A few tins of beer for me and a plate of treats for him, we settled down to watch the game. The luck was with him despite Alan Pardew’s premature victory dance. United, unlike Liverpool, put up a fight and sent their satisfied fans on the road back to Manchester with a lot to be happy about. The result was a fair one. They had played the better football throughout. When they hit the post twice only for Palace to nip in and score with less than twelve minutes remaining, images of the perennial finalists of the late '70s, the great Arsenal side that fielded Liam Brady, flashed through my mind. In 1978, on a black and white prison TV I watched three efforts from the Gunners rebound off the woodwork before Ipswich took the cup with a solitary goal.
Déjà vu it was not to be. Within minutes United were level and despite going a man down, finished with an extra time strike on a par with Jimmy Case’s effort in the 1977 final of the same competition. A goal superb enough to win the best of trophies, although for Case, it did not. The next three cup finals after the Ipswich victory, I missed. Television, even a black and white one - like books - was one of those banned substances for republican prisoners refusing to conform to British state pretences. Trial by tedium, some screws would puncture the ennui and tell us the results of any games we inquired about. Gratitude aside, it was a poor substitute. Something like you would find sitting on a Liverpool bench today but not back in the days of David Fairclough.
Strange how the relativity of expectations affect fortunes. Pardew the manager of the losing side has had his contract renewed merely for getting his team to the FA Cup final. Louis Van Gaal, the manager of the cup winners, is odds on to be sacked because victory in the domestic cup competitions is not considered enough to justify the post. Same sort of thing happened to Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish four years back: his masters of mediocrity took the Capital One Cup, were pipped by Chelsea in the final of the FA Cup, but their Premiership shambles proved his undoing. It’s a funny old game and for more reasons than one. As Bill Shankly quipped many years ago, it is not merely a matter of life and death, it is much more serious than that. Evidently, money often is.
After the game was over and we posed in front of the TV for the obligatory TPQ photo, snapped by my daughter – the in-house photographer being in Belfast – my son asked could he have a fiver. When I inquired as to the reason behind his appeal to my hard-to-pin-down generosity, he told me that because Liverpool had lost and Man U had won he felt entitled to a reward. I initially planned resorting to the standard refrain of “Away you and climb the tree in the garden and go to the very top. That is where the paper money is.” Instead, I opted to tease out why he wanted the cash. He rarely spends what little he gets anyway. He then accused me of failing to honour his bet: "We had a deal."
Which we didn't.
“But you just announced this deal a minute ago after we both knew the results. No bookie could survive with your idea of a bet, where they would take your wager only after the results were in.”
That is the sort of logic that has no purchase on a ten-year-old. Neither convinced nor consoled he walked off muttering something about misers.
He can get his fiver today ... if he walks the dog. Another battle looms.