Six o'clock at the Cock 'n Bull, and footy's on the telly. It's a
fiver to get in, but this is Man United in an FA Cup match, and
the only empty seat is in the Gents. Lager taps bow like
Japanese businessmen; a telephone rings off its cradle,
cartoon-style. "People are always calling for the football
results," says the publican, a Liverpudlian. "Drives the staff
mad." Ninety-two professional soccer teams play in England's
Football Association on any given Saturday between August and
May, and their fans require up-to-the-minute match accounts. For
no other league in the world fills pubs and pint glasses at six
o'clock. In the morning. In Santa Monica, Calif.
The team names that carom in off the satellite each week are
magically evocative, like stickers on a steamer trunk:
Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur, Sheffield Wednesday and
Crystal Palace, Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United. At the
Cock 'n Bull an English expat named Pat says he supports Aston
"That's like being a Cleveland Indian fan," says his mate,
36-year-old Lawrence Emanuel, an ex-Londoner who supports
Arsenal. "You know what Villa have in common with a dodgy
brassiere, don't you? Neither one of 'em's got any cups."
Cups, of course, are trophies, and now you know why Villa fans
are always getting slagged. When star David Platt left the
Birmingham-based club for riches with Bari in the Italian
league, the captain of England's national team was asked if he
missed the Villa. "No," Platt replied. "I live in one."
As for London's Arsenal (the Arse to its legion of dislikers),
the Gunners have stayed in the highest of England's four
divisions for 77 consecutive years. That's longer than any other
side has avoided "relegation," the annual doomsday rite by which
teams that finish at the bottom of the standings are cast into
the fires of a lower division. Emanuel drives a car festooned
with Arsenalia, eliciting thumbs-ups from countless L.A.
motorists. Alas, "most of 'em think I work at the Arsenal," he
says, sighing. "It's a bar on Pico."
Whereas the Arsenal Football Club is on the Avenell Road in
North London, near The Gunners pub, the Arsenal Tavern, the
Gunners Fish Bar, the Arsenal Cafe, the Arsenal Wine Store and
the Arsenal Motor Garage. Simply take the Piccadilly line to the
Arsenal tube station, where -- as a jug-eared Arsenal-shirted
teenager recently told me -- "People are always nickin' the
Indeed, the far-flung flocks that follow England's most famous
football clubs -- Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and its
neighborhood rival, Tottenham -- make the collective fandom of
the Chicago Bulls look quaint by comparison. "I am writing to
you from Bulgaria," begins a letter in the March issue of the
Arsenal fan-club magazine, Gunflash, a publication with roughly
the reach of the Gideon Bible. "My name is Momchil Chavdarov. I
am 17 years old and a keen Arsenal fan...."
On Saturdays from August to May soccer pilgrims pour forth from
the Arsenal tube stop. Down a narrow street lined with Victorian
houses, sits a stadium known simply as Highbury. Above the
entrance to the North Bank stand is a regal sign in red and
white. WELCOME TO HIGHBURY, it says. THE HOME OF FOOTBALL.
The words are a model of British understatement, everyone
England is the birthplace of soccer. The very word comes from
the second syllable in Association Football, which is the proper
name of the game governed by the Football Association, whose FA
Cup final was played May 20 for the 114th time. It is the
oldest, most prestigious domestic cup competition in soccer: a
season-long knockout tournament, played in addition to the
regular 10-month league schedule, that prunes more than 450
English teams -- from amateur sides to international powers --
to just two. That pair plays before royalty and a barmy army of
80,000 others between the twin towers of Wembley, the most
sacred sight in soccer, in northwest London.
"Every kid you see on the street here with a football wants to
play in an FA Cup final at Wembley," says Kasey Keller, the
American goalkeeper for the south London club Millwall. "That is
the pinnacle. The FA Cup final is the World Series, the Super
Bowl and the NBA Finals combined. That's it. There is nothing
Ten-year-olds playing two-a-sides in West London-their "goal" a
closed gate at the Queens Park Rangers' ground -- all claim to
be Ranger striker Les Ferdinand, with a spot in the final on the
line. "Goal!" shrieks a lad in the blue-and-white hoop stripes
of QPR. "Ferdinand! Two-nil! Rangers are in the Cup final
against ... against ... Man United!"
"No," says the goalkeeper. "They're bad luck. Villa."
"Against Aston Villa!"
In real life, mighty Manchester United eliminated QPR on its way
to this year's Cup final. When the Reds kicked off against
Everton three weeks ago, they were watched in 70 countries, by
500 million people, many of whom had been backing Man United
since the '58 Cup final. That year United reached Wembley only
three months after the team's plane crashed on takeoff in
Munich, killing eight players and 15 other passengers. United
lost the Cup to Bolton but won the world's everlasting
"I've had conversations about Man United in the Bolivian Andes,"
says novelist and soccer writer Pete Davies, whose acclaimed
account of the English team in the '90 World Cup, All Played
Out, has been published in ... Japanese. "There is a team in
Namibia called Liverpool. There is a team in Lesotho called
Arsenal. When Man United won their first league title in 26
years [in 1993], BBC Radio reported the celebration live from a
supporters' club in Bondi Beach, Australia."
In soccer England still has an empire free of sunsets. John
Harkes, a U.S. midfielder and five-year English League veteran
who played for Sheffield Wednesday in the '93 FA Cup final,
reads the postmarks on four months of fan mail backlogged in
his Derbyshire home. "Germany, Hungary, Thailand, Hong Kong ..."
he begins. "I try to respond immediately, but...."
But it's impossible to keep up, even for one used to the
VCR-on-scan pace of soccer as played in the British Isles.
"All-out attacking ... up-tempo ... fast-break" is how Man
United fan Hakeem Olajuwon has described the English League
game. But this only begins to account for its planetary appeal,
only begins to explain why....
Why, when Fidel Castro was touring French vineyards in March, he
asked to attend Arsenal's match at nearby Auxerre in the
quarterfinals of the European Cup-Winners Cup, a tournament
among domestic cup champions from the previous season. (El
comandante let slip that he has long been a Gooner, as Gunner
fans are globally known.)
Why, when Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to
Russia under tight security in 1994, after 20 years in political
and football exile, his Alaska Air ticket bore the pseudonym MR.
Why, in a tiny soccer-goods store in Richfield, Minn., you can
buy a Liverpool scarf and an Aston Villa replica jersey and a
poster of Mr. Ryan Giggs, the 21-year-old dreamboat prodigy of
the Manchester United Football Club. "It's like a fashion
statement for some kids," James Hirsch, the proprietor of Mr. H.
Soccer World, says with a shrug.
Soccer World. It will one day be the name of our planet, and
London will likely be the capital. Consider that football
hooligans throughout Europe carry Union Jacks; that this
season's alleged English match-fixing scandal was masterminded
in Malaysia; and that sun-spangled Italian league spectators
wear Barbour coats, the foul-weather jackets seen on British
supporters wherever there is television.
One of every five viewers at the Cock 'n Bull is American. The
Man United U.S. Supporters Club has a branch in nearby Redondo
Beach. And the owner of a Geo Prizm, license plates SOCR XTC,
that is parked in a lot in Crystal City, Va., surely agrees with
what the SOCR-mad English pop group once sang:
And all the world is football-shaped
It's just for me to kick in space.
"Football and rock-and-roll are the two primary expressions of
the English working class," suggests Myles (Mad Dog) Palmer, a
rock biographer and columnist for the English soccer monthly
Four Four Two, named after the quintessential but antiquated
English lineup of four backs, four midfielders and two forwards.
And though Elton John is president-for-life of First Division
team Watford, and Mick Jagger might buy Third Division squad
Gillingham, and ex-Sex Pistol John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon once
hated everyone but now loves Arsenal of the Premier League, the
most brilliant British footballers are sold short if equated
with mere rock stars. They are far more flamboyant than that.
Take Paul Gascoigne, who single-footedly led England to the
semifinals of the '90 World Cup in Italy and who since 1992 has
played for Lazio in Rome. "Gazza" was a lager-guzzling goofball
who liked to pub-crawl with his mate "Five-Bellies" Gardner.
Gazza was once asked by Norwegian TV, before an England-Norway
match, if he had "a message for Norway."
He did: "F-- off, Norway."
We are reminded of Gazza before this evening's match at Wembley.
It is the first English national-team game since a knot of
right-wing English thugs tore up the stands and fought with
spectators during a February "friendly" against Ireland in
Dublin. The riot forced a mid-match cancellation. In Santa
Monica, the mostly English and Irish crowd watching at the
collegial Cock 'n Bull shuffled silently into the Southern
"We are so sick of this bull----," said bar owner Tony Moogan, the
Liverpudlian. "Everyone just hates it. It's less than one
percent of the crowd, and if it wasn't football, they'd be doing
it someplace else." And yet Arsenal fan Emanuel knew the next
time he so much as wore his England team shirt, Americans were
liable to ask him, as they had outside RFK Stadium in 1993, "How
many fans you gonna kill today?" Which he doesn't hear often in
his day job as a telemarketer.
Outside Wembley on this night a fat man mugs for the TV cameras,
his glue-white belly bouncing out of his T-shirt. Curled around
the blowhole of his navel are the words WEMBLEY OR BUST.
Bust, as it turns out. The friendly against Uruguay is a bore, a
nil-nil shot of NyQuil, and afterward Uruguay manager Hector
Nunez, a dour man in a camel-colored blazer, states that England
played with "a lack of imagination, a lack of creativity, a lack
"I didn't see too much fantasy in their side tonight," responds
England manager Terry Venables. "Let's be honest: It wasn't
exactly Disneyland over there."
But then Uruguay didn't invent the sport. In England the
national team has become a symbol of the national malaise. In
the country's collective psyche, the team's failure to qualify
for last summer's World Cup is equal in ignominy to adulterous
Windsors and a prattish prime minister.
Every Sunday, Italian soccer is shown on, aptly enough,
England's intellectual Channel 4. Football Italia gives the
Brits a raging inferiority complex. "We are not as advanced in
the technical aspects as they are in Italy," notes the eminent
British soccer writer Hugh McIlvanney. "All the clattering
physicality in the English game can be quite alarming."
Which is precisely why it is so engaging. "It's 90 minutes at a
thousand miles an hour," says Davies. "It's 22 men kicking seven
bells out of the ball and each other. And all that
biff-bang-wallop can be a hell of an entertaining thing to watch."
Italy plays a higher game, with its build-from-the-back
sophistication and cunning catenaccio defense. But that very
word means "bolt," as in a dead-bolt lock on the door to the
goal, and soccer without goals is literally watching grass grow.
Whereas English football is smash-mouth, goal-mouth excitement,
a constant assault on the keeper. "England had the Industrial
Revolution," says Davies. "Italy had the Renaissance. You see it
in the football."
It's English soccer that Ivan Lendl called "the only soccer you
Which raises an interesting question: Ivan Lendl? Why does
English football touch so many lives, even beyond the touchlines
A mahogany chapel chair sits imperially under glass at the
Arsenal Museum, which is appropriate, as this is a place of
worship. Scandinavian supplicants "pass through in hushed
tones," according to curator Iain Cook. The chapel chair was
presented to the club by Herbert Chapman, who managed the
Gunners to greatness between the wars. Chapman's bowler hat now
sits where Chapman used to, and an engraved brass plate is
affixed to the backrest. It is dated Easter 1931 and reads
simply, WITH THANKSGIVING TO GOD, FOR HAPPY YOUTHFUL DAYS.
The words resonate on this flawless spring evening at Highbury,
the moon rising like a goal kick in a cobalt sky. The Gunners
are hosting the Italian side Sampdoria in the semifinal of the
Cup-Winners Cup, of which Arsenal is the defending champion.
Fans of La Samp occupy one third of the Clock End stand, which
was bombed during the Blitz but is beautiful tonight.
Behind the opposite goal is Wally Honour, a "lifelong fan whose
ashes were buried at the North Bank End," according to his death
notice, which is also buried -- in the match program. He joined
dozens of other Gooners-turned-goners who now while away
eternity at Highbury.
These are the true die-hard fans. In the other Cup-Winners Cup
semifinal tonight, some 200 followers of the London club Chelsea
are "clashing" with Spanish police during the match against Real
Zaragoza, but at Highbury the atmosphere is festive: The police
on horseback outside the stadium simply add a stately presence,
and Sampdoria takes the pitch with a preemptive peace gesture.
Its players carry an enormous, rippling Union Jack.
When Arsenal striker Ian Wright does a brief pas de deux with
the ball, a housewifely woman of about 60 purrs, "Lovely,
Wrighty," in the West Stand. When Gunner volleys go awry, she
whispers, "Oh, pity." When defender Steve Bould, who has scored
seven goals in seven years at Arsenal, scores two in rapid
succession, she explodes to her feet with the rest of the crowd
and sings, "Are you watching, Tot-ten-ham?" The lyric looks
ridiculous on paper but sounds otherworldly when ringing through
the N4 postal code, across the night sky and into the Tottenham
Hotspur ground four miles away.
By the second half, when the Arse's two-nil lead has dwindled to
a precarious 3-2, my matronly seatmate is spitting, "S----,
Wright!" And, alas, "Sod off, ref, you ----head!" (Block U, Row
L: You know who you are.)
The Gunners escape with the first-leg win, but a fortnight later
they are losing 3-1 in the return leg in Genoa. In the 89th
minute, Arsenal midfielder Stefan Schwarz clubs a free kick into
the back of the net, making the aggregate score 5-5 and forcing
a penalty-kick shoot-out. Arsenal wins yet again, and its great
escape is the most prominent sports story in ... Tokyo's
Mainichi Daily News. So tout le monde is watching the final in
Paris on May 10, when, in the final minute of extra time, a Real
Zaragoza player named Nayim scores the Cup-Winners Cup winner:
an epic, desperation 40-yard cruise missile of a shot that gives
the Spanish team a 2-1 victory and robs Arsenal of a much needed
salvation to its season.
It was a season in which beloved manager George Graham was fired
in March for allegedly taking "bungs" -- under-the-table cuts of
transfer fees for players he sold. Star forward Paul Merson
missed most of the season after announcing an astounding
simultaneous addiction to cocaine, alcohol and gambling.
Arsenal would have owned the back page of the tabloids this
season if it hadn't been for Chelsea star Dennis Wise, who was
sentenced to three months in jail for assaulting an elderly
cabdriver; or for three other high-profile players who were
arrested and released in that alleged match-fixing scandal; or
for the handful of young players who tested positive for
marijuana and were suspended; or for Wimbledon's Neanderthal
midfielder Vinnie Jones, who bit the nose of an offending
reporter in Dublin the night of the England-Ireland match.
(VINNIE JONES BIT MY NOSE, screamed the Mirror shortly after its
correspondent screamed the same.)
As the Guardian of London summed things up: "From bungs to
bongs, goals to gaols, it's been one hell of a season."
And there was more to come. In a First Division match in April,
Swindon player-manager Steve McMahon was red-carded, which
prompted the Swindon P.A. announcer to intone authoritatively,
"I've seen some crap refereeing decisions, but...." He was then
drowned out by the lusty cheers of the crowd. (And, within
minutes, fired and escorted from the grounds by police.)
Relaxing in his suburban London semidetached the next morning,
Kasey Keller could only laugh. In his First Division match the
previous night, Millwall had lost 3-1 to Port Vale. Earlier this
season, however, Millwall eliminated Premier Leaguers Arsenal
and Chelsea in the FA Cup. The latter victory was sealed with a
penalty-kick save by Keller -- he caught the ball, no less --
while the former win came at historic Highbury. In the Millwall
family section that night, mothers sat and wept for joy.
The depth of feeling for football here fascinates and frightens
Keller, for whom at least a dozen south Londoners have named
their children Kasey. ("Boys and girls," notes his wife,
Kristin.) And yet Millwall fans are reputedly the worst behaved
in England, whose fans are reputedly the worst behaved in the
world. The signature song of Millwall backers goes, "No one
likes us, we don't care," and there is evidence to support both
halves of that claim.
"I remember my first pitch invasion," says Keller, 25, who was
raised on a chicken farm outside Olympia, Wash., and played
soccer at the University of Portland. "It was in an FA Cup match
my first season. It's just after halftime, and in the corner of
my eye I see people fighting on the pitch, and the police, and
I'm kind of looking around going, 'Uh, we're still playing
here.' I see a fight just to my left, on the sideline, and this
guy suddenly comes running right across my 18 [yard line], looks
at me, says, 'Oh, hi, Kasey,' then keeps running and punches a
cop in the back of the head. And I'm thinking, What is going on
Keller's first season was Millwall's last in its sinister south
London ground, the infamous Den on Cold Blow Lane. "Cold Blow
Lane on a dark, wet night might be a perfect setting for a Jack
the Ripper horror film," wrote Simon Inglis in The Football
Grounds of Great Britain. "There are mysterious yards full of
scrap, malodorous goings-on behind high fences, tower blocks
looming in the distance...."
"My favorite story from the Old Den," says Keller, "is about an
ex-Millwall player who came back with another team and scored.
That doesn't go over well to begin with, but then he runs the
length of the pitch and really gives it to the fans. Pretty soon
he goes to take a corner kick and feels a tap on his shoulder.
He turns around, and this fan just drops him, crawls back over
the fence and disappears in the crowd. That was the Old Den."
Keller is seated in his own den, beneath a framed photograph of
the beautiful New Den, where the Lions now play in front of
luxury skyboxes. Celebratory, souvenir-seeking fans stripped
Keller down to his compression shorts in the middle of the final
game at the Old Den. Another Lion was stripped completely naked.
The team simply redressed in practice gear and resumed the match.
Keller is eloquent and incisive, and he knows that his comic war
stories spun another way are tales of hoolie violence -- "the
English disease," as hooliganism was termed at its nadir in the
1980s. So which is the case?
"Don't get me wrong," he says. "If you want to fight, someone
will be happy to fight you, don't worry about that. But that's
true anywhere. The fights here are almost always between rival
fans who want to fight each other. Millwall has such a bad
reputation that if there's a very minor scuffle in the stands,
the papers will say, 'Fan disgrace!' And, 'Oh, by the way, it
was a tremendous game, Millwall winning with a goal in the last
"People in America only see the bad stuff and think it's not
safe to attend a game in England," he concludes. "It's the same
thing here: All you hear about is how everyone in America
carries a gun and is shooting at each other all the time. That's
not accurate either, but that's what people think."
Keller's neighbors are Crystal Palace supporters, and the
season's one familiar image for Americans was broadcast from the
Palace ground, Selhurst Park, just three miles from Keller's
house. At Selhurst in January, Man United striker Eric Cantona,
England's reigning Professional Footballer of the Year, went
into the stands to kung fu kick a Palace fan in the chest. The
French player was sentenced to two weeks in jail and banned,
until Sept. 30, from playing professionally anywhere on earth.
He presumably can play on Venus, but surely even the Venusians
know all about Cantona by now.
It was the most familiar sight in English soccer: A player was
shown the card. This card, however, was neither a yellow warning
card nor a red expulsion card but rather a good-luck greeting
card passed to Cantona in a Croydon courtroom by a 13-year-old
Cockney Red, as Man United's London-area supporters are called.
The boy wore a replica jersey, its number 7 underscoring three
stitched letters: GOD.
Like God, Cantona is a brooding, temperamental genius. He plays
with his collar up, his face five-o'clock-shadowed, his single
eyebrow furrowed in a frown. In France he punched his own
goalkeeper, called the nation's highest football officials "a
bunch of idiots" and his own manager "a bag of s----." Which
explains why he now plays in England, where his teams have won
the league championship in each of his three full seasons.
But he is also an expressionist painter who reads Rimbaud. In
fact, a slim volume of Cantona's own philosophy has been
published. This season he lived modestly in a rented house worth
$120,000. And the recipient of his kung fu kick was a yob, once
convicted of attempted armed robbery, whose verbal abuse of
Cantona was by most accounts xenophobic. How, then, to define
Cantona, when he is athlete, aesthete and ascetic all at once?
In an appeals court Cantona's jail sentence was overturned. In
its place the judge imposed a sanction worthy of Sartre: Cantona
must spend 120 hours teaching his unteachable, otherworldly
soccer skills to Manchester youths. Following the verdict, God
called a press conference. He would make an opening statement.
"When the seagulls," Cantona began, pausing to sip dramatically
from a water glass, "follow the trawler, it is because they
think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you." And with
that, Cantona -- the sacrificial sardine of this delphic parable
-- shook the hand of his stunned solicitor and disappeared
through a back door, stiffing the scavenging seagulls of the
They swooped instead on Sebastian Pennells, the 13-year-old who
gave Cantona the greeting card. Pennells is, it turns out, from
suburban Sevenoaks, the son of a single mother. Inside the card
that Cantona carried away was a handwritten poem from Master
Pennells. It read:
Eric is an idol
Eric is a star
If my mother had her way
He would also be my Pa.
Outside the famous Old Trafford stadium stand two hangarlike
emporiums. The Man United Superstore and the Man United
Megastore sell Cantona duvets and Ryan Giggs bath towels to
tourists from every nation, which is one reason the club netted
$17 million in 1994. In January, United spent $11 million for
the mere rights to 23-year-old Newcastle striker Andy Cole,
a.k.a. Cole the Goal, a.k.a. Goal King Cole, but the defending
champions finished second in the Premier League to Blackburn
Rovers, a team assembled for $42 million in transfer fees.
But just behind Blankcheque Rovers and Merchandise United, as
they are known to cynics, was Newcastle, whose manager is the
ex-Liverpool superstar and two-time European Footballer of the
Year, Kevin Keegan. Sandwiched between the Newcastle Brewery and
a pub is the Magpies' ground, St. James' Park. Stop a steward
for directions to your seat, and within minutes you know his
name (Mike Bell) and full-time occupation (schoolteacher), have
met his wife and daughter (lovely) and been invited to stay at
the house whenever you're in Europe. There are 35,000 other
hooligans here just like Bell, including the future prime
minister of England, Labour leader Tony Blair, who cheers the
Mags from his midfield seat.
"The football team means everything to a town like this," Keegan
says of Newcastle, a city of 280,000 about 40 miles south of the
Scottish border. "We treat the fans as family: They can come in
for coffee, have a chat with players -- we listen to their
concerns." On the stunning afternoon that Man United CARRIED
COLE FROM NEWCASTLE, as the headlines inevitably had it,
distraught supporters descended on St. James' Park, and Keegan
waded out among them, earnestly defending the January
transaction. Can you see Buddy Ryan doing this?
No more than you can see CNN screening dramatic footage of fans
not rioting. Man United just happened to face Crystal Palace in
the FA Cup semifinal on April 9. Two hours before the
neutral-site match in Birmingham, outside a pub eight miles from
the ground, drinking fans of both teams brawled. A 35-year-old
Palace supporter was killed when he fell under a wheel of a bus
departing the parking lot. The news ensured that the other semi
would go largely ignored. For the record Everton upset Tottenham
4-1 in Leeds, and afterward the jubilant fans of the
Wembley-bound victors brutally ... sang Doris Day tunes.
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
We're going to Wem-ber-leeey
Que sera, sera.
The train is filled with Liverpool and Bolton supporters. With
every platform it approaches, a new song fades in as if a radio
were being tuned. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, a
dozen cars sing on the way to the Coca-Cola Cup Final. Formerly
known as the League Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup is -- with the league
championship and the FA Cup -- the third major title in English
soccer. To paraphrase yet another football song, We're all going
to Wembley, our knees have gone all trembly.
When the teams take the field shortly before five in the
afternoon, the stands are a pointillist painting, 75,595 dots of
red and blue. The place positively pulsates with flags, scarves,
song. In the first half Liverpool's Steve McManaman, a
pink-skinned celery stalk of a forward, dribbles mazily from
midfield into the penalty area, tapping the ball beyond one
defender and running around him to retrieve it, before finally
right-footing it past the Bolton keeper. In the second half he
leaves three Bolton defenders standing like slalom gates before
scoring on the naked goalie. (Metaphorically naked, that is; in
England, as Kasey Keller illustrates, such distinctions are
A Bolton goal as gorgeous as the gathering Wembley dusk makes
the score 2-1, which becomes a final only after 20 more
knuckle-draining minutes. When the whistle is blown, 23-year-old
Bolton star Jason McAteer drops disconsolate to the pitch, where
he lies for several minutes before McManaman walks over to pick
his opponent off the turf. Who says you can't use your hands in
"Bol-ton! Bol-ton!" chant the Liverpool supporters, while the
Cup-holding Liverpool squad is cheered around the pitch by
throngs in Bolton blue. Wembley has been turned upside down like
a crystal Christmas paperweight: Confetti falls, fireworks rise,
flags flutter. For a full half hour after the final whistle, the
stadium remains full -- a chanting, singing Tower of Babel.
Players on both sides try to savor the scene, to make the moment
indelible, like words engraved on a brass plate: WITH
THANKSGIVING TO GOD, FOR HAPPY YOUTHFUL DAYS.
"Great day for the town, great day for the team," says losing
manager Bruce Rioch. "We've a super bunch of lads, and hopefully
some of them will come back one day -- at club level, at
international level -- and play again on this stage. In the
Mecca of football."
Football pilgrims meanwhile exit down Wembley Way, heading
toward the tube station, their thousands of voices receding in
song: Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll
neh-ver walk a-lone.... It wasn't Coke that taught the world to
sing. It was the Coca-Cola Cup.
"Football is just massive, isn't it?" Keegan had asked in
Newcastle. "The biggest sport in the world." It is, of course,
but so much more. Arsenal played an exhibition in May at the
Workers' Stadium in Beijing. Three days later, one out of every
11 people on earth watched Everton shock Man U 1-0 in the FA Cup
final. Think about that. The real spectacle that Saturday was
not Everton. Nor was it Man United.
It was man, united.