2006, The Year Of The Cup Final

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New CaughtOffside writer Toby Higgins continues our look back at 2006 where he found that cup final drama contrasted the predictability of the Premiership.

As a neutral supporter, cup finals are often a bit of a let down. Before the action commences, your excitable and apprehensive, especially if you’ve just sat and watched the pre-match introduction on the television, which is normally a barrel of tackles, goals and emphatic celebrations, accompanied by a rousing and inspirational background song. Normally, though, cup finals are drab, timid, and low scoring affairs, between two sides hell bent on avoiding defeat, rather than loosing the reigns and going all out for a win.

Not 2006, though. February saw Manchester United trounce Wigan at the Millennium Stadium, by four goals to nil in one of the most one sided Carling Cup finals ever. OK, not great for the non-Man Utd population, but we were, at least, treated to some goals.

It wasn’t until May that the cup final’s became really interesting. Three finals in seven days, all played outside of England, all featuring English teams. It was a mouth watering prospect.

May 10th – The UEFA Cup final – Middlesbrough 0 Sevilla 4.

Underdogs Middlesbrough travelled to Eindhoven to face Spanish side Sevilla in their first ever European Cup final, only to suffer the same fate as Wigan had done in February, and we’re comprehensively outplayed. But, with three of Sevilla’s four goals coming in the final ten minutes, we we’re kept on edge throughout most of the game.

May 13th – The F.A.Cup final (The Gerrard final) West Ham 3 Liverpool 3 (Liverpool win – on pens)

West Ham, a side that, despite a famous history, not many fancied to go home as winners, had stunned Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and were 2-0 up after half an hour. A spirit Liverpool comeback left the scores at two each with under an hour gone, but a freak strike from Paul Konchesky meant that West
Ham were back in front, a position they remained well into the 90minutes. Step forwards Steven Gerrard. The scouse hero, who had inspired Liverpool back to 3-3 in their Champions League final almost exactly a year before hand, and who had struggled through much of the second half with cramp, walked onto a half cleared ball thirty yards out from goal to volley past the desperate Shaka Hislop with what will go down as one of the all time greatest goals. The rest, as they say, is history.

May 17th – The Champions League final – Barcelona 2 Arsenal 1.

Arsenal, just like Middlesbrough had been 7days earlier, we’re the unfancied English side against their superior Spanish opponents in Paris, but, very unlike Middlesbrough, they put up a fight. Having been reduced to ten men inside 20minutes when Jens Lehmann hauled down Samuel Eto’o, Arsenal then
took the lead, when Sol Campbell, playing what would be his final game for the club, powered home a header, only for a brave and courageous Arsenal side to succumb to two late sucker punches, firstly from Eto’o, and then from Juliano Belletti, meant Arsenal came back to Blighty empty handed.

Four cup finals – 17 goal. 2006 – the year of the cup final.

The Premiership is becoming too all to predictable. Next May, Chelsea and Manchester United will be in 1st and 2nd places, Arsenal and Liverpool, 3rd and 4th, and remaining teams will fill the remaining 16 positions. Bolton, Tottenham and Newcastle will all be between 5th and 11th, while at least two of the bottom three position’s will be filled by the sides promoted the previous summer. Even the ‘Indian summer’ Portsmouth are experiencing is unsustainable, and next year they’ll be back in amongst the pack. Surely, not many will disagree with what is a brief but albeit, a fairly accurate prediction?

Why so boring? Because Chelsea and Man Utd buy all the best players, because they can afford to pay them the most money. Simple as that. Yes, it’s happened for years that the best players go to the best teams, but now it’s beyond a joke. Chelsea’s reserve Xi would probably finish in the top 6 of the Premier league at the moment, so what chance have the rest got?

To make up for the huge transfer fees and wages, ticket prices rise considerably. As Steve Bruce pointed out during the F.A. Cup third round weekend, something must be done about prices, because fans are falling out of love with football, because £35+ for a ticket to watch two second rate Premiership sides is unacceptable, particularly when both sets of fans know more or less where their side will finish in the league before the first ball of the season has been kicked.

It’s spoiled football in 2006, but 2007, 2008, 2009 and so on face the really difficult task of getting fans excited about football again.