x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Mixed feelings on cup final day

Lack of planning meant a lack of hype on what is an exciting and potentially historic day in English football.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: Manchester City fans cheer during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON semi final match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 16, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: Manchester City fans cheer during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON semi final match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 16, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Legend has it that when the Kellogg Co was testing a new cereal called Coco Pops, it was discovered that consumers liked the chocolate taste but were put off by the milk turning brown.

Instead of scrapping the product, some clever marketing man suggested they simply pre-empt this objection by presenting it as a positive. And so an advertising slogan was born: "So chocolatey, they even turn the milk brown."

The rest, as they say, is obesity. Sorry, I mean history.

The milk of English football is turning brown today, with both the Premier League title and FA Cup likely to be decided within the same three hours or so.

If Manchester United draw or win against Blackburn at Ewood Park, a record 19th title is theirs.

Thirty minutes later, the FA Cup final will kick off between Manchester City and Stoke City.

It is brown because it is different. Normally, the FA Cup final has a special day all to itself.

Is this change a good thing? It could have been, had the marketing men who now allegedly run the game bothered to tell us how wonderfully chocolatey it will taste.

What a feast of football, they could have told us: warm up with a title-decider, then enjoy the climax of the oldest cup competition in football.

Roll up, roll up, and bag your place on the sofa for this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle!

And what a great story, they might have teased: both halves of a great football city poised for potential ecstasy on the very same afternoon!

Which set of fans will occupy Albert Square, the traditional focal point in Manchester for such celebrations, tonight?

Will it be swathed solely in red, as if to emphasise the dominance of United or - for this week at least - draped only in unfamiliar sky blue, moth-eaten banners fluttering in a wind of change?

Or will it be half and half, with United's greatest achievement tempered by the hot breath of their resurgent neighbours down their necks? But they did not sell us this chocolate treat.

Instead, football shrugged its shoulders and said: "Sorry, but Uefa didn't want us to use Wembley for two weeks before the Champions League final, so what can we do?"

This was an open goal to traditionalists who are determined to see an international conspiracy against the FA Cup, those dewy-eyed nostalgia-mongers who cannot bear the thought of cup-final day feeling even slightly different to when they watched it as pups.

The charge was led by Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, who called the decision "disgusting". Pundits, players and ex-professionals agreed. To them, brown milk tastes not of chocolate but something altogether less palatable.

For some reason - coincidence, incompetence or perhaps a desire to take all the flak at once - the Football Association chose this time to announce that next year's FA Cup final will again clash with league games, due to the season being truncated by the European Championships.

Oh, yes, and kick off will be moved from 3pm to 5.15pm because the television people say so.

Not all football fans fear change - I am comfortable with experimentation, and I am looking forward to this day of double destiny - but I do fear the idea of my sport being run by spineless buffoons who apparently lurch between decisions without a plan, or even the semblance of one.

In short, give us cocoa the taste, not Cocoa the Clown.

 

sports@thenational.ae