Fever Pitch: FA Cup party poopers, Lampard by the numbers and Fergie calls time
In the first of a new regular sports column, Ed Bearryman talks good timing, bad timing and putting the time in...
FA poop Wigan's Cup party
Wigan couldn’t have done more to save the FA Cup. Their impressive, and total, evisceration of Man City on Saturday was the most enthralling performance in a cup final since its return to the new Wembley in 2007.
But in the end their glorious victory served only to underscore the ridiculous timing of the FA’s showpiece event. Just to remind you, the FA Cup final used to be the final game of the season.
Under these circumstances, Wigan would have had the freedom to celebrate their victory in style, whether they’d retained Premier League status or not. As it is, Roberto Martinez was forced to pre-emptively ban alcohol consumption from any unlikely victory party, meaning Ben Watson had to toast the greatest moment of his career without so much as a pint of shandy.
Given the league results of this weekend, it’s more than likely that the Wigan players will never get the opportunity to properly celebrate their triumph. Their season now looks certain to end on the bum note of relegation to the Championship, especially seeing as they travel to the Emirates Stadium tonight needing a win against an Arsenal team unbeaten in nine matches.
Back to the cup final, though, and Saturday’s result was not just a victory for the underdog, but for the footballing philosophy of Roberto Martinez and his team’s progressive style. From the press benches at Wembley, the poise and composure of the Wigan players, as well as their willingness to take a risk with the ball, was thrilling.
It says a lot about the problems in English football if more agricultural teams like Stoke and West Ham can continue to survive in the top flight, while the Wigans of this world are left to flounder.
As a footnote to Wigan’s cup success, it was interesting to watch the chaos engulfing their final opponents in the aftermath of defeat.
Roberto Mancini’s sacking as manager of Man City has now been confirmed, but the Italian held a bizarre full-time press conference at Wembley. In it he railed against various senior figures at the club, including the media manager, for failing to quell rumours a replacement boss – Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini – had already been approached to succeed him.
The irony is that football club press officers can be very good at censoring third parties when it comes to protecting their club’s image – an email quibbling over innocuous interview quotes has become de rigeur – but it’s invariably the plot lines emanating from within their own four walls that does most lasting damage to their reputation.
Lampard: The man behind the numbers
It might have been all about the numbers for Frank Lampard this weekend – with 203 goals for Chelsea he’s now the club’s all-time record goalscorer – but it’s something altogether more intangible that has allowed the midfielder to scale the historic heights he’s achieved in his glittering career.
By his own admission, Lampard is not blessed with the natural flair and ability of a Wayne Rooney, but what he lacked in technicality as a boy he more than made up for with a work ethic no other Premier League player can match.
Forged on the playing pitches of his youth, where his Dad Frank, Sr – himself an England international with over 500 top-level games under his belt – would, sometimes brutally, pick apart his performances, Lampard’s drive has taken him to places his talent alone might not have stretched.
Testament to that ferocious commitment is the fact that 12 years ago, when Lampard and Michael Carrick were making waves in midfield for West Ham, Carrick was considered to be the greater prize as the big clubs began to circle in the transfer market.
Fast forward to today and, while Carrick has had a stunning career of his own, Lampard has huffed and puffed his way to 74 more England caps and 127 more Premier League goals than his old Hammers team-mate.
The numbers will be how Lampard’s career is measured, but we musn’t forget the sentiments that powered them.
Old Father Time in charge to the last
For much of his time at Man United, opposition fans suspected Sir Alex Ferguson of controlling all the clocks at Old Trafford, but last week Old Father Time seemed to take charge of much more than just the stopwatch.
His retirement weekend ran with near perfection from start to finish.
For starters there was the City meltdown at Wembley. Fergie has made no secret of his disdain for his ‘noisy neighbours’, so their travails on his big weekend would have given his mischievous side something to cackle at.
Then there was the Rooney saga. Sir Alex had the last word in the end, dropping him from his final home squad and then shaming him publicly by confirming a transfer request had been lodged – a rumour Rooney’s agents had apparently been denying all week.
And, finally, the three points. They were in doubt for large parts of the afternoon as any hope of a sentimental finish went out the window. United toiled, as they have done since the title was confirmed, and Swansea bristled in a fashion in keeping with their own impressive season.
But in the end, Fergie’s men ground out a win.
Just as they always have.
Ed Bearryman is features editor at Match of the Day magazine