The Cup runneth over

I miss the days when the FA Cup kicked off at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in mid-May.

If you live in my time zone, the timing was pretty much perfect. The game would start at 10pm and - barring extra-time and penalties – have the winning team walk up the Wembley steps to lift the trophy before midnight.

However, the tea-time kick-off which has been in place since we beat Liverpool to lift the Cup for the seventh time in 2012, means that the game now stretches into the late, late hours, which isn’t too conducive if you have things to do on a Sunday morning.

As it was, that particular Saturday was a pretty busy day for me as well and so, having given up on my initial plan to watch the final with the Singapore supporters’ club at our usual hangout on Orchard Road, I plunked myself on the living room couch at 11pm to watch the FA Cup preview show. And promptly fell asleep.

As a result, I missed all of the bits of the broadcast before the game when the crowd sang ‘Abide with Me’, the teams walked on to the pitch with flames and fireworks erupting around and the pundits boldly predicted a Manchester United victory.

In fact, I didn’t actually wake up until the 14th-minute mark when I was roused into consciousness by the sound of the crowd and the TV commentators after Tiemoue Bakayoko went down in the United box after being shoved in the back by Nemanja Matic.

The referee ignored our appeals on that occasion but he didn’t let the Red Devils off the hook midway through the half, when Phil Jones denied Eden Hazard the opportunity to finish off what could have been one of the best goals to be seen at the new Wembley, by taking the Belgian’s legs from under him. Thankfully, justice was served as Hazard coolly sent David De Gea the wrong way from the penalty spot to give us the lead.

Now given the fact that there were no more goals in the game, some neutrals might suggest that I should have gone back to sleep at that point and set my alarm for the final whistle to watch the trophy presentation.

Indeed, there weren’t too many chances that came our way as United desperately chased an equaliser but the tension that we felt as Chelsea fans was palpable as our defence heroically repelled everything thrown at them by the team in red,

At times, it felt as nerve-wracking as the second half at the Nou Camp in 2012 when wave after wave of Barcelona attacks crashed against us but could not break down the big Blue defensive wall.

We did ride our luck at times as Thibaut Courtois produced a brilliant save to deny Jones, Alexis Sanchez put the ball into our net from an offside position and an unmarked Paul Pogba headed wide. But as time wound down, you sensed that it would be our day after all.

It may not go down as a classic FA Cup final but like 1970, 1997, 2000, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, it will be fondly remembered by Chelsea fans in years to come.

For newer fans, it helped to make up for the disappointment of last year’s final when we struggled after Sanchez had given Arsenal the lead with an early goal.

And for those with longer memories, it helped to salve the pain we felt 24 years ago after Manchester United were awarded two penalties as they beat us on a miserable day at Wembley.

We may have already avenged that defeat on 19 May 2007 thanks to Didier Drogba’s extra-time winner, but it felt no less sweet to do it again exactly 11 years later with a coolly-executed penalty of our own.