Hendry Thomas with Wigan
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Commentary: FA Cup Final day not what it used to be

Photo: Hendry Thomas as a member of Wigan in 2011

This year is the first that I’ve not been in England on FA Cup final day. I’m still not sure if my TV will be connected in time for kick-off (1015 MT), so when Wigan take on Manchester City this Saturday, I may be in the park with my son, or taking my two daughters to have immunizations.

As a kid, FA Cup final day was always special (and the sun always seemed to shine).

I’d roll out of bed, gather around our TV with my dad and three brothers and soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Both main channels in the UK (BBC and ITV) would have reporters with both teams. They would be outside the team hotels, talking to players, players’ families, fans. The best bits would be when they snatched a sneaky word with a player from the window of his hotel room.

It was a real insight into a big game-day.

We would consider getting dressed for the day, only for the TV to show ‘The Road to Wembley’, and how respective teams reached the showpiece event.

It was wall-to-wall soccer on a Saturday morning.

Mum would urge us to go and get ready for the day, which we would reluctantly do during a commercial break (on ITV), or when they went to a weather forecast or news bulletin (on the BBC).

And then we’d be back, never moving from our Cup final ‘seat’ in the living room.

My first clear memory of the FA Cup final was the pulsating 3-2 win for Arsenal, over Manchester United, on a sun-drenched day in May, 1979. Alan Sunderland with the winner, following a cross from Liam Brady. Sunderland’s reaction, running toward the camera face contorted with ecstasy, now a part of FA Cup final history. Inside the stadium that day, just over 99,000 fans.

Everything seemed to stop for the Cup final. Big soccer occasions on TV were rare. The domestic season was over. The day belonged to the FA Cup finalists.

I got to walk up the old Wembley tunnel only once. It surprised me how steep it was and, although the stadium was empty, I still felt a chill down my spine as I imagined what it would feel like to emerge into the Spring sunshine to the roar of a jam-packed arena on Cup final day.

But times have changed. Again, this weekend’s FA Cup final, between Wigan Athletic and Manchester City, is not at the traditional three o’clock (rather 5.15pm UK time). And it shares the spotlight with the final throes of the Premier League season.

Some things ought be left alone.

Streets won’t be empty. Young kids will have other things to do on their Saturday morning (bloated on wall-to-wall soccer now available on our screens).

But, worst of all, I bet the sun won’t even bother to shine.