By Simon Mills
It’s been four days and I can’t work out if it feels more like four hours or four years since what happened at Wembley. I seriously considered refusing to write anything this week. I’ve been trying everything I could to block out the pain and memories of the Final. I’m glad that I didn’t, however, because for the first time since I’ve allowed myself to seriously think about ‘that’ game a new emotion has finally taken hold… pride.
If my Maths and homework is right, there was a grand total of 736 clubs that entered the FA Cup this year, dating back to its ‘Extra preliminary round’ drawn on Friday 3rd July last year. 736 and we were runners up! Just try to get your head around those figures for a second. One team was only just better than us in this tournament (a team that needed a replay previously in the tournament and 120 minutes to beat us) compared to 734 teams that fell shorter than we did.
Granted a good 700+ of those play at different levels ranging from a bit lower to a different planet from us, but that should not lessen our achievements any the less. Especially when you take into account our road to Wembley - can anyone boast a tougher route? No less than four Premier League teams and the one outside of it competing at the top end of the Championship! The biggest hurdles the winners faced before the final was an Everton side who greatly underachieved and two efforts to beat an admittedly very good West Ham team.
I said before the final that if our players all turned up and everyone put in a top performance than I genuinely felt we wouldn’t be stopped. Sadly, that didn’t happen. It’s a big ask on final day, sometimes it happens and unfortunately for us on that day it didn’t.
The players still wore their hearts on their sleeves though, just one look at their faces come the final whistle demonstrates just how much it meant to them. I just pray that these lads get another chance to play in such a showpiece and they get to do it together wearing red and blue. I certainly fancy the hurt from the weekend to make them unstoppable if they do.
In the stands we had a job to do and we certainly did it. I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts of the supporters in the Palace end, singing their hearts out and turning North London into a sea of red and blue on Cup Final day. It sums up this club that when the game was over and despite the pain that was clear for anyone to see, there were just as many Palace fans still standing to applaud their team into the royal box as there were when United took their turn.
We are a special club, I don’t doubt that most United fans would have enjoyed that game for a couple of hours longer on Saturday, but I also bet the biggest discussion was about the future of Van Gaal with the news already emerging that he was out the door. Believe it or not, I’m not trying to be critical or attack Man United for this. It’s simply that, despite winning the Cup, this season is still considered a failure (their manager’s fate demonstrates this). We Palace fans know the outcome will stick in our minds forever, because that’s how much it means to us.
United will have another chance to win something sooner rather than later. With Mourinho rocking up this week, chances are it will be a dramatic failure if that doesn’t come next season. For us, it was 26 years in the making and while I honestly don’t think it will be, we will all be praying it’s not quite as long before we are back to finally get that trophy this club and its history truly deserve.
For now, stay true. It hurts, but that’s why Palace is so special. I wouldn’t trade this hurt and emotion for all the trophies that United, City, Chelsea etc. will win in a thousand years – it’s what makes it worth it and it’s what makes days like that all the more incredible: win or lose.
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