Thirty years ago when the Fiver was still a shiny 5p piece and it had only been five years since Manchester City had won a trophy, FA Cup final day was a bit special. In the seven-hour build-up to kick-off, you'd marvel at the tracksuits, mullets and bubble-perms on show as the teams left their luxury countryside hotels, then enjoy the 'banter' as whatever luckless be-suited extrovert who was injured or suspended for the final, stuck on his brave face and negotiated the dense fog of cigarette smoke to travel the length of the team bus introducing his card-playing team-mates.
That year it was Tottenham Hotspur who beat a Manchester City side whose complement of exotic foreign mercenaries gloried in the Scottish monikers Hutchison, McDonald and Gow. Tomorrow afternoon, it'll be the comparatively urbane sophisticates of Stoke's turn to try to prolong City's heroic record of failure, in a match that kicks off so soon after Manchester United steal the FA Cup's increasingly diminished thunder that City's team bus will already be parked in front of one of the Wembley goals.
The styles of the teams contesting tomorrow's final couldn't be more different. One is renowned for a form of thuggish bruising anti-football negativity that is as uncompromising as it is unattractive, while the other is Stoke City. The Potters are the underdogs everyone apart from Manchester City fans wants to see prevail, for no other reason than that despite all their moaning about imaginary "media agendas", they're not quite as unpopular as the insufferably boring nouveau riche petro-dollar gazillionaires.
And if Stoke need extra motivation to triumph, it's come in the form of being ousted from their pre-match digs by City, despite having email confirmation of their provisional booking for 50 rooms in The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire shortly after banging in their third goal against Bolton in the semi-final. "I'm excited by this and very proud for my players," said Handbrake FC gaffer Roberto Mancini, although to be fair, we should probably add that he may have been referring to the final rather than the triumph on the hotel-gazzumping front.
Meanwhile in a cardboard box outside Wembley Park tube station, Stoke City manager Tony Pulis was upbeat about the chances of his homeless vagrants. "We are looking forward to this game," he said, pulling his baseball cap so far over his head that all you could see sticking out from beneath it were his trainers. "We have had three years of proving we can do what people think we can't," he added, as Rory Delap bet sceptical passers-by he could throw David Brent from The Office over a nearby pub.
Ta TW for the sig.