Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts

Having arrived back home from the game quite a lot later than he originally anticipated, columnist Giles Smith made the time to give his supporter’s view on last night’s cup tie, and he puts a price on drama…


Well, whatever else you may have felt about it at the time, I guess ultimately you would have to file last night’s FA Cup third round replay against Norwich under the heading ‘value for money’.

One-hundred-and-twenty minutes of football, two goals, 10 penalties, two unnecessary sendings off, and at least one genuine controversy generated by the game’s new and still clearly very formative VAR system. And all of this for the relatively speaking quite reasonable price (on my ticket) of £30.

If you break it down, that’s just 0.25p per minute of football. And what does 0.25p buy you these days? It’s also just £3 per penalty (£6 per penalty taken by Chelsea player, if you prefer to see it that way), and just £15 per unnecessary sending off. Bargain.

Football routinely gets slammed for its pricing policies – and rightly so, in some cases. But when you consider that the cheapest tickets for ‘The Lion King’ in the West End right now are £45 (and go all the way up to £155.50), you have to concede that £30 for a strangely complicated FA Cup tie is highly competitive, judged by the standards of the current entertainment market.

And that’s before you factor in the price of a programme and a replica lion’s head. Plus (SPOILER ALERT) at the end of ‘The Lion King’, nobody goes through to the Fourth Round. 

Furthermore, nobody gets unnecessarily sent off in ‘The Lion King’, either, if my memories are correct, although, to be honest, it was quite a while ago that I went and the referee may have had a major clear-out in the second half for all that I can recall.

Anyway, the fact is that last night our club and its visitors contrived to present the BBC (who were covering the game live) with an entertainment lasting getting on for three and a half hours, including a 15-minute delay to the kick-off occasioned by some problems with the underground service. I guess this would have obliged them to postpone and then re-postpone the news, which would have been the programme directly following. Quite right too, though. We were trying to book a home tie in the next round against Newcastle. The world could wait.

At the same time, whisper this (and correct me if I’m wrong), but football is very often one of those forms of entertainment where less can so often be more. So much more. Especially on extremely cold and wet nights in January. As the match ran into the final minute of time-added-on, with the score at 1-0 thanks to Michy Batshuayi's drought-breaker, and with frost-bite beginning to be a serious possibility in some of the higher tiered seats, I don’t think I’m wrong to suggest that most of us would have settled for ending the fun there.

Yes, had Jamal Lewis not been allowed to head in an equaliser with practically the last touch of the game, we would have missed 30 more minutes of football, two unnecessary sendings off, 10 penalties and a VAR controversy. But, somehow, it would have felt like a small price to pay for going home there and then.

That’s the way it goes, though. And you do what you have to do. What was it Sir Alf Ramsey said to his England side when the 1966 World Cup final was dragged late into extra-time? ‘You’ve beaten them once. Now go and beat them again.’ I imagine Antonio Conte said much the same to the players last night. And there was a similar attitude in the stands. ‘You’ve watched 94 minutes of this. Now sit still and watch another 30, plus pens.’ Personally, I was just pleased that I had had the foresight to make adequate snack provision. It was for nights like these that God invented the Snickers Duo.

Still to come was that VAR kerfuffle, with the remote official declining to offer a reappraisal of the trip on Willian in the Norwich penalty area on the grounds that he couldn’t see anything clearly awry. Which is funny because from the relative obscurity of a seat in the Matthew Harding Upper it looked a stick-on. Signs, here, that, far from removing furious debate from the officiating of the game, the arrival of VAR will simply create another layer of furious debate. I guess we’ll see how we end up feeling about that.

By that point in the game, though, up in the stands, one had the strong sense that this had been going on longer than it really needed to. On the other hand, what with everything we had been through, there was something powerfully redemptive about the outcome. Let’s face it, the team had played poorly, mis-firing in many areas of the pitch, and, as a consequence, struggling to see off a team currently placed 13th in the Championship.

Yet, at the very end of it, we got to watch a perfect, exhibition-standard performance from the penalty spot, including the eternally evocative sight of David Luiz charging in at 140mph from just outside the centre circle, a glorious image associated forever in the mind with Munich 2012 and the greatest night in our club’s history. 

It had been a struggle. But, in the end, the nine men grittily saw it out. And after that, we finally got to go home, with a place booked in the fourth round, and vehemently hoping for a bit less value for money next time.