16 May 2014

Does Arsenal deserve to win the FA Cup any more than Hull?

We've come down to it now, one last day before a match that feels like we've had to wait forever for. Whether you count it down as six days from the last match, three years since our last glimpse of a cup, or, of course, nine years since we last hoisted one, the waiting has been agonizing and angst-inducing. Will we slip up against a side lower on the table an in apparent disarray after we ourselves despatched the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and Everton to get here? Will it be a cakewalk as it was against Coventry? It could fall somewhere in the middle, similar to the semifinal against Wigan, which looked like it could slip away in regulation and again when it went to penalties. Could the unthinkable happen—could Hull rise up and snatch glory from us, cruelly denying us the relief we so urgently crave?

After all, it's not as if merely waiting for something equals deserving or earning it. By that definition, Hull might stake a deeper claim to the cup, having not won much besides promotion since 1965 (League One champions). No, the length of one's suffering doesn't prove much of anything, Does depth? Can anyone really prove that Gooners want this more than Hull's fans? That kind of emotion is immeasurable. The only standard by which we can be said to have a higher claim to the cup is when it comes to expectations. Put simply, everyone expects us to win except, perhaps, Michael Owen, Spuds, Robin van Persie, and perhaps a few embittered Gooners. We're expected to win because we're the bigger club, and that stands to reason: bigger clubs are supposed to beat smaller ones.

However, this is the cup. Miracles, as it's been said, do happen. More to the point, expectations wreak havoc. Saddled with our glorious history and our most-recent barren history, we might play timidly or tightly, making costly errors out of fear of failure, ironically dooming ourselves to that failure in the process. Hull, freed any such presure, could play freely and blissfully, shedding their more-humble history and defying expectations. We've seen it happen, haven't we? Yes. Yes, we have.

Part of the glory of the FA Cup, after all, comes from how it offers clubs just like Hull or Wigan or Sheffield United a chance to slay a giant like Arsenal. Whereas the Prem is very nearly the exclusive domain of the biggest clubs, clubs from outside the Prem do make it to the FA Cup final, occasionally, even winning it from time to time. So where does that leave us? Is it just and fitting for the minnows, er, Tigers to win? Are they the scrappy, idealistic underdogs and we the bloated, rapacious bullies? At one level, yes.

However, a large part of why I love this club is inspired by ideals as well. While realizing full-well that we are by no stretch a small club, we do carry ourselves somewhat differently from other big clubs, somewhat more nobly. Whereas Man City and Chelsea and Liverpool throw their money around enough to put drunken sailors to shame, we've refused. For years now, we've paid the price of not paying the prices as mercenary players come, only to go, blaming the club for lacking ambition. Many of them have gotten what they sought, either in lucre or silver or both, and I won't complain (much). I like to think we're cast from a different mold, something more enduring and classic. It may not glitter quite as brightly but it glows, however subtly. As I watched the making of the FA Cup (above), I was struck by the pain-staking, loving detail to every last little detail. A century after the first cup was made, they're still doing it by hand, step by step by step. No short-cuts. No cheats. No omissions. It's a vocation, a calling, a mission. These men, like so many followers of so many other clubs, do what they do not for the glory itself but for the deep-down feeling that there is a right way to go about one's affairs. Yes, it takes longer and demands more attention, effort, and passion, but when you pour your sweat, your tears, and your blood into a task, you can step back and see that one shines there is made from something more precious than any metal.

The glory comes then, not inside of any cup or trophy or silverware. It comes from inside, from believing if not knowing that you've poured yourself into something bigger than yourself. Yes, in the midst of the toiling and the striving, others will sprint past and cross finish lines more quickly and more often, but in their haste they do miss something, and because they miss it, they'll look back and laugh. However, if you've committed yourself to a task, you learn to look past them to see that there's something else to chase, and you're not trying to outrun the half-wits. When you set your sights one something big enough, something that transcends your surroundings, it takes longer to reach that. We're almost there. Should we arrive there, we won't have to look to some other club's supporters or former players. No, instead, we can look back down the halls of our own history and understand that we've lived up to a legacy and done right by those who have come before us. Certain names in the squad will go on to join a pantheon of other names that define this club, but that will happen regardless of the outcome on Saturday. I pray that we make the pantheon proud.

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