FA Cup: Victory Through Exhaustion
An incredible day for OC Gooners and Arsenal. One that saw The Olde Ship in Santa Ana filled to near capacity forty minutes before kick-off. One that saw us collectively panic as we went down Hull City 2-0. And one that saw us lift our 11th FA Cup trophy.
This was not my first cup final, but it was the first time I watched it at a pub with a group I had come to develop a true sense of camaraderie and brotherhood with over two years. The joy of watching Arsenal this season culminated in me partaking in the pre-match chanting with a bit too much enthusiasm, as my voice was hoarse and raspy at kick-off. Perhaps I’m best off remembering that fan support is not a sprint, but a prolonged marathon.
And I learned that the hard way when three minutes into the match, Hull City scored from an improbable shot that just managed to find it’s way to the feet of a Hull City attacker in our penalty box, and into the side netting, far beyond Fabianski’s reach. Defiant, I felt that the 1-0 deficit that early on was nothing but a flesh wound, that is, until Hull’s rather harmless ball into our box five minutes later resulted in another goal to put us down two goals. I felt as if my vitality was zapped. My chanting was incapacitated and I was in disbelief.
But we didn’t come this far for me to give up. No, I responded to the fantastic chanting and atmosphere of my fellow Gooners and tried my best to contribute. Moments later,
Santi Saint Cazorla rewarded us with a sublime goal from a free kick. The shot in the arm for our boys on the pitch and our boys (and girls) on the ripped out floors of The Ship. By the end of the first half, I had gone through a severe range of emotions, further worsened by the fact that I couldn’t participate in my favorite “North Bank/Clock End” chant on account of my vocal chord mismanagement. Should have used a sub in hindsight.
But, I had the second half to inspire me, right? No. Instead, I once again let the same panic wash over me. We were down 2-1, and chance after agonizing chance for Arsenal managed to go everywhere BUT the back of Hull City’s net. I was crazy for the equalizer. It had to come, it just had to. But I could see it. 2-1 down at Wembley stadium once again like that Carling Cup Final so many years ago. But cosmic forces, AKA Koscielny’s feet, had other ideas in this cup final. Improbably to a young Gooner like me, Arsenal fought back and leveled it 2-2! My reaction was to jump and down with everyone else, but truth be told I felt as if I was watching this match for hours.
I was hungry for the win at this point, not just for the trophy, but because I thought I would collapse in extra time due to a combination of exhaustion and panic that we might not take home our prize. “Specialist in failure” rang in my ears, because this trophy did mean so much to me now. It was within our grasp and we just had to have it. Agonizingly, we couldn’t find the winner in regulation, and once again were faced with extra time. The thought of penalties lurking around the corner was simply too much for me.
Extra time wore on, and the chanting did not die from the Gooners around me, but I was capable of nothing else but nervously twiddling with my scarf and speaking in grunts and sighs as Arsenal hammered the Hull City keeper with nothing to show for it. As the 120th minute inched closer, I barely thought anything of Giroud taking a touch in the penalty box. Nor did I think anything of the backheel that found Aaron Ramsey. As the shot found the back of the net I felt a true out-of-body experience as I mustered the energy to jump up and down like a madman, having gone through the entire ordeal of being two goals down with all the fatigue and all the raspy chanting I could muster. But we held on. Even when the ghost of Almunia suddenly possessed Fabianski. Even when that minute of extra time stretched for an eternity.
As the final whistle blew at the end of extra time, I could do little else but weakly extend my arms in the air, clenching my fists in victory, drenched in mine and everyone else’s sweat (and beer). As I embraced my fellow Gooners, tears streaming down their faces, I was confused why I didn’t have a similar reaction. After all, didn’t I love this team? Was I truly that tired from this game, this journey that I couldn’t even muster a few tears?
Then, it happened. Thomas Vermaelen, after hoisting the FA cup high above his shoulders, turned not to Mikel Arteta, who had a quiet but dominant performance as our captain, but to Arsene Wenger. Without a moments hesitation Wenger grabbed hold and displayed his latest achievement in a storied career with the most visceral face of enjoyment and relaxation, and it was then that I noticed the tears involuntarily rolling down my cheeks. In that fleeting moment, my exhaustion vanished. I was content to let the victory and emotions of the season wash over my weakened physical, mental, and emotional state as I reveled in the glory of our FA Cup.
On to next season.