THE white horse from the very first Wembley FA Cup Final in 1923 was much missed at today’s match.
For a start, equine hero Billie could have cleared a crowd of 22 exhausted trespassers masquerading as footballers off the new Wembley turf.
As is often the case, the anticipation and build up for the Man Utd v Chelsea final was far more exciting than the actual match itself.
My question on behalf of armchair fans? Is it possible to sue BBC continuity announcers?
“So now on BBC1, it’s the big one. Football history in the making,” was the promise at 12.40pm.
That sort of thing always ends in tears.
Hearing the Match of the Day theme before sunset still seems all wrong to me.
But as the Grandstand bit of Cup Final Grandstand has been foolishly axed by the BBC, that’s what we have to put up with.
Gary Lineker’s pre-recorded intro was heavy with yet more promise. “It’s the stuff of dreams,” he informed us.
There must be an Act of Parliament stipulating that all Cup Final programmes have to begin with black and white memories.
Before you knew it, we were knee deep in flat caps, long shorts, Bob Stokoe and a young, bare chested Alan Hansen.
And, by the way, whatever happened to rattles?
Just for a moment, Gary evoked the memory of Dickie Davies and Cup Final World of Sport with a mention of the BBC’s “heli-telly”.
For some reason, he failed to also note that car drivers stuck in miles of north London gridlock would need a helicopter to get anywhere near Wembley.
“It’s seven years since we were last here, and how the place has changed,” he revealed, stating the rather obvious.
Shockingly, it was a full seven minutes before Gary’s first joke about Jose Mourinho’s dog.
That was later to be followed by two of those rambling Motty stories, this time about canines and the Cup, which must light up the phones at The Samaritans.
This day in May is an annual marker, part of the story of all football fans’ lives.
Once upon a time TV coverage started shortly after dawn, with acres of airtime to fill.
To his credit, former Man Utd FA Cup winner Norman Whiteside did his best to invoke the spirit of Jimmy Tarbuck’s Wembley showbiz bar.
Asked by Gabby Logan what he thought of the new £800m stadium, he replied: “I like it. The champagne’s alright, nice and cold.”
Many viewers may well involve themselves in a drinking game to while away the hours on Cup Final day.
Chelsea’s Frank Lampard was the first to mention “the magic of the Cup”.
That was closely followed by someone throwing in the word “showpiece”.
Adrian Chiles, one of the BBC’s top players, came up with two of the best film reports – an interview and tour with Wembley architect Lord Foster, plus some offbeat Cup Final memories.
Salford-born commentator John Motson was brought into the action some 33 minutes after the start of the BBC1 coverage.
He plunged straight into a Life On Mars reference and praised the new TV gantry position at Wembley.
Motty was thrilled to note that there was even a toilet nearby, where before there had been none.
This was too much for the crisp wit of Mr Lineker, who replied: “I hope you’ll wait until half time to use it.”
Motty continued: “I just can’t wait for the game to start.” The time was all of 1.15pm.
Both Mark “Lawro” Lawrenson and Ian Wright turned up wearing black, possibly anticipating what was to come.
The main Match of the Day panel – Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Mark Hughes – all squeezed into the narrowest of chairs.
Mark was first with expert insight into the new Wembley. “What strikes you most is it’s a football stadium.”
Thanks to their live coverage of the Blackpool v Oldham play-off match, Sky didn’t start their Cup Final day programme until 2pm.
Just at that moment, the BBC switched to Des Lynam interviewing Bob Geldof on the pitch, not to be confused with the Saint who once formed a TV double act with Jimmy Greaves.
Most football fans will agree that Sky’s football coverage is usually light years ahead of the BBC.
But when they go head to head, presenter Richard Keys finds himself in the Dickie Davies role.
Sky followed the law of the land by establishing “The Heritage” of the FA Cup Final.
They then moved on to the present day players taking a stroll on the pitch – in colour.
No white suits this year. But Chelsea’s Ashley Cole was eating a banana, in complete violation of the etiquette of FA Cup Final players-on-the-pitch-strolls.
Billie would have sorted him out, and no mistake.
Sky’s panel of pundits – Jamie Redknapp, Ray Wilkins and Graeme Souness – all agreed the new Wembley was “absolutely magnificent” – aside from the odd hazardous banana skin.
Geoff Shreeves poised himself pitchside with Andy Gray up on the gantry, ready to do battle with Motty for the half time toilet.
Andy confirmed his knowledge of the game by revealing that he’d declined to take part in a parade of FA Cup Final greats – because he knew he’d get booed.
Both the BBC and Sky had interviewed Denis Higham, one of the few people at Wembley to also have seen that 1923 Cup Final.
The BBC also found one man who said he’d been to every final since 1951, except one. He thought the new stadium looked like an airport.
At 2.25pm, Linkeker handed over to Motson and co-commentator Lawrenson.
If you were at the match, or watched it on TV, you’ll know just how dreadful it was.
Below are my notes of what happened next:
Banners in the crowd include “Jose’s Dog Is Innocent.” and “Who Let The Dog Out?”
The Parade of Wembley Cup Final Greats: Denis Law gets one of biggest cheers.
Former Man City star Mike Summerbee is one of several participants to be booed. This would not happen at Wimbledon.
Lawro points out that Alex Ferguson shook the hand of every single legend.
FA President Prince William looks the most nervous person in the stadium.
He declares the new Wembley open – almost drowned out by the crowd. A real football fan, he is genuinely interested when introduced to the teams.
Sarah Brightman has to read the words from a big book while singing Abide With Me alongside Lesley Garrett, who does not.
Red Arrows fly past – did anyone inside the stadium actually see them?
Mourinho is unsmiling, with hands in pockets. Sir Alex Ferguson beams.
Salford’s Russell Watson sings the National Anthem, but is first pictured from behind by the TV cameras. His fans will not be happy.
Referee Steve Bennett is heard telling captains Ryan Giggs and John Terry: “Have a great game.”
3pm kick off
Motty decides it’s a “cagey start”.
Lawro wonders if the grass is too long. The ball is travelling slowly across the surface. “It’s more Community Shield than FA Cup Final at the moment.”
Motty: “The game has started, I think, at a very moderate tempo.”
18 mins. Motty: “It doesn’t look like they’ve come prepared to put on a festival of football just at the moment.”
20 mins. Motty: “About the most boring 20 minutes I’ve seen all season.”
Over on BBC Radio Five Live, the sound of yawning comes from the commentary box.
Lawro: “Champions League play-off for third and fourth.”
28 mins. Motty: “I’m sure you’re all relieved that I’m talking a bit less than normal, but that’s simply because there’s nothing to say.”
32 mins. A TV camera picks out 1923 veteran Denis Higham in the crowd. Lawro comments: “He’s done well to stay awake.”
39 mins: Lawro now takes a serious dislike to the pitch, describing it as “very puddingy”.
42 mins Lawro: “£800m and you can’t grow grass?”
Half-time. Lawro: “We need a massive 100 per cent improvement if we’re going to have anything like a game.”
Lineker tries, and fails, to whip up some enthusiasm for the second half.
Mark Hughes describes the game as “a bit tepid”.
The BBC director struggles to find enough first half highlights to screen, so is forced to turn to analysis of what has gone wrong.
Lineker: “Tell me why it’s been so dour?”
That’s followed by an on screen caption which reads: “Stalemate.”
Lineker: “They’re saving themselves for extra time.”
At the start of second half, a large sweep of Club Wembley seats remain empty on either side of the half-way line.
51 mins: Motty catches on: “A few empty seats at the start of the second half. Are they still enjoying the hospitality back there, Mr Lawrenson?”
Lawro: “No, they’ve gone to Lord’s.”
55 mins. A sudden flurry of action. Motty: “It’s taken 55 minutes, but I think we might have a Cup Final.”
61 mins: Motty: “All of a sudden, it’s getting interesting.”
Sadly, it proves to be a false dawn. Lawro has that sinking feeling: “It’s rather lethargic, isn’t it?”
88 mins. Motty tries his best to spark a goal: “Looking more and more like extra time here.”
91 mins. Motty: “It certainly hasn’t been a final to match the occasion.”
Full time: Motty: “It’s been a bit gruelling, I have to say.” Was the half time toilet occupied?
Extra time first half: Motty reckons both sets of players are “shattered” at the end of a long season. What about the fans?
He again tries to provoke a goal by raising “the spectre of a penalty shoot out”.
Five Live commentators ask if they can turn their TV monitors over to the Test Match at Lord’s.
103 mins. Giggs “scores” the goal that never was.
TV replays show the ball was over the line – but both BBC and Sky pundits reckon it may also have been a foul on the goalkeeper and/or Giggs. “Pick the bones out of that one,” says Andy Gray, who is among those still awake.
Second half of extra time. Motty: “Chances have been spasmodic.”
116 mins: Drogba scores the Chelsea winner and is then trailed by the TV cameras as he disappears into the dressing room after the full time whistle, perhaps to view the 60 seconds of match highlights.
The Manchester United end empties.
Lawro’s final verdict: “It was extremely ordinary, wasn’t it?”
BBC Match Of The Day