Sunday 9 March ~
WSC's regular postman is a Chelsea fan. For large parts of the 30 or so years he's been going to games, they had an average to poor team and, of course, some very peeved fans. We often get to hear stories, sometimes even songs, about the time that away supporters were chased down the tracks on the District Line, or when home and away fans threw golf balls at each other outside Stamford Bridge. He was going to yesterday's FA Cup match at Barnsley but had already booked time off next week and said that if Chelsea did lose, at least he wouldn't have show up for work. He didn't think there was the slightest chance of that happening and neither did we.
For our postman and other long term Chelsea fans, Saturday March 8 will have felt like an away day from before the mid-1990s, when their club had no international reputation to speak of and would never have thought of opening a merchandising outlet in Hong Kong, or indeed anywhere outside west London. It's only a shame that Roman Abramovich was absent, so the cameras weren't able to catch that habitual look of amused bafflement turn to something resembling anger after their second cup defeat in a fortnight.
Gary Lineker got carried away at the end of the BBC's coverage from Barnsley, referring to "the most surprising day in FA Cup history". What had happened, though, was that the Cup favourites lost at home to a team from the top half of the same division while the holders were beaten away by a team one division below. It's really nothing to compare with non-Leaguers beating top level opponents, such as Hereford v Newcastle in 1972, which commentator John Motson was almost duty bound to mention, again, as it was his first match for the BBC. But it is nonetheless a momentous day. For once the Cup has not reflected the growing and grotesque imbalance in top level English football; it will be won by a team outside the top four for the first time in 13 years. Few people, including us, could have foreseen that after the last round.
Can the sudden reawakening of the FA Cup have a long term effect? Sadly there's no good reason to think so. But enough are alienated by New Football and those who represent it – some of whom were playing for the losing side at Oakwell – that it will be cause for prolonged celebration. We're even prepared to put with hearing plenty over the coming days from the Barnsley-supporting "football poet" who tends to get a little too much airtime when his team are in the news. But there may be darker times ahead. There is still a chance that our postman will get to see his team become European champions this season, possibly in an all-English final. We've already made provisional plans to lock up for a week.