Saturday 25 April 2009
Brian Viner: For boys (and dads), nothing beats winning on penalties
The Last Word
There was a time when it would have been absurd to talk about an FA Cup semi-final between a pair of teams in the top six of English football's top division in terms of David and Goliath, but that is what the game has become, so you didn't need to be an Everton fan to rejoice at the spectacle of David catching Goliath, albeit an under-strength Goliath, right between the eyes at Wembley on Sunday.
What particular joy it brought, though, to be in the crowd as an Everton fan. Especially as I had my two Everton-supporting sons with me. They say there is no worse way to lose a Cup tie than on penalties, but equally there is no better way to win. When Phil Jagielka despatched the winning kick past Ben Foster in the Manchester United goal, he also despatched that law of parenthood about discouraging your kids from consorting with strangers. While my 10-year-old was being hugged by a succession of sweaty fat blokes from the row in front, I, a perspiring large-boned bloke, was hugging someone else's nipper from the row behind.
As for the stricken United supporters, they seemed to acknowledge that Everton, both on the field and off, craved victory more and consequently deserved it more. When we eventually shuffled on to our train at Wembley Stadium station, a father and son in United shirts were anxiously trying to shuffle off, having belatedly discovered that it was heading in the wrong direction. "It's not your day," I said, and they both obliged me with generous smiles and some brief banter. Football is at its best when it offers fellowship between winners and losers.
And the 0-0 draw yields winners and losers, too, which is what Americans never understand about football, just as they fail to comprehend how anyone can be satisfied to see five days of Test cricket ending in a draw. I was at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to watch Chelsea and Everton enact a full-dress rehearsal of the FA Cup final, and the 0-0 scoreline meant that again David proved himself against Goliath, who this time was pretty much at full strength.
Yet even though the Everton manager shares a name with his biblical counterpart – and as a regular church-goer David Moyes will understand the allusion – the biggest blow this latter-day David has struck is at the notion of Everton as a perennial underdog against the top-four teams. With Liverpool and Manchester United among the four Premier League scalps his players have taken on the way to the FA Cup final (Aston Villa and Middlesbrough being the others), with Chelsea unable to breach their defence on Wednesday (a match in which the visitors had by far the better chances), and with Arsenal reliant on a last-minute Robin van Persie equaliser in the most recent league match between the two, it is finally dawning on Everton, players and fans alike, that they can mix it with the "Big Four" without any inferiority complex.
To have made that psychological breakthrough with so many players raised from lower divisions and the club's own youth ranks is why Moyes, whatever happens at Wembley on 30 May or indeed at the Champions League final a few days earlier, deserves to be Manager of the Year.
Huggett heals modern game's birthing pains
Singing from the same hymn sheet is not easy when one chap is 6ft 6in and the other 5ft 5in, so it was nice this week to find the former England cricketer Bob Willis and the former Ryder Cup golfer Brian Huggett in perfect synchrony. Willis expressed scorn for the way England's cricketers are mollycoddled these days, with so much emphasis on pastoral care and all of them "racing home for the birth of their babies". As for Huggett, he talked at a sports evening I chaired recently and recalled the 1973 Ryder Cup fourballs match in which he and Maurice Bembridge triumphed 3&1 over Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. This famous victory, he added, happened to fall on the day his youngest daughter was born. Had it been today, he said, he would have been in the hospital holding the forceps, not at Muirfield delivering the heads of Arnie and Jack.
O'Driscoll unlucky to get short shrift
Height seems to be the principal reason why the British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan favours Ireland's Paul O'Connell over his team-mate Brian O'Driscoll for the Lions captaincy in South Africa: he likes the idea of the Springbok skipper looking up at his Lions counterpart, as was the case in 1997, when McGeechan handed the job to Martin Johnson. But all my Irish friends think the coach got it wrong. And he of all people should know that height is not everything it's cracked up to be, having been part of a famous back division, in which only JPR Williams topped 6ft, on the triumphant 1974 Lions tour of South Africa. We'll overlook captain Willie John McBride, even though we would have to stand on ladders to do so.
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