To be clear from the offset, this post is not about the quality (and I stress the word quality) of the football on show at Wembley. Manchester City were nothing short of sensational in their not-seen-since-1903 six goal victory over Watford. Their inventiveness, drive, vision, aggression and ruthlessness this season is bordering on unique; and their achievements in winning the domestic treble are (in men’s football, Pep). Full credit to them for a phenomenal season which ended in such splendour.
The over-riding emotion after watching this game should be marvel; at City’s display and the consequences it has on English football’s history books. But for me watching this as a neutral and looking at the game through the lens of competitiveness and historical significance it was a sense of despair.
I’ll openly admit that I was rooting for Watford. Not because I’m anti-City or what in the eyes of many (not mine) they represent, not because I have any affinity to Watford and not even because it’s human nature to support the underdog. No, my motivations were this: the historical impact that an FA cup win would have had on the remainder of the hornets supporters lives, a buck in the trend of ‘big 6’ dominance of the FA cup and the relative insignificance of another FA cup win for City. Consequently the despair would have existed if Watford had lost 1-0, but watching them get pulverised 6-0 just exacerbated the feeling of despair I felt.
Reason to despair 1: Another ‘routine’ trophy win
City’s appearance at Wembley was the 26th of a ‘big 6′ club in the FA cup final since 2000. This compares with 14 for every other club in England. This is a stark statistic. Chelsea and Arsenal alone competed in 16 out of 25 FA cup finals since the inception of the Premier League up until 2017; truly remarkable. I bet some (or most) of their fans wouldn’t be able to recite who their opponents were in each year of the final they played or what the score was. I wouldn’t even blame them if they couldn’t! And that’s the problem – it ends up becoming routine; which ultimately devalues the winning of the competition.
The reason that this game will stay in City fans consciousness’ over the next decade or two is the margin of drubbing and that it signalled their historic domestic treble, and rightly so. If you take these things away it would be no more or less memorable than any of their recent domestic cup finals or the ones they will surely be involved with over the coming seasons. It would have been the same had Chelsea or Arsenal had been involved in the final with their recent FA cup records which have been astonishing.Embed from Getty Images
Reason to despair 2: Missed opportunity
Contrast that with the impact it would have had on hornets fans had their side pulled off a Wigan Athletic-style cup final upset. Their previous FA cup final appearance was 1984; that’s a generation of fan ago. It’s not inconceivable that it might another generation before they reach the FA cup final again. Of course by being in the final their fans have dared to dream, had the ‘Wembley experience’ and spent the last week reflecting on their pride at reaching the final. Nevertheless the nature of this marmalising will taint those memories. Such is the clout of the big clubs and their recent dominance of domestic show-piece finals; Watford fans will rightly see this as a potential ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity that ended in the worst possible way.
It’s not just Watford either, as many famous and proud clubs have been collecting dust in their trophy cabinet for far too long for the good of the domestic game. Newcastle, to name just one, are able to attract an average crowd of 51,000 passionate geordies each week yet last won a majorly trophy in 1955! You can only imagine the party that would be held on Tyneside if the Magpies returned to Wembley and won the FA cup. Depressingly though a look ahead to the next few years would suggest it’s even less likely that this will happen than previously (which is a reflection on the ‘big 6’ rather than Newcastle who I’ve used as an example). The new millennium must represent one of, if not the most uncompetitive era in English football. City’s trouncing of Watford reminded us that many club’s trophy cabinets will likely stay dusty for a while yet.
Reason to despair 3: Men vs boys
Maybe it’s just me, but I found it really uncomfortable viewing past 3-0 when it started to look inevitable that City would run riot against a tired Watford side. Inevitable because we’ve seen it already several times this year where City have ground down opponents with a ‘death-by-passing’ style that has eventually forced the floodgates open. At times I had to remind myself that not only do these teams play in the same league but Watford are actually one of the better ones! After watching much of their cup run and excellent Premier League performances I felt sad that it was ending in such a pounding. There in lies my third reason for despair: is this chasm in class between clubs who finished a mere 10 places apart in the English football pyramid a healthy reflection on the state of our game? If it was a one-off result I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions but City (and Liverpool) have destroyed competitors many times this (and last) season.
Maybe because I don’t have a dog in the Premier League fight I’m more concerned about the level of competitiveness amongst Premier League teams than those who do have a vested interest. That said, I find it hard to believe that anyone other than City fans enjoyed watching a Watford side, who’ve had a fantastic first season under Javi Gracia, be made to look like the Dog n’ Duck by City at such an occasion. Although it wasn’t, it felt as though all of Watford’s good work in their run to the final was a waste of time; for them to then be humiliated at Wembley.Embed from Getty Images
As stated at the start of this post, I emphasised that I can appreciate what City have achieved by winning this final and also how they’ve achieved it. They really are a fantastic side that are as impressive for their mentality as they are for their on-field masterpieces. While the initial reaction should be to marvel at what this Manchester City side are capable of doing, I came way with a sense of forlorn despair. I suspect that I wasn’t the only neutral that felt this way.