There’s an old saying that the more you watch the clock the slower time passes. I seem to have been waiting an age for Saturday’s FA Cup Final; six weeks will have elapsed between my last trip to Wembley and my next, but it feels much longer than that. When I was a kid, the six week summer holiday seemed like an eternity. This, by comparison, seems much longer. And the slow passing of the minutes, hours and days is all the more painful with the knowledge I have one more game to take in. Only one more, the ultimate game. One final hurdle left before I can complete this gallop through the fourteen ties that has whittled 731 teams down to just two and, at its climax, to one eventual winner.
Should I worry that I might not complete this journey? I have surpassed all my own expectations. I envisaged getting as far as maybe the fourth or fifth round before coming up against any number of insurmountable obstacles. I have already had one trip to Wembley. I now have a ticket for the final on May 17th, it is up there on the shelf above my desk as I write. It rarely leaves my sight. And I know that finally owning a golden ticket is a massive hurdle negotiated. I owe a friend so much.
I know I shouldn't watch time tick by, life is far too short, but there are still so many things that could go wrong in these final few days. I have had some near misses so far; my wife’s volleyball injury (Dartford v Camberley Town) and my chest infection (Wolves v Cambridge United) being the most notable. Although I have that valuable ticket in my sweaty handed possession, other factors may yet prevent me from taking those last steps up Olympic Way.
Fire, pestilence, flood? Hardly. But one cannot rule out anything. I consider myself to have been extremely lucky so far the way this season’s FA Cup has shaped up. No incredibly long journeys for me, no sight nor sound of a Premiership club until the Sixth Round Proper, no replays that clash with any “no you cannot get out of this” type of family occasion. Maybe it is time for my luck to run out?
A car breakdown? A tube strike? A blow to the head? A family crisis? A “dog eats ticket” shock? I know I must put all those things to the back of my mind. But a kind of paranoia has started to take hold and once it starts it can only get worse.
Here's how my week looks.
Tomorrow I'm at the dentist. The possibilities for disaster are endless. A slipped drill creates a new cavity where there shouldn't be one. A malfunctioning chair rockets me up through the ceiling into the tanning salon above. I could be gassed by an incompetent anaesthetist. Patient records are mixed up at reception and I end up with full jaw brace and have to take on food through a straw for the foreseeable future. I could become another NHS blunder headline "man has leg amputated in teeth cleaning fiasco". Gulp.
On Thursday I have a golf society day. A veritable minefield. A lightening strike on the first tee? A golf ball embedded in my temple or a stray tee embedded in my scrotum? I could step on a bunker rake and get smashed in the mush, cartoon style. I could shatter a kneecap as I attempt to break my clubs out of frustration. Not a safe environment.
And then on Friday I take my son swimming. Where to start? A slip on a wet changing room floor to break a few bones? A momentary lapse in concentration as I forget to come up for air? A stumble off the diving board and a fall from a great height to wipe out the "Aquarobics for Geriatrics" class. Or even a frenzied blood curdling shark attack? Perhaps not.
Good grief. The final countdown to the culmination of several months of effort should be a pleasurable period. But as the clock slowly ticks and tocks and tocks and ticks, I am working myself up into a state something close to hysteria. If I'm this bad, just think what it must be like for the fans of, and everyone involved with, Cardiff City and Portsmouth. A hundred times worse I suggest.
If you are off to Wembley next Saturday, and I make it there in one piece, please do come over and say hello. You won't be able to miss me. I'll be the lummox wrapped in cotton wool.