Football / FA Cup Final: Show that closed in the first act: Ken Jones maintains that the actors are as much to blame as the producers for a showpiece that lacked drama if not cliches

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The Independent Online
WE STILL haven't got the 112th winner of the FA Cup, and somebody will have to pay for this blunder. That's it. We are growing impatient.

No, we are beyond impatient. We are bored and sick and tired of hearing that Saturday's numbing stalemate at Wembley can be traced to fatigue, the exertions of a ridiculously overcrowded season. Let's get it over with. Toss a coin.

A showpiece in name alone, with no redeeming drama, it was an excruciatingly boring match, but not uniquely forgettable.

Tricks of memory blur large truths about Cup finals that failed to achieve their billing. Recently, I watched a video of the 1961 final when Tottenham Hotspur completed the first modern Double of championship and FA Cup by defeating Leicester City. 'We didn't do ourselves justice,' I remember their manager, Bill Nicholson, saying afterwards. Tottenham were the standard-bearers of English football, but looked ordinary against opponents who had only 10 fit men when Len Chalmers was seriously hurt after 18 minutes.

Tottenham's illustrious Irish captain, Danny Blanchflower, had his least effective game of the season, mistiming the majority of his passes. Dave Mackay, probably the greatest player in the club's history, was way below form. The great attacking force, it was their defence that saw Tottenham through.

So is there anybody out there who witnessed a final worse than Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday staged? Probably, yes.

If Chris Waddle, the football writers' Footballer of the Year, didn't rise to the occasion he contributed more than Tom Finney did when a complete flop for Preston North End in the 1954 final against West Bromwich Albion.

The trouble is that Saturday's abysmal offering could not have been more indicative of a worrying trend. Tired players? Certainly, and there is substance in the complaints registered afterwards by the managers, George Graham and Trevor Francis. But the problem is exacerbated by inadequate touch and pathetically inaccurate passing.

There was hardly a move that spoke of composure on the ball, confidence and vision. In spite of the reputation Sheffield Wednesday have secured this season, the game never rose above the eye-soring requirements of the Premier League. Too much energy had to be spent on desperate attempts to retrieve the ball.

It is a fault of the English football administration and commercial interests that the English professional must endure a programme more gruelling than any in Europe. But who else but the managers and coaches are to blame for a style that has become alarmingly intense?

Perhaps Thursday will be better. Replayed finals do not carry the same amount of tension, and, as Graham said, he had players out there who can do a lot better. But unless you are committed to one side or the other there are no good reasons to spend an evening at Wembley.

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