For all that football mightn’t be quite what it used to be, with too many teams struggling to stay afloat and the gap between rich and poor growing ever wider, today was an ample reminder that there’s no sport with a greater sense of drama.
Few people gave Portsmouth a chance in their FA Cup semi-final against Spurs today. With the Premier League’s bottom side barely able to scrape enough players together to make a full team; arguably their best performer (Jamie O’Hara) unable to play owing to the conditions of his loan deal from today’s opponents; and ongoing financial worries casting doubts over next season’s campaign, a victory seemed the most unlikely of outcomes.
Yet if money has been in short supply at Pompey this season, team spirit has certainly not. Through sheer guts, determination and not a little luck, this plucky side overcame a technically superior Tottenham to secure a place at Wembley next month. With final opponents Chelsea on course for the Premier League title, it could conceivably be top against bottom, and the result seems a foregone conclusion. But then everyone said that about the semi-final, and the quarter-final, too…
Many have suggested the FA Cup has lost its magic, which is perhaps why so many people have been rooting for Portsmouth during their incredible run. There’s a real Roy of the Rovers feel to their unlikely success, and perhaps it’s that as much as simply cheering for the underdog that meant I cheered their second goal today as loudly as any of City’s five earlier on.
Well, perhaps not Nedum Onuoha’s wonderful solo effort. A model pro and an absolute gentleman, Ned is City through and through – an honest, hard-working player who never moans when left out of the side, and who you can’t ever imagine quibbling over contract negotiations. When he slotted home with all the composure of a 20-a-season striker, I was utterly elated.
As long as there are players like Onuoha and incredible stories like Portsmouth’s cup run, football will retain its irresistible allure for me. On days like today, it fully deserves its tag as “the beautiful game”.