The FA Cup Final is (finally) here! And to lead us into it, here is Alistair Laban taking a look at the possible permutations of an FA Cup win or defeat...
We've all been thinking about it for weeks. Which shirt am I going to wear? Are the tickets still in the drawer?! Best not have too many beers before – I want to remember it properly. I'll enjoy the day occasion regardless of the result. I don't care how soul-sapping the game is, as long as we win. Are the tickets still in the drawer?! We have had the benefit of a full dress rehearsal against Watford (I think the semi-final is great at Wembley) and it all went swimmingly, but we all know the final is a much different proposition, against much different opposition.
But I'm not going to talk about who the key players are, how we got here, or that we'll start singing 'You're getting sacked in the morning!' when we win our first corner. None of us know what will happen this afternoon, but I've been thinking about what could happen afterwards, and it just adds even more excitement and tension to what can be the greatest day we've had in a generation.
I know you could argue that day was at Stockport in 2001, Hillsborough and then Lloyds in 2010 or Wembley in 2013, but everything that we went through on those days was to get to days like today – for the chance of proper glory. Now we have got to this point, here are the possible permutations by the end of today;
We've won the FA Cup.
Of course it’s obvious, but we, Crystal Palace, would have our name on the world's most famous domestic trophy for ever more. It might not seem much to United, Liverpool or Arsenal but when you look at Leicester fans celebrating last week, who wouldn't want a bit of that? All the terrible football, bizarre takeover rumours, embarrassing results, and slightly distant roars of the away fans celebrating a goal at Selhurst can be overwritten in a release of unadulterated emotion at the final whistle, because we have won the bloody FA Cup, in front of our very eyes.
We would finally have a genuine honour, not the Surrey Senior Cup, Football League Regional South League, or even (God protect me) the ZDS Cup. We've waited forever and no Palace fan has seen it happen, but that could all change this afternoon. Only the fans can really relate to the stigma of having no major honours – something we were all made quite aware of in the playground by all those Chelsea and Arsenal ‘supporters’ who I'm sure have all grown up to become season ticket holders. Winning the trophy would take us to the next level, raising our expectations and international profile, not least because...
We've qualifed for Europe.
Not quite the Champions League with Barca, PSG and Bayern, but straight in at the Europa League group stage. For a bit of context, Schalke, Zenit and Inter Milan are already in the group stages for next season, and that doesn't account for a load of teams you've never heard of – just imagine the away days! Pre-match drinks in Poland anyone? European nights under the lights at Selhurst has a nice ring to it.
In all reality, we don't have much European football experience in the current squad, but with strengthening over the summer and some old international heads (Jedinak, McArthur, Cabaye), and the fact that Samsunspor cannot qualify (confirmed), I think we'd do alright. The long term prize for European football could be huge for Palace. The prize money for winning the FA Cup is 'just' about £1.5m which would be shadowed by the European television money from BT Sport, and by attracting overseas interest our American investors would not only start to see a return on their cash next year, but the potential of the club and brand value could rise dramatically. With the growing HF mirroring the ‘ultra’ style of European fans, we could quite easily become a lot of European supporters Premier League team. Although it would be a distant fantasy to consider winning the Europa League, we would have an instant shot at doubling the size of our new trophy cabinet order because…
We’re playing in the FA Community Shield
...at Wembley (yawn) against Premier League Champions Leicester City on the first weekend of August. It may be a far cry from a major final, but it would be pretty nice to watch the official/unofficial (no idea) opener to the new season. It would also be a game testament to a new era of football. If you could get odds of 5000/1 for Leicester winning the league, what would you have had for this fixture in the Community Shield? Phenomenal amounts of television money appears to be levelling the playing field of top flight football and a fixture between us two teams would demonstrate the case in point.
It would also be another opportunity for some great exposure, not just with another incredible red and blue display in the stands, but also the opportunity to turn a few heads at a critical part of the transfer window. Before I start daydreaming of Fernando Torres in a Palace shirt, there is, irritatingly, one alternative to ultimate glory later today…
In all honesty I haven’t really though about this scenario as much because it’s far less pleasurable – we are within touching distance of club history and I don’t like to consider the alternative. But, in the spirit of writing a balanced article, it is theoretically, technically and academically possible that we don’t win. There will be children crying, adults crying and maybe even Palace players crying (Pardew won’t be crying). The difference between how we could feel either way in just a few hours is far beyond my mental thesaurus.
After handling the initial fallout the best way we know how (pub), we would look back on a sour half of the season that finished with a super sour finish. Our season wouldn’t have been saved and overall, 15th wasn’t a great finish. Without writing a season review, we know we need to strengthen and see if we can consolidate our position in the top flight. This is the problem though – outside of a few clubs (I’m talking about four or five) there isn’t really such a thing as a consolidated top flight club. Clubs will have great seasons and awful seasons, as we saw this year, but generally all the teams will close up. Just because we have been in the Premier League for three, four even six or seven seasons, relegation will still be a real possibility. Time will tell if Leicester’s unfathomable feat can be repeated, but in the meantime, opportunities like today are going to become increasingly fought for.
I expect that teams at our level might feature more regularly in cup finals and European places in the league, but there are a lot of teams at our level, with many more being just one good season away – getting this close to a major honour again could take decades. Steve Parish said this week that we are behind some of our London rivals, and that’s how it’s always been for us, ever since the playground. This is an almost unimaginable opportunity to make a huge stride into the future and put some demons to rest.
The most exciting and petrifying thing about today is – we have a genuine chance. We can win today. Crystal Palace can win the FA Cup today.