the real fa cup

Did That Just Happen?

It’s difficult to describe the emotions you encounter before, during and after a momentous game and it’s even more difficult to attach any kind of sense or proportionality to any that manifest. Blackpool fans would have experienced a wide range during their play off final victory, from being 1-0 and 2-1 down, being 3-2 up at half time, seeing an opponent’s goal disallowed and the Milan-esque ekeing-out of time by their superstars in the final 10 minutes.

As a hopeful but otherwise neutral spectator at Wembley on Saturday, I was caught up in the tension of the game but was able to crowd-watch as a relatively dispassionate by-stander and it was one of the most surreal atmospheres I’ve ever encountered, particularly at full time.

The unbridled joy at the final result was an obvious release from a game that the fans knew they could win and was the fairly routine outpouring that any set of fans manage after a positive result in a fairly big game. But what swiftly followed was a kind of serene bafflement about the wider implications of victory in this specific game.

Usually, you’ll find the unbridled joy of [insert team name of regular trophy winner] fans is displayed with many, repeated songs long into the night, much drinking, jumping up and down and general exuberant celebration. There was little of this on show directly after the match, on the tube back in to town or even out-and-about in the capital. The coaches heading north may well have been a different matter but the expression on the faces of Blackpool fans still in London at least a good few hours after the final whistle was that of joyful bafflement.

As good an example of this was the image I caught of good friend of and contributor to therealfacup, Taylor, at the final whistle. Rictus grin and thousand yard stare rolled in to one and all because of the result of a football match. But why? It is perhaps that 39 years absence of top flight football made it something they didn’t often seriously think about. Mavbe it’s that, although being on the edge of the play offs all season, they only sneaked in with a couple of games to go, so it had somewhat caught them by surprise. Maybe it’s that they didn’t seriously expect to batter Forest at their own gaff in the semi. Maybe it is just too ridiculous an idea for even hardcore ‘Pool fans to contemplate.

My recollection of Ipswich’s Play Off Final victory is one of joy but we were clear favourites, we’d been in the top flight a number of times in my lifetime and I felt we deserved it. It is almost as if 30,000 Blackpool fans had opened their wardrobe door and stumbled upon a strange world in which they get to fight against red devils, big scary cockerels, villains, wealthy pensioners and some impoverished children with a big gun and a nice new house. Whether their chaps come to vanquish these new, other-worldly foes is almost irrelevant at this point. When the fixture list comes out, however, it remains to be seen whether those muted celebrations turn to cheers or groans.

Of course, it may just be a hitherto hidden, old fashioned sense of Englishness that has been retained in a little corner of the North West but, having seen the celebrations after the second leg of the semi final, I know that is bollocks and I’m not goin gto go down the patronising route that hundreds of others will.


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