Saturday, January 3, 2015

Traditional English football was alive – thanks to the cup tournaments. Both cup finals were attended by 100 000 fans each and were entertaining. Liverpool did not reach either final. Lowly Woolverhampton Wanderers and 3rd Division Watford played at the semi-finals. Neither was easily eliminated. Southampton and Nottingham Forest apposed each other at the Football League Cup final. Peach and Holmes scored for Southampton. Woodcock and Birtles scored for Nottingham. But Birtles scored 2 goals – and Forest prevailed 3-2.
Southampton was not much – they finished 14th in the championship and were typical English formation: one great veteran – Alan Ball, one or two current or rising stars – Chris Nicholl and Phil Boyer. A 'continental' addition,which apparently settled well – Ivan Golac. The Yugoslavian was the first of the new imports to reach a final. Southampton played heartily, but were unable to win the cup.

Nottingham Forest prevailed – it was not an easy victory, but it was theirs. Second League Cup in two years. One more trophy – a club without any just two years ago was quickly building a collection. So far, Brian Clough was more successful with Nottingham than with Derby County early in the decade. His finest years, apparently.
The FA Cup final opposed traditional foes – Arsenal and Manchester United. Both teams looked inferior in the championship, but excelled in the cup, thus actually showing that English traditions were alive. Competitive final too – McQueen and McIllroy scored for ManUnited; Talbot, Stapleton,and Sunderland for Arsenal. 3-2 Arsenal and the Cup was theirs.
Dave Sexton's United was good team, yet... somewhat unfinished, somewhat transitional. Impressive names, but some were getting too old to lead the team (Buchan, Macari) or failed to become the stars they promised to be few years back (Houston, Brian and Jimmy Greenhoff, Albiston, Pearson). And yet few others were just good, but clearly did not have really big potential (Roche, Thomas). There was a skeleton for the future – McIllroy, McQueen, Jordan, Nicholl, Bailey, Moran, lead by wonderful Steve Coppell – but this skeleton needed shaping and additional players. It was a team in between, rough, uncertain. Reaching a final was more or less the best these squad could do.
Arsenal, compared to Manchester United, was a tad better: Brady, Stapleton, and O'Leary were reaching their peak and were the obvious leaders of the team. Pat Jennings was fine between the posts. Rice, Price and Nelson were the old fading guard, but the team did not depend on them so much. Sunderland, Macdonald, Talbot were strong players – not superstars, but stars on their own right. Graham Rix was rapidly becoming one too. It was already made team, lead by players in their primes. It was not a team depending on aging veterans and searching for young talent to replace famous, but shaky by now feet. Well deserved victory.
Happy – and tired – winners. 5th FA Cup for the Gunners. They waited 8 years for that one. Had to wait 14 years for the next...