Saturday, 14 May 2011

And we're back at the FA Cup final

Here we go again. Disgracefully, the corporate seats which were denied to fans of the two teams are empty as their occupants hang around in the restaurants and cosy bars. What a way to treat an historic fixture.

I'm feeling horribly pessimistic about this. I've supported Stoke as long as I've known about football. The last few years have been a psychological struggle. For most of my life, Saturday afternoon was reserved for feeling miserable as we lost another one. We always had a false dawn leading up to Christmas, before being relegated or just escaping.

I was happy supporting a dour team struggling to survive. It matches my outlook on life. It was always nice to win a match here and there for a bit of variety (especially against Crewe and Port Vale), but success was a concept we knew existed, but never thought it could happen to us.

But gradually, we started to win matches and even get into the Premiership. Thankfully, we didn't give up the old ways: grim-faced graft was never going to give way to flashy silky skills straight away. Tony Pulis's tactics are Welsh slate to the diamond-studded glitz of the money teams, and it lasts longer.

But I'm still a Stoke fan: the further we go in a competition is another chance to lose on a bigger scale. That said, the new match tactic appears to be to get the ball and try to get it in Man City's goal, which is promising.

1618: Horrible, disgraceful tackle from Touré on Wilkinson. A bit of anger might be good for this match. The crowd sound much more alert. Now Balotelli cynically bundles over Pennant with an elbow in the back. Tempers may boil over. Free kick: we have several half chances. At least we're putting the pressure on. Damn: Tevez is marauding but da Silva leaves it too long and we somehow get away with it. Man City are surely going to score soon. Balotelli feeds Tevez but he drags it wide with help from Huth then Barry smashes it into the crowd.

1625: Excellent save from Sorenson - we've always had ace keepers, including Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton. Balotelli's getting some personal attention from his markers - they know he's likely to lash out if he's wound up. Not very sporting, but highly amusing.

1626: Brilliant long ball to Kenwyne Jones and he manages to arse up a one-on-one: the most glorious chance of the game. Joe Hart did really well to come for it but Jones really should have scored and I'm gutted. Etherington off, Whitehead on. What a missed opportunity that was - a moment of genius denied. More like that, definitely. But finished off.

1629: Weak shot from Tevez easily saved. Now we've another Rory Special. Stoke fans now singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot in honour of Arsene Wenger calling Stoke a rugby team. Shawcross drags down Balotelli - very dangerous free kick coming up. Lots of messy defending but it's OK in the end.

1638: Got bored. And it's raining and cold here. Maybe it's because my gran died today, but it's hard to keep up my enthusiasm through all the half-moves.

My mum walks in and Touré (£220,000 wages  per week) smashes the ball into our goal after an extended period of penalty-box pinball. Turns out I am emotionally invested in this match after all. There's no coming back from this. Now there's more handbags and Wilkinson gets a yellow for a late sneaky tackle on Balotelli. Suddenly Mancunians are singing.

Kenwyne Jones should rue his awful finishing - it could all be so different. Man City are rampant now. On comes Carew for us: a big, ugly old defender who can be very effective when on form, in place of Rory Delap. Man City are all over us now, though our defence is doing the business.

Still, it's not long since we were playing Yeovil and Co and we've played brilliant football in the Premiership this year.

3 minutes' extra time. Why bother. All the players on the pitch have accepted the status quo. Or perhaps not: we've got a corner after good stuff from Walters. Even our goalkeeper is up in their penalty area now. So Man City go for a substitution to drag it out a bit. Viera's on. It bounces around and we get another corner. This is torture. I'd love it if our goalie scored. But no - goal kick and surely it's all over.

And it is. Trophies all round for Manchester teams today. We were outplayed and we didn't get much of a chance to show what we can do. But still… we used to be rubbish and now we're now, and we're in European football next year. Oddly enough, we're playing Man City again on Tuesday

Our fans are singing - brilliant. No dejectedly streaming out of the ground, just full-throated support. They're still singing and staying in their seats.

TV coverage reverts to the usual clichés: crying children etc. At least Micah Richards just said 'fooking' on live TV. Balotelli tells us that he's 'happy' and that he told his colleagues to respect Stoke as 'a team'. He also said he previously played 'sheet'. You wouldn't get this on the BBC. Adrian Chiles is now apologising.

In the spirit of modern football, we cut to adverts even before all the Manchester City players have collected their medals.

The Man City fans are all singing Status Quo's 'Rocking All Over The World': including Liam Gallagher. That must make a change from his day job. Arf!

1 comment:

Tim said...

I had hoped that Stoke would do it; Everton had really rattled Citeh last week and thought Pullis had taken notes. Shame. Sorry to hear of your loss, but I enjoyed your reflections upon it.