FASemi: Airport lounges, four pound pints & damp squibs

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It’s the morning of the first semi final the weekend has to offer, Chelsea v Aston Villa, and I wake up in an excited mood for obvious reasons.

I leave the house with my novelty-sized match ticket, not quite small enough to fit in my wallet but big enough to see from space. I carefully fold it up and keep it in my wallet next to my train tickets and head to the station.

I pass a playing field with a few young kids playing, what could only be described on a day like this as, Wembley doubles. A miss kick from one lad is sent in my direction, I flick it up with my left and miss kick it with my right accidentally hitting the Chelsea shirt cladded youngster in the face.

After several apologies and thinking this could be an omen, I pop into the bookies and put a quid on Villa.

Due to it being a 5pm kick-off, I get on the train at 12:00pm and walk the length of the train to find some other Wembley-bound fans, but to my disappointment there were none to be found.

It’s not until we reach Colchester that I see my first blue shirt but by this time my excitement had turned to boredom on the two hour journey so I decide to bury my head into a newspaper and look through the Grand National runners working out who to back.

I pass the Olympic stadium as we travel through Stratford and by 2:00pm, I’m at Liverpool Street Station and the atmosphere is electric. With Palace, Watford, West Ham, Brentford, Millwall and Barnet all at home, there is a mix of colours all rushing to get to their respective teams' kick-off.

I take a leisurely stroll to the tube and follow 10 Chelsea fans onto the wrong train. We had all seemed to be following one bloke who didn’t have a clue and ended up travelling around London on the circle line. After a quick re-think, we all jump off at Baker Street and head north on the Metropolitan Line (the train we should have got on in the first place) to Wembley Park station.

I step out from the station to see a sea of claret and light blue, blended with the royal blue of Chelsea heading up Olympic Way (better known as Wembley Way) with the colours separating further ahead with the Villa fans heading to the east side of the stadium and the Chelsea fans to the west.

Well, having Club Wembley tickets thanks to FourFourTwo, I head straight through the middle and into the posh part of the stadium. Several escalators take me to the second tier of the stands and into what resembles an airport lounge. I grab my free programme and go for a walk taking in the sites.

Well I say sites; these consist of a bookies, bar and a food kiosk. Repeat this 10 or 11 times as you walk the full perimeter of the stadium and you have some idea what it is like.

I choose one of the many bars to sit down and drink my four pound pint, which I manage to make last an hour, and watch the scores come in on the numerous television screens beaming back Soccer Saturday.

I hold out on going to my seat until nearer kick-off so I can be well and truly impressed with a full stadium instead of a half-empty one and that strange echo you seem to get from these large stadiums.

I pop to the bookies and put a quid on Comply or Die in the National. I think the stadium must have been nearly empty with 10 minutes to kick off as it seemed everyone was in the bars, eyes glued on the screens as the race came to a conclusion.

The race finishes, I rip up my betting slip and head towards my seat, and what a seat it is, four rows from the front in the second tier, padded, with arm rests, I’ve been called an armchair fan before but this is taking it to the extreme.

I’m joined by three delightful fellows, two Villa fans and a Spurs fan, so any idea of cheering on Chelsea today goes out of the window.

In front of 85,472 fans, the game kicks off with Villa trying to avenge their 7-1 defeat by their opponents a couple of weeks ago.

An FA Cup final to play for, but the much-publicised pitch problems meant the game was very slow and cagey, with neither team looking to commit themselves early.

James Milner came close early on with a first time shot just going wide of Petr Cech's goal. This was followed by a penalty shout, as Gabriel Agbonlahor was tripped in the box only to be waved away by referee Howard Webb.

The Villa fans were incensed by this incident, which to me seemed a clear cut penalty, but as the big screens at each end of the stadium didn’t replay the incident, for obvious reasons, the game went on with the Villans feeling hard done by.

The first half seemed to fizzle away with Didier Drogba and Joe Cole coming closest to breaking the deadlock.

The half time whistle blows and we head to the back for half time refreshments. No queuing, we get our drinks straight away, neck them and then head back to our seats.

We are seated at the Chelsea end, the Villa fans in the distance seem quiet but in a massive stadium like this you can never quite tell.

Although we are in the neutral section of the ground, there definitely seems to be more Chelsea than Villa fans around us which becomes more evident when in the second half a miss-kick by John Terry falls to Didier Drogba who prods the ball into the back of the net, 1-0.

Twenty minutes left to play, I thought this is what the game needed, but unfortunately it seemed to show the experience (or lack of it, in Villa’s case) of both managers.

Carlo Ancelotti made a few subs, bringing on Michael Ballack and Nicolas Anelka for Deco and Drogba respectively, and Villa replied with taking off their only real goal threat, John Carew, and replacing him with…Emile Heskey.

With Aston Villa running out of ideas, Chelsea seal the win with two late strikes from Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard.

The final whistle goes and it feels like somewhat of a damp squib. A festival of football, in an impressive stadium, all that was lacking was the conclusion of the winning team walking up the steps and picking up the trophy.

It’s a shame Wembley is used for the semi-finals due to this but the experience was well worth coming for.

I say goodbye to my newfound friends and wish Portsmouth luck as I shake the Spurs fans hand.

They obviously didn’t need this luck as they beat Tottenham 2-0 after extra time the following day.

FA Cup Round 13, as Gordon Ramsey would say, DONE.

Previously, on The Long Road To Wembley:

FASemi: 2,761 mile road finally reaches Wembley 
FA6: Coasting to Wembley

FA5: A proper Cup thriller at last

FA4: A paid-up member of the Royal family

FA3: There's only one f in freezing at F-f-f-fulham

FA3 preview: The Third man marches on London
FA2: South beats North with ease
FA2 preview: A North(ampton) vs South(ampton) clash
FA1: Fire and ice at the Abbey
FA1 preview: Enter the big boys
FA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no pies
FA4Q preview: Ploughing through
FA3Q: A local affair at Lowestoft
FA3Q preview: All hail the 4x4ers
FA2Q: Coke, poodle rock & half a fence
FA2Q preview: Let's spend a night together
FA1Q: Lawro, ducks & a care home
FA1Q preview: The preliminaries are over
FAP: Dogs, daughters & dodgy tellies
FAP preview: Preliminary problems
FAEP: Dereham dreams alive and kicking
FAEP preview: The long road starts here 

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