A perfect finish

London was treated to another glorious day on Saturday. The sun was shining, it was 23 degrees and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. It was the perfect weather for a royal wedding but also, of course, an FA Cup final.

When the doors of the packed Jubilee line train opened at Wembley Park station, a mixed sea of blue and red spilled out on to the platform. The chanting had already started, and it was a combination of southern and northern accents singing about London being blue and the Manchester glory days of the past, trying to outdo each other.

The slow shuffle towards the station exit ensued, through the ticket barriers accompanied by hundreds of oyster card beeps and out on to the steps leading towards Wembley Way. The famous Wembley arch stood right in front of us, as the screens below it replayed the goals from the competition’s earlier rounds that led both teams to this final.

As we all got closer to the stadium, past the sizzling burger vans and merchandise stalls, the sea of blue and red began to separate. The blue half walked up the left-hand ramp, the red half up the right. On this occasion, we Chelsea fans were sat in the east side of Wembley and, looking at my ticket, I was heading for Entrance C, block 112. A short queue to get through the turnstiles, followed by a bag search and I was in. My seat was in the lower tier, just four rows from the pitch, and as I sat down two banners dedicated to Ray Wilkins – one blue, one red, behind each respective goal – were being hoisted into the air. The faces of Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho were emblazoned on two more huge banners on the pitch and flames shot up as the players came out. As is an FA Cup final tradition, ‘Abide with me’ and the national anthem were sung, followed by a perfectly timed flypast from two fighter planes overhead.

The blue half of Wembley was right in the sun, and it was hot. I hoped the sun wouldn’t prove distracting for Thibaut Courtois, who was in goal right in front of us, but I needn’t have worried. What followed in the next 90 minutes was a composed and unified Chelsea performance, a penalty, a disallowed goal, a welcomed sun setting, and five long minutes of injury time with just that narrow one-nil lead.

Eden Hazard ran the United defence ragged, and they just could not cope with him. His cool, calm and collected penalty was the first in an FA Cup final since 2004. Marcos Alonso came close to scoring a second, having been set up by N’Golo Kante, who worked tirelessly all match to pinch the ball off of United at any given opportunity. The Blues’ back three were particularly dominant, especially Toni Rudiger who had a brilliant game. Chants of ‘Rudi!’ were frequent during the course of the afternoon and the German has become a firm fan favourite during his first season at Chelsea. Courtois again made some vital big saves to keep us ahead, brilliantly denying Rashford in the second half.

Once those five long minutes of injury time were up and the referee blew his whistle, the blue half of Wembley erupted. From the 737 teams who entered the competition last year, Chelsea had become the only one left undefeated. There is little that beats seeing your team lifting a trophy at Wembley and Chelsea fans have been fortunate enough to witness it on numerous occasions over the past several years, not that the novelty ever wears off. After the trophy was handed over by Ray Wilkins’ wife, Jackie, and then lifted aloft by Gary Cahill, the celebrations continued in front of the Blues fans on the pitch. More flames, confetti and blue and silver streamers exploded up into the air, with ‘One Step Beyond’, ‘the Liquidator’ and ‘Blue Day’ booming loudly. As the Chelsea fans again shuffled slowly down Wembley Way in the direction of home, the Wembley arch shone royal blue. It was a great finish to the 2017-2018 season.

Chelsea made a unique bit of history on Saturday, becoming the first club ever to win the FA Cup ‘treble’, having being crowned champions of the FA Cup, the FA Women’s Cup and the FA Youth Cup all in one season.

The 19th of May has become quite the monumental date in Chelsea history. On the 19th of May in 2007, Chelsea beat Manchester United to win the FA Cup. In 2012, Chelsea won the Champions League on, of course, the same date. On Saturday, Chelsea added their eighth FA Cup victory to that tally. Guess what date the 2018-2019 season finishes on?