programme and stick them in an application form, and those with the most tokens were given preference. It couldn’t have been more pre-digital. Glue for the application form! The stalls selling programmes around Highbury would do a roaring trade in the run up as you can imagine. There wasn’t a tube of Pritt Stick to be had within 4 miles of the ground.
At any rate, I got a ticket somehow, and my first memory of the day was standing on the train platform in my little corner of Hertfordshire, only to be confronted by a train that had been re-routed via…. Luton. I couldn’t have been more conspicuous in my scarf, hat and with my cup final flag but seeing I was the only one in a sea of yellow and white in my carriage, I was given a remarkably abuse-free ride.
Maybe they knew what was about to come. I recall the superb atmosphere on the huge Wembley terrace (there were 96,000 there), I remember the faint whiff of bodily fluids as they trickled down beneath our feet and I remember Winterburn missing a penalty that would have made it 3-1. And of course I remember Gus Caesar.
I suspect poor Gus wanted nothing more than to dig himself a hole and dive into it that day – I know how he felt.
Still, I haven’t got a rap named after me and he has.
Since then of course we have won it just once – in 1993 when Steve Morrow (now back at the club) scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday and Tony Adams broke his arm during the celebrations. I could only have happened to TA, to be fair.
So yeah, I’ve cut out my tokens, glued them in and ferried the form in person to the box office in the marble halls. Fingers crossed.
More on the League Cup from the Arsenal.com archive
Meantime, it’s the second of the three Wembley-ending competitions on Sunday. Diaby and the Squill are back, bringing us up to an almost full complement. Safe to say on a sliding scale of changes where 1 is one and, er, 11 is eleven, I suspect we might be edging towards the latter.
More on that, I hope, over the weekend.