Something For The Weekend (278)
I have to admit that I went a bit mental on Saturday night and it is no exaggeration to say that there were at least two nutters competing for attention beneath my heaving cranium. The blasted-heath was nothing compared with my raging against the slings and arrows of outrageous refereeing.
Of course, drink was taken, and calling thunderbolts down to smite that vile devil Howard Webb, brought little succour to my rage and despair. And alas, Thor did not oblige me.
Its some time since I felt such rage and rancour towards an official and it was a pleasant reminder of my impassioned youth when it seemed I was always blowing the head off one lousy official or another in the days when Villa were refereed out of the top tier, and Duke Nukem had yet to take up his rocket-propelled grenade.
On further examination it didn't seem so bad and I got just a little bit nostalgic remembering the good old days, when the Wembley pitch was bad for quite reasonable reasons, like having had the Horse of the Year Show on it, or the Royal tank corps had used it for a military exercise, which had left a few shell-holes the players had to deal with.
So it was quite a change to find that the new Wembley had hosted an ice-skating gala a few days before Villa's semi-final. And I had to admit, that seeing Torvil and Dean provide the half-time entertainment was far better than any old brass-band. The singing of Slide With Me is bound to become a new Wembley tradition, from what we saw of the two semis.
But despite my suspicion that when it comes to Wembley, the people who run it would have difficult running the proverbial piss-up in a brewery, the state of the pitch seemed to actually help Villa, as it slowed the game down and prevented Chelsea from doing anything too dynamic but alas Villa never seemed to do anything dynamic either.
The denial of a stonewall penalty for Villa was a source of much amazement and anger but it seemed to prove what we knew already, that refereeing policy always outweighs the actual rules of the game and what ever grand creative vision Howard Webb had planned for the game, obviously didn't include giving Villa a goal start and the benefit of playing against ten men. In the milliseconds it took him to wave all Villa appeals away he revealed what he had already decided before the game had started.
This stands as another lesson for Gabby and his colleagues that you cannot expect anything from the officials and you get only what you take and not what you think you deserve. Such injustice can become a refuge and an excuse, where as the policy of trampling the defenders scrotum into the turf, as one continues ones journey towards goal, might be a more productive modus operandi than resting your hopes on the charity of an official who is more concerned about avoiding censure from a member of an FA committee, than whether he gets a decision right or not. The same applies to John Terry's GBH on James Milner - a decision obviously filtered through Terry's accumulated domestic problems and his England status.
Judging by the tetchy response of Yoda Wilkins at half-time, it seemed that the Chelsea players had moaned about the pitch and it sounded like the Crab was determined to deny them any refuge from the fact
that they had been out-played by Villa and by all justice should have been a goal down.
As it turned out it wasn't the Wilkins' half-time talk which won it for Chelsea, it was a single crucial mistake from Villa - C'est la vie.
But who ever said life ain't miserable?
Things got better though as I was more than chuffed that Portsmouth got through. Without doubt, at least part of my personal rage at Villa's exit was inspired by the thought that Spurs had been handed a shoo-in against the bankrupts of Portsmouth and would cruise through in an avalanche of goals. How glad I was that I got it exactly wrong and how apt it seemed that it was the slippery pitch which won it for Portsmouth and of course a more generous referee.
But no matter how outraged I feel about the manner of Villa's exit, I still believe that the truth about the domestic cups, is that teams outside the top four can get to the final but they can't win it if they meet one of the top dogs. As Everton proved last year, after a valiant journey to the final, the big pitch at Wembley rendered their pressing-game a leg-sapping endurance test which they could not sustain and they were undone by Chelsea's class.
So even though the wonderful romance of Portsmouth's arrival into the final makes me smile, they will need a great deal of help from the surface for them to take a second FA cup with them, through the exit door into the Championship. But its going to be a great day and a final worth watching.
For Villa they have to look at the likes of Everton, who had to endure three losses in the final during the Eighties ('85,'86,'89) before they finally got to attach blue scouse ribbons to the trophy and take it back
to Goodison in 1995.
If Villa are going to start winning things, they will have to start getting used to coming close and yes, losing. I am not sure that some fans have much heart for the struggle and I have to number myself amongst those who sometimes lacks the spirit to go on such a journey and cope with its certain and cruel disappointments.
After this year, perhaps the club motto should be changed from Prepared to Nil Desperandum?
I am sure that had it been me who was playing against Everton on Wednesday, I would have lain down in the centre-circle and cried myself a slip-hazard when Cahill got his second. But Villa gladly had more courage and showed tremendous spirit to press for a desperately needed draw, in a week where all the players' dreams of getting a medal this season disappeared. It had to hurt.
I have total respect for Everton and I was not willing to scoff at only getting a point. If Villa had lost, Lerner would have had to buy a timeshare at the wailing wall, for the fans.
I was reminded of a similar reaction in 2000 when heads dropped and discontents were aired, after Villa lost in the final that year. I was also reminded that it was in reaction to that Villa negativity that it seemed that the chairman of that time, pulled in his horns and began a process of de-investment until he thought Villa expectations were worth investing in again.
Faced with moans, groans and boos, I would not blame any chairman from asking himself, whether he might get the same result by spending less.
Let's hope that this chairman is different from the last one but one thing's for certain, there are always ups and downs with football.
Dare to dream and keep the faith!