For the Sunday footballer, nothing fills the bones with hope quite like the prospect of playing in a cup final. I am delighted to realise that the ‘romance of the cup’ has filtered down to the grass roots, spreading its warming magic around the plucky chancers that could only ever dream of breathing the rarefied air of the elite level.
Ironic quips are made about getting measured for cup final suits, with protective flippancy concealing doubled efforts and a greater determination to win. Players gather in clusters at training, talking in hushed tones of tactics and stratagem. Preparation is no longer a dirty word, the desperate realm of the try-hard. Now, shimmering as we do in the glow of potential glory, preparation is the only thing that matters.
Athletes of culture consider buying new boots for the occasion, while stoic workhorses research sophisticated warm-up techniques to stave off injury. Internal politics are quelled in a prolonged moment of pause, with one match the collective focus. A trophy represents a gleaming beacon, validation of an unglamorous lifestyle of hungover waddling on Sunday morning’s frozen pitches. A trophy represents justification for abandoning loved ones in bed while sprays and ointments are applied to tensile joints. A trophy allows hope that a morsel of triumph may well be brushed from the top table to famished mouths agape with the roused memory of a million fevered dreams.
This moment of calm reflection is broken by a team-mate with a semi-affectionate nickname that implies genuine menace, an ex-convict and all the more unhinged for it, who screams: “LET’S STICK IT IN THEIR FAHCKIN’ BOLLOCKS!”
This plaintive cry, intended to inspire, only confuses you. But as an erstwhile divided team defiantly unite at the sound of this chest-pounding war cry, you wonder whether Maniac Mike is right, and that there is something to be shoved in some bollocks after all – the power of dreams.