Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

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Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

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Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

No Challengers?

by Nathan Adams ©Nathan Adams (November 15th 2014)

Nathan Adams at Wembley

Centurions

Manchester Unitedʼs Wayne Rooney marked his 100th appearance with a real captainʼs performance, which anchored the Three Lions to a 3-1 win against Srečko Katanecʼs Slovenian side. Nearly 300 male players have reached that milestone – the most recent being the Republic of Irelandʼs John OʼShea yesterday. Two more are due to join the club tomorrow in the same match Italy v Croatia – Romaʼs one club defensive midfielder Daniele de Rossi and VfL Wolfsburgʼs Ivica Olić. But this evening was about Rooney.

They have a long way to go if they intend to catch the man with the most caps, Egyptian great Ahmed Hassan on 184. They certainly wonʼt match the most capped international footballer of all time, the USAʼs Kristine Lilly, who is a full 51 caps ahead of her nearest competitor. Lilly boasts an incredible 352 caps!

Captainʼs Performance

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After a goalless and rather drab first half, the match sprang to life when Slovenia took the lead through a Jordan Henderson own-goal from Milivoje Novakovićʼs cross. Almost straight from the kick-off England attacked. Sloveniaʼs captain Boštjan Cesar inexplicably upended Rooney in the box, earning a booking and conceding a penalty which Rooney dispatched to settle Englandʼs nerves and keep the over 80,000 crowd onside.

Slovenia Celebrate

Mariborʼs goalkeeper Samir Hanadanović got a hand to it, but could not deny Rooney his goal, which brought him level on Englandʼs all time list with the great Jimmy Greaves. Only Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton ahead of him – he could claim third place in his own right against Scotland on Tuesday night in Glasgow. With nerves settled the stage was set for Arsenalʼs Danny Welbeck to grab some headlines of his own, netting a brace.

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Handanović denied Liverpoolʼs Adam Lallana with his legs, but it was headed out carelessly by Mišo Brečko to Welbeck who scuffed his shot past the crestfallen keeper. A neat interchange of passes with Liverpoolʼs Raheem Sterling got the finish it deserved from Welbeck to give England their third and the former Manchester United Striker his second.

False Dawn?

Slovenia made their presence felt by throwing in some very physical challenges early on. Luckily no England players were hurt as a result of the crunching tactics begun by Aleš Mertelj in the first 5 minutes. Lallana was left in a crumpled heap. Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença had a firm word with the Mariborʼs midfielder after another rustic challenge on Rooney after 12 minutes.

Ales Mertelj

But that was to be expected. Slovenia came to spoil and smash and grab. England had to outwit these tactics and in the first half they didnʼt have an answer. Throughout the first half England seemed to have no sense of direction in relation to their play and unaware of the movement of their own team players around them.

What seems to be definitely missing from the team is a strong play-maker in the centre of midfield. Having Rooney up front is all well and good, but a player with the same influence and respect from both team-mates and opposition is a must for midfield. Through out the first half I donʼt believe there was any direct play from the England team. Over 90 percent of the crosses were very poor quality and incomplete.

Positives

There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw an injection of pace with Sterling playing in multiple positions sometimes in front of midfield and others deep in midfield and being the centre of movement within the team. Slovenia took a shock lead after 57 minutes due to Henderson’s header. Joe Hart had no chance.

Slovenia Celebrate

Thankfully, due to the new Captain Marvel, we didnʼt need to wait very long for a reply, as he won the penalty and converted it. After 58 minutes game on! England seemed to grow in confidence with direct passing and fluent movement. Sterling continued his runs from a forward position and then deep in midfield.

Despite being named Man of the Match it seemed as though Wilshere is not putting in as much work as Sterling in midfield. I thought that Sterling, rather than Wilshere should have had the award. Another positive was the performance of Southamptonʼs Nathaniel Clyne who had a decent game and grew from strength to strength as the match progressed. Overall a well deserved 3-1 win for England, which established a substantive six point lead at the top of the group after four matches.

England Celebrate Goal

Upset

During the press conference I had the pleasure of asking England manager Roy Hodgson about my personal view of the teamʼs performance. “Do you feel that the lack of awareness and link up play was an issue as players are unaware of team-mateʼs movement”. Hodgson was neither impressed nor amused. “No”, he replied tersely before rapidly moving on to the next question.

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The Slovenian team were also upset with the FA as they were advised that the team were not allowed to walk from the nearby Hilton Hotel to Wembley Stadium. They had wanted to savour every moment of the Wembley experience, although it later emerged that they didnʼt really think that they could or would get a result at Wembley. They came looking for a point. Perhaps the occasion finally got to them as both Mertelj and Chievoʼs winger Valter Birsa implied afterwards.

Valter Birsa

Drab

by Satish Sekar at Wembley Stadium © Satish Sekar (September 3rd 2014)

Below Par

There was more excitement in the normally unflappable Roy Hodgsonʼs press conference than on the pitch tonight. Hodgson was terse in his defence of a dreary performance with few positives. Nevertheless, Hodgson, true to form, found positives. The obvious were the displays of Man of the Match Raheem Sterling and his Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge.

“Donʼt hit me with statistics”, Hodgson snapped. “Two shots on target? Donʼt give me that one. What about the ones they threw themselves in front of? We had that much possession and you talk about two shots on target. The performance was quite good”.

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The facts told a different story. Norway is ranked 53 in the world for a reason. Before the World Cup they were thrashed by France. Their main striking threat Joshua King is struggling to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers. Contrary to Hodgsonʼs claim that Norway was a good team, the rankings are not lying in this case. Norway are not that good. In a qualifying group that contains Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria, even Norwegians talk about fighting Bulgaria for third place.

An ambitious England team should be looking to win convincingly against such opposition. Hodgson thought they were a higher quality than Perú, but were they. Perú held their own in the first half before tiring and paying the price for tiredness and notable absentees. Norway have much to prove. Their tactics were obvious – they would absorb pressure and hope to profit later.

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Hodgson gets Retaliation in

You have just seen an England team dominate for 45 minutes against a good opponent, an opponent thatʼs hard to beat and you have seen them work very hard to create chances”, Hodgson said. “There was a lot of euphoria before the World Cup. We were getting 75,000 people to see us play Peru, who, with respect, were nowhere near as difficult an opponent as Norway. And now we have 40,000”.

Rooney scores

The normally placid England manager refused to take criticism of the performance, taking great exception to a question about just two shots on goal – Rooneyʼs penalty and Danny Welbeckʼs shot from just inside the penalty area, both in the final quarter of the match.

I canʼt put that right because I canʼt turn the clock back, but what I can do is analyse what I have seen and judge that through my eyes, and not judge it because someone is going to tell me: ʻWell, you only had two shots at goalʼ, because for me, that is absolute f*****g b******s, Iʼm sorry”.

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Satisfaction?

Hodgson praised new skipper Wayne Rooneyʼs performance, although barring the match-winning goal from the penalty spot there was little to enthuse about from Manchester Unitedʼs captain. In just over 20 minutes new Arsenal signing Danny Welbeck posed more questions than Rooney. A stinging shot from 15 yards out was parried by Norwegian goalkeeper Ørjan Håskjold Nyland and after a neat interchange on the left of the area with Sturridge, Welbeckʼs centre lacked only the finishing touch.

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Bar a twenty minute period in the second half Norway was content to defend. Joshua Kingʼs header from a corner brought a fine save out of Joe Hart – heʼd been little more than a spectator up to that point, bar a slight fumble of Per Ciljan Skjelbredʼs cross/shot. King almost punished Gary Cahillʼs error on the right flank. King cut into the area before shooting from an acute angle that Hart had covered.

A sumptuous pass by Sterling found Sturridge in the area, but his lob from 10 yards out nestled on the roof of the net. Jack Wilshere and Sturridge looked puzzled either side of the interval when sent tumbling to earth by Håvard Nordtveit. Portuguese referee Jorge Sousa was unimpressed on both occasions. However, after Norwayʼs most attacking period, it proved third time lucky. Omar Elabdellaoui fouled Sterling to concede a 67th minute penalty. Rooney converted it for the only goal in an uninspiring match.

Positives

Less than half full Wembleyʼs famed atmosphere was lacking – toned down by a defensive performance. Norway came to frustrate and they did. Hoping to grab something on the counter-attack, the plan almost worked, but for Hart. Manager Per Mathias Høgmo bemoaned the naïve defending that cost his team a penalty. His concern was to boost confidence – achieved – and learn the lesson when defending against quality attackers like Sturridge and Sterling.

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In defeat they claimed a moral victory. Few thought Englandʼs display – two shots on target, Welbeck and Rooneyʼs penalty – posed any threat to Switzerland next week, but Norway showed enough to suggest that despite losing they could frustrate Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria in a harder group than Englandʼs.

But Hodgson was having none of it. Allow me to be excited about what they can do and allow me to stand up and say I think my team played well at a press conference when I think they have”, Hodgson said. He was satisfied with the performance, believing in spite of the evidence to the contrary and other peopleʼs opinions that England had played well.

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Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 1)

Editor’s Note:

These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)

The Power of Football

The European Championship in Austria and Switzerland is centre-stage and rightly so, but some have other priorities. Over forty European nations that failed to qualify are already focusing their attention firmly on the World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010.

England played the USA at Wembley on May 28th and Trinidad and Tobago on June 1st as Fabio Capello continues to experiment ahead of the World Cup qualification campaign that will begin in earnest in September. It will offer England the opportunity to renew acquaintance with Croatia and possibly Slaven Bilić too.,

South America has already begun its qualification matches and Africa has also begun the task of whittling down the 30 countries to the five that will accompany the hosts too. Other federations have started their qualification process as well. Some friendlies offer the opportunity for members of rival federations to learn about each other as well ahead of the important business of making sure they get to South Africa.

Jorge Luis Pinto brought his entertaining Colombian team to Craven Cottage to face Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland team on May 29th. They know that the price of failure is high. Many coaches will either be sacked or resign and harsh decisions to end international careers will be taken by players or coaches, but the rewards of World Cup success are great and not just for players, or even coaches.

Basking in Reflected Glory

Sadly, some truly despicable people and régimes have basked in the glory of World Cup triumph and used the awesome power of footballing success on the greatest stage for their own ends. Both the former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and his then Italian counterpart Benito Mussolini are among those to profit from the power of football.

They understood the value of footballing success to distract the attention of the public from social ills. Franco had no love of the game, but he saw that it was popular and could be used to bolster his rule. Spanish football was organised to suit Franco’s wishes. It paid off at club level, but not in the World Cup.

Despite almost four decades in charge Franco never managed to bring the World Cup to Spain either as host or champion. The best he could do was Spain’s only triumph in a major tournament – the European Championship of 1964. Compared to Mussolini, Franco was a novice, who never understood or got the chance to exploit the World Cup for political purposes.

Dubious Origins

In 1932 Italy was awarded the right to host the 1934 World Cup finals. From the start it was a controversial choice. The fascists had been in power for a decade and Italy had snubbed the previous tournament in Uruguay – a slight the first hosts did not forgive. Luis Monti had represented Argentina in the first World Cup in 1930, even playing in the final itself. Four years later he would play in the final again – this time for Italy. He is the only player to have played in the World Cup final for two different countries.

Other Argentinian players were recruited by Italy before the 1934 tournament, much to the chagrin of the beaten finalists of 1930. The Oriundi as they were called was controversial. Argentina protested by sending a weak team. Uruguay – the defending World Champions – boycotted the 1934 event because of the lack of European participation in the inaugural World Cup.

Uruguay, previously unofficial world champions by virtue of winning the Olympic title of 1928, which was the last time the Olympic title truly was a measure of the best team in the world, was not there – the last time the winners did not defend their crown. Brasil came, but was not the force that they would be in 1938.

The South Americans were no threat to Italy, but given the fact that Italy had boycotted the inaugural World Cup, should they have been allowed to host it at all?

 

Trophy Drought Ends

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 17th 2014)

Relief

Arsène Wenger ended almost a decade without a trophy with a 3-2 defeat of Hull City after extra-time victory over Hull City at Wembley this evening. It was relief and happiness because of course we were under severe pressure to win today”, Wenger said. “Hull started stronger and we were hesitant, then we made a demonstration of how to respond to being 2-0 down and also how not to start the FA Cup final”.

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Wenger committed his future to Arsenal after his fifth FA Cup triumph – the sweetest of them. “This team has a special togetherness”, he said. “In the end, it finished well, so it is a big, big moment of happiness. We waited for a long time with that, and it is sometimes linked with the suffering we had to wait for. It was an important moment in the life of this team, because to lose today would certainly have been a major setback. It was more important today than all of the others”.

Reeling

With less than 10 minutes played Steve Bruce saw his unfancied team race to a 2-0 lead with goals from James Chester and captain Curtis Davies. It could have been three if Kieran Gibbs hadn’t cleared Alex Bruce’s header off the line.

Less than four minutes into the match Stephen Quinn’s corner found Tom Huddlestone on the edge of the area. He either shot badly, or intended to pass to Chester who diverted it wide of Łukasz Fabiański’s dive to send Hull’s fans wild with joy.

Four minutes after taking the lead a free-kick taken further forward than it should have been led to Hull’s second. Quinn received the ball on the opposite flank and crossed. Bruce’s header beat Fabiański, but not the post. It rebounded to Davies who scored from close range.

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Arsenal were reeling until a free-kick needlessly conceded by Bruce gave Santi Cazolrla the chance to bring Arsenal back into the match. His shot from 25 yards out gave Alan McGregor no chance. Despite efforts from Huddlestone and a move down the left flank where Mikel Arteta squared for a tap in for Cazorla who somehow failed to make contact.

Destiny

Needing to break the drought before it became a Béla Guttmannesque curse Arsenal had the better of the second half. Cazorla and Giroud had penalty claims waived away by referee Lee Probert. Arsenal created the better chances as Hull tired, trying to defend what they had. The pressure paid off as Laurent Koscielny turned Cazorla’s corner in from 8 yards out.

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Arsenal could and perhaps should have won in normal time. Gibbs wasted a glorious chance, blasting over from just inside the area. Shortly afterwards Olivier Giroud was thwarted by McGregor’s fine save. Extra-time beckoned.

Hull had acquitted themselves well, but were tiring. Man of the Match Aaron Ramsey – Wenger thought he should have been in the team of the season – came into his own in extra-time. He had contributed superb distribution previously, but in extra time threatened Hull’s goal. In the first 15 minutes he was denied by a fine save by McGregor and the side-netting.

Ramsey netted the winner in the second period of extra-time following a sublime back-heeled assist from Giroud. The long wait was almost over, but there was still time for Fabiański’s rush of blood to almost cost his team dear. Substitute Sone Aluko clipped a through-ball down the left flank, but with the goal gaping clipped his shot wide. It was Arsenal’s day.

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Trophy Droughts

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 16th 2014)

The Long Wait

Nine years of hurt for Arsène Wenger and his Arsenal side could end at Wembley tomorrow evening, or Steve Bruce’s Hull could claim their first ever FA Cup. Having secured Champion’s League football again Arsenal have the chance of a trophy that has eluded them for almost a decade. They start Saturday’s FA Cup Final as favourites. Steve Bruce’s Hull side return to Wembley for a second chance of atrophy, having lost the Carling Cup to eventual Premier League champions Manchester City.

Both sides are guaranteed European football, which will please Hull’s Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady. “Fantastic for the team, for the club – second time this year we are at Wembley”, Elmohamady said, looking forward to the FA Cup final. “It will be a huge game against Arsenal and I think they are all thinking about Europe as well. You know this game is a massive chance for us to play in Europe next year”. He relishes the tag of underdog too.

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He’s hoping for some consolation. Once again the Pharaohs missed out qualifying for the World Cup. “Yeah we’re all disappointed we didn’t go to the World Cup you know, but things happen like this”, Elmohamady said. “It’s a good chance to make the year – for it to be a good year for me, for the club, for the players, for everyone in Hull to play in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal – fantastic”.

But he insists that the Pharaohs are ready to become the dominant force in African football after American manager Bob Bradley failed to break the World Cup hoo-doo. “Well, you know we have a new manager – an Egyptian manager – a fantastic manager [Shawky Gharib]”, he says. “We played a friendly game against Bosnia and we did fantastic and we win this game, so we’ll have a good chance to go to Morocco and give the championship again to Egypt”.

Importance

Lukas Podolski was in no doubt that the league was Arsenal’s priority. “2005 was the last one, so of course the pressure is there … and you have the chance to win this cup and you know we are now in the final and of course we want to have the Cup now and have the FA Cup, but the important thing is the league”, Podolski said. “Of course every trophy will help us. The seasons have pressure when you don’t win nothing. The newspapers speak about it, the fans get nervous, but we have the chance this year to win the FA Cup so maybe it helps the club, us and the boss to win the Cup, but the other thing is the important thing is to get fourth place back, because when you don’t play in the Champions League it’s a disaster”.

Arsenal have accomplished that goal. Now they can concentrate on tomorrow’s final and the chance to end almost a decade of pain. “It’s important”, Podolski says of the final. “When you are now in the final and we want the title”.

But Curtis Davies has other ideas. “I grew up a [Manchester] United fan watching the gaffer [Steve Bruce], so the ’94 one was massive”, Davies said. “I remember that obviously cos it was for the double. ’96 as well when [Eric] Cantona scored that goal and Liverpool in the white suits as well and ’95 was a memory as well, because United lost that and I said to the gaffer as well that he was on the ground trying to stop the ball when they scored and he didn’t managed to do it”.

Davies regrets the loss of the FA Cup’s aura. It used to be a special event. “You just have to say FA Cup was special at the end of the season – well it used to be; it was an iconic day”, he says. “Everyone stops for the whole day for the FA Cup. I think maybe a little bit of the edge was taken away from it once it was moved to before the last game of the season and things like that, but this year I’m hoping that everyone switches on and watches the game because we’re hoping to make it a good occasion”.

He hopes that Arsenal being the favourites will work in Hull’s favour. “I think that’s if Arsenal have any nervous energy”, Davies said. “I said that Arsenal not having won anything for nine years is going to play on them and in the final they’ll have that edginess about them. I’m hoping the players actually turn up and have that nervous energy, because it’s all good the fans being nervous, but if the players turn up and they’re playing flowing football, it’s going to be tough to beat an Arsenal side”.