The outcome was pretty much as expected. It would have seemed unfair for Chelsea to have lost on the day given the spirit the team has shown over the distance when their opponents fumbled and faltered at every opportunity. At least the game was settled in open play and the satisfaction to be derived from victory by Chelsea supporters was not diminished by the grafting on of a penalty shootout, the result of which often fails to reflect the ebb and flow that preceded it on the field of play.
It was impossible to go in and watch the game and not root for Liverpool even though I had long since convinced myself they deserved to leave empty-handed. Maybe it is tribal loyalty, but while I could watch the game in muted mood I could not remain detached. Emotionally I wanted Liverpool to win even though intellectually I knew they would not have been worthy victors. There was only one moment that saw my expressionless demeanour collapse as I rushed towards one of the flat screen televisions in the crowded lounge where we had gathered. That was when Andy Carroll thought he had scored an equaliser with a powerful header that the Chelsea keeper managed to parry onto the crossbar. That was it. At the end I told my son it was time to go, while other ‘Pool fans grimaced and vented their displeasure, suggesting that the referee should have gone to Specsavers.
That was not how I saw it. As often as I have watched the replay of the Carroll goal bound header, and from whatever angle, I have not been persuaded that the ball fully crossed the line. It was not as clear cut as the Geoff Hurst allowed goal in the 1966 World Cup Final against the Germans or the disallowed Frank Lampard strike against the same side in South Africa two years ago. If the cameras have their work cut out in trying to definitively establish the matter then match officials have no chance.
Up until the introduction of Andy Carroll as a second half substitute, Liverpool looked as if they might collapse under a Chelsea deluge. The floodgates seemed poised to spring open. The Merseyside firm had created little and finished less. Whatever spark might have flickered, looked to have been extinguished the minute Drogba drilled the ball though the inviting legs of Martin Skrtel. At that point the game looked well beyond their reach. Heads down, their eyes averted from the trophy, as distant from it as their hands had always looked certain to be. Andy Carroll changed all that. For all his past failings his entry into the fray transformed the tempo of the game and with some lightning footwork scored a great goal and almost saved the day for Liverpool with that disputed header.
Last year’s snow now; it matters no more. I have been watching Liverpool lose FA Cup finals since 1971 when Arsenal took the trophy back to Highbury in their year of the double. So there is nothing new under the sun in that respect. The real difference is that the cup final teams of 71, 74, 77 and beyond were sides that could be admired for their tenacity. Yesterday’s team, while it put in a performance that did not disgrace itself and which showed more cup final bottle than the supposedly great side of 87, lacks the mettle of old. There is an iron deficiency running through the spine of this side which under the current coach seems a long way off from being corrected.
So there we go. On the 31st anniversary of the death of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, the ‘laughter of our children’ – words immortalised by Bobby - in particular that of my son, as we stood together watching soccer, made our journey a valuable one. Tonight we followed up yesterday’s outing on the local green. He pronounced himself Wayne Rooney. I had to make do with being Steven Gerrard. He comprehensively outplayed me. Losing is not everything.