The sweet bliss of a cup victory didn't linger for long, did it? In the span of only a few weeks our elation has been steadily accosted by the slings and arrows of the silly season. Will Wenger receive a new contract? (Little bit yes.) Will we bring Cescy back? (We don't know how to act.) Will our players survive the World Cup (Not looking good from the start.)
If the last nine years (and beyond) have conditioned us to do anything, it's to worry incessantly about the most absurd minutiae. Our jumping at shadows has become so practiced that we'd give Ronaldo competition for hang time. Can we, just this once, force ourselves to not linger on what this summer may bring and savor what the players and manager accomplished on May 17, 2014?
Allow me to paint the picture. The Saturday in question was a sunny, pleasantly warm one in the Charleston area. My Father's Moustache threw its doors wide open to embrace our group. The Post & Courier was dispatching a photographer to capture a little of our cup magic for a World Cup lead-in story. Our mood before kick-off was calm and tinged with a cautiously celebratory vibe. We had arrived at a cup final riding decent form and welcoming back some important absentees from injury to face a Hull City side we had thoroughly trounced only a handful of days before. It felt like we were cresting the final dune of the voodoo desert to glide into the gilded oasis of an FA Cup win. The fish & chips and shepherd's pie smelled like victory. All the better that a lone Tiger-supporting family was present to witness our impending glory.
Yellow ribbons distributed and raffle tickets for the half-time giveaway claimed, we all settled in for kick-off with rousing rounds of "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon." Little did we see the 3rd and 9th minutes coming. Instead of parking the bus, Hull City ran us over with it straightaway and then backed it right up again for good measure. It couldn't've gone any other way with our team, could it?
Our friend Paul Zoeller from the Post & Courier lugged his camera gear into MFM around the 10th minute, just in time to witness us all picking our sullen jaws off the ground. In greeting him I actually ended up missing Santi's free kick but what a moment for Paul to be introduced to our group. The pub erupted in disbelief, primal relief, and chants of, "OH, SANTI CAZORLA!". Paul may not have understood our devotion before arriving; he gained some sense of who we are and what we are about from our passionate reaction to that magical set piece. Our fine photographer posted up behind the bar for the rest of the half but I can only imagine he was confronted with either blank or fiercely angry faces for the duration. This match was not following our script.
With half-time came a quick speech from branch leadership thanking everyone for a wonderful season with the group and announcing our giveaways. First, a copy of "Fever Pitch" was awarded to the best-dressed attendee (when you step to the banana suit you best not slip). Finally, in a calculated gamble, we commissioned Charsenal-branded pint glasses with commemorative FA Cup Final designs to raffle off and sell.
In another life the football gods would have smiled on us and we would not have been flogging four dozen FA Cup Final pint glasses with the good guys down 2-1 at the half, but so it goes. The winners were appreciative and a fair number of the unawarded glasses went claimed (thanks again Justin!).
(It's worth noting here that based on informal headcounts and the number of tickets distributed that we easily had 70-80 people at MFM by the half. That's amazing growth from the half-dozen we could muster a couple seasons ago and really speaks to the strengthening of Arsenal support in Charleston. Attendance like we saw for the cup final is incredibly gratifying and its momentum is something that we'd like to maintain throughout the off-season into the new campaign. Keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter, and this website for approaching summer fun!)
The second half began and some of us felt that old uneasiness squirming in. Comparisons to the league cup final against Birmingham were inevitable and injected just enough doubt into the proceedings to question whether this team would have the gumption to, at the very least, tie this match up and force the same sort of excrutiating shoot-out resolution that got us here in the first place. We looked the brighter side in this half but had to wait past the 70th minute mark for Kos the Boss (who else?) to pretzel-twist in the equalizer. Thankfully Paul stuck around to this point and was able to see head-on what a proper Charsenal celebration looks like. There's jumping and singing and generally just havoc. Suffice it to say I'm fairly certain we woke the neighbors.
One defining characteristic of this generation of Arsenal is that we like to make everything as bloody difficult as possible, and clawing back from a 2-0 deficit after 10 minutes to force extra time in what many thought was a foregone conclusion of a cup final only supports this narrative. Credit where it's due, though: the single biggest difference with this side versus preceding incarnations is that previously we almost unilaterally faltered under the pressure and came up short. NOT. THIS. TIME.
Remember what it felt like when Ramsey's goal went in?
Our hunt for an elusive trophy was finally complete and it was written all over the faces around me in the pub. Waves of silly grins and high fives washed over us all as the final whistle blew. For many in the room this was the first accolade Arsenal had achieved since they became Gooners; for others this moment harkened back to the glorious time not so long ago when Arsenal were world-beaters.
I said very early in the season and again in January that I would not want to look back in May and lament what could have been had we spent a little more, tried a little harder, made fewer mistakes. In the face of a trophy it's difficult to justify having questions about whether we could have achieved more, but that feeling's still there.
Let's not worry about it for now though. Despite protestations, cajoling, and vitriol-slinging on Twitter, the Club will do what they will in the transfer market this summer (and most likely their strategy will be infuriating. Tim Stillman summed it up best at the end of March - if we enter the season with the 3rd or 4th best squad in the league, what can we expect?). Like him or not, Wenger will still not be listening to our transfer demands or tactical suggestions well into 2017. No doubt at least one of our players will return from Brazil completely banjaxed and held together with gaffer's tape.
I can't be bothered by those things. I choose to cling to the FA Cup victory and all the joy and pride it brings instead of brewing in my own toxic hellstew of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Don't forget how fleeting success can be. Savor this moment. We won a damn trophy! Up the Arsenal.