Sunday 6 April ~
Portsmouth's distinctly unimpressive victory in the first FA Cup semi-final yesterday means that there won't be a first ever final between two teams from outside the top division. But Barnsley might yet set a record by winning the Cup and being relegated to the third level, yesterday's results in the Championship having dropped them into third-bottom spot. Cardiff, meanwhile, have games in hand on their play-off rivals and could still repeat the cup and promotion double achieved by yesterday's beaten semi-finalists, West Brom, in 1930-31.
Barnsley's best-known fan, the limelight-hogging ex-umpire Harold “Dickie” Bird, recently suggested that he would prefer the club to stay up than reach the Cup final. But that is surely a minority view, from someone who is not apparently known for watching Barnsley matches on a regular basis. The club have spent three-quarters of the last 30 seasons at Championship level but they last reached the Cup final in 1911-12. They have been at Wembley before in the play-off final but this is nonetheless one of their biggest matches since that 1-0 victory over West Brom in a replay at Bramall Lane 97 years ago.
The media haven't found any 105-year-old Barnsley fans to look back on their last final but someone who saw Cardiff's last Wembley appearance, when they won the Cup in 1927, will be back to see them again today. Manager David Jones has seemed to be on the brink of getting the sack more than once during his time at Cardiff, even within the last few months. The team made a dismal start to this season, following on from the poor form in the second half of 2006-07 when they finished 13th having been Championship leaders. But there has been upheaval behind the scenes for the whole time that Jones has been at the club. Cardiff were in danger of financial collapse when he was appointed in the spring of 2005 and legal action, involving the unlamented former chairman Sam Hammam, is still possible over the repayment of a £24 million loan.
We can assume that today's broadcasters, Sky, have been dismayed by the way that the Cup has panned out this season, with the latter stages lacking the titanic clashes between the big four that would have tickled the fancy of advertisers. Let's hope, therefore, that we don't hear about how both sets of fans are "going to enjoy the day whatever happens" and that whoever wins deserves it more than Portsmouth did yesterday.