The 1876 FA Cup final replay, then. That’s the one, you’ll remember, in which the legendary Arthur Kinnaird, captain of Old Etonians, picked up an injury and was forced to take over in goal, his sore tootsies a major factor in an easy 3-0 victory for Wanderers. We mention that particular game only because the attendance at the Kennington Oval that day, 1,500, currently stands as the lowest in the entire history of the FA Cup final. For reasons we really don’t need to explain, that record will be wiped from the record books at 5.31pm this afternoon.
So yes, this fan-free occasion is going to be a strange one indeed. But then FA Cup finals aren’t supposed to feel normal. Would it have felt normal when Arsenal won their first FA Cup in 1930, the Graf Zeppelin hovering over Wembley, the 776-foot hydrogen-filled behemoth dipping its nose to acknowledge King George V? Would it have seemed normal when Chelsea won their first FA Cup in woozy 1970 technicolor, after the sort of stramash at Old Trafford that wouldn’t be tolerated these days, not even outside the Belt & Haymaker on a hot Sunday afternoon? It hardly seemed like an everyday occurrence last year, either, did it, when Manchester City were making venison sausages out of Watford, and there were 85,854 people in attendance for that one, for goodness sake. You’re meant to feel uneasy, a little bit queasy, that’s the effect big sporting occasions have. They feel surreal at the best of times. Abnormality is the whole point. So let’s go with it.
Today’s final, the 139th, could be a cracker. Arsenal face Chelsea on the big occasion for the second time in four seasons, and the third in total. They’ve won the previous two, as all-conquering favourites in 2002, then as underdogs in 2017. They’ll be underdogs again today, on account of Chelsea’s better Premier League season, and the fact the Blues trounced them 4-1 in last year’s Europa League final. But there’s not that much in it. Both sides can be scintillating in attack; neither are much cop, if we’re being totally honest, in defence. Having said that, even though neither team is quite the finished article under new management yet, both are capable of all-round dominance on a good day, as their respective semi-final victories over Manchester City and Manchester United attest.
A 1-0 disappointment, then? Perhaps; finals so often are, never mind local derbies. But it could just so easily be one of those rip-roaring, to-and-fro goalfests as well. And listen, never mind last year’s 6-0, we haven’t had seven goals since Blackpool and Bolton shared them in the Matthews Final, so we’re more than due another. You fancy one of those? Yes, us too! OK, then: Arsenal, Chelsea, you know what to do. Be about your business! Entertain the nation! It’s on!
Kick off: 5.30pm BST.