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Pub Football: FA Cup Day

For armchair football fans in the UK, no other day quite hits the spot like that of the FA Cup final.

There’s hours of TV build-up, anticipation of a great game and, even if the match doesn’t turn out so epic, you can relax in the blissful knowledge that -rather some clumsy DIY task- sitting in front of the TV with a beer is what you’re supposed to be doing on this hallowed day of football.

To say that everyone was buzzing with that same warm Saturday afternoon feeling in the early hours of Sunday morning at Queenstown’s Skycity Casino would probably be stretching the point. But there must have been at least 30 British nationals gathered around the flat screen showing the game.

“You’ve got to watch the FA Cup Final and I think this is the only place in town where they’re showing it,” said Rob Debenham, a holiday maker from Essex who’d been waiting in the casino since 9pm.

His shirt identified him as a fan of West Ham but for this final between Portsmouth and Cardiff City he -like the majority of those watching the game in Skycity- was siding with the Welsh underdogs.

“Come-on boys, we’ve been waiting 81 years for this,” shouted lifelong Cardiff fan Phil Maurer amid the banter.

“Well, I personally have been waiting 45 years,” he corrected after being complimented on his youthful looks.

But indeed it was 1927 when his team first won the English Cup and thus forced the Football Association to change the name of the competition.

Currently based in Australasia for work, Mr Maurer said his wife and daughter were watching the game in person at Wembley and was “gutted” not to be there himself.

A spectator with an even closer connection to the action on screen was Dorset native and current Queenstown resident Nick Davenport.

“I used to play on a team with Roger Johnson,” he said, pointing out the Cardiff defender.

As it so happened, Johnson was involved in the 37th minute scramble that saw Nwankwo Kanu claim the only goal of the game and thus secure Portsmouth the cup. Not that Mr Davenport minded.

“I also used to live on the same road as [Portsmouth manager] Harry Redknapp so my loyalties are divided,” he explained.

One of the customs of watching the FA Cup is sticking around to watch the pomp, circumstance and idiotic celebration rituals that follow. There was no chance to do that at 4AM in Queenstown, though.

Casino staff had kindly waited for the final whistle before closing-up. Trying to persuade them to stick around for another hour while over excited players bobbed up and down with bits of silverware on their heads would have been another matter altogether.

Queenstown (NZ), May 2008

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