Sunday, 7 March 2010

Pomp and circumstance combine to give FA Cup a revival Avram won't take for Granted. Now they've got Spurs or Fulham and it's Villa v Chelsea

IN case you missed it on ITV (ah, that's where they're hiding the FA Cup quarter-finals, I hear you say), Portsmouth, the world's poorest club, are through to the semi-finals of football's oldest knock-out competition.
They play the winners of the Fulham v Spurs replay (after an eminently missable quarter-final yesterday) while Aston Villa take on holders Chelsea in the other semi.
But Pompey are the focus. Incredible. The FA Cup may have passed you by this season (apart from the monumental Leeds win over Manchester United from which Leeds have never really recovered) but Pompey, in administration and rock-bottom of the Premier League, are still in there battling.
A place in the last four and a semi at Wembley won't save the club. They won the competition two years ago in a low-key final against Cardiff and still plunged into a desperate position within 18 months.
But the money they earned from yesterday's unexpected 2-0 win over a deeply unhappy Birmingham (about £1m) won't harm the club's chances of bouncing straight back up next season.
Mind you, acccording to Paul Smith in today's Sunday Mirror, Pompey will make half their staff redundant tomorrow, so serious is their financial plight.
Former Chelsea boss Avram Grant, the Israeli equally famous for his rousing massages rather than his rabble-raising messages this season, is unlikely to be there as the club battles tax bills and debts of around £70million but Pompey fans will be more concerned about whether the club can hold on to Frederic Piquionne, who got both goals yesterday.
Grant, who has struggled through the club's problems admirably, said: 'You can break many things, but you cannot break our spirit. This meant a lot to me.'
'I came into this game because of the passion and emotion. It makes me proud to see the fans so happy. I have had many happy moments but this is one of the best.'
Portsmouth go to the High Court on March 15 where the tax man will attempt to end the 112-year history of Portsmouth FC but this remarkable triumph may just help persuade people that the club is a viable concern, despite all those debts, five owners in a year and a Fratton Park ground which looks like something out of an Antiques Roadshow.
It may also help to raise the profile of a tournament which has really struggled this year. After Manchester United's failure against Leeds, Arsenal plunged out to Manchester City and last week all four fifth round replays were absent from the television as ITV preferred, understandably, to cover Chelsea's Champions League clash with Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.
If ever a club and a competition deserved a miracle, it's the FA Cup. Come on Pompey.
I must declare an interest. My dad Bob has supported the Blues since before the war. The thought of the club folding is simply unacceptable.
So too is the thought of Portsmouth going out to Spurs, assuming they beat Roy Hodgson's stubborn Fulham in a replay people won't be rushing to watch. My old boss Hodgson knows how to ruin flowing football - he was a very average full-back but has a great footballing brain - but I can't see them surviving at White Hart Lane.
So Redknapp, the former Southampton boss who twice spent an awful lot of money at Portsmouth, will go to Wembley intent on knocking a final nail or two in a very Blue season. No guessing who I'll be backing.
Villa came from 2-0 down to see off plucky Reading 4-2, Chelsea were never really threatened by Stoke with Frank Lampard and John Terry scoring the goals in a 2-0 romp. Afterwards we were treated to a topless Terry being asked anodyne questions about the captain's armband.
Of for a decent question at that point like: "What point are you trying to make with the captain's armband John - that Fabio Capello should never have taken the England captaincy away from you for your lack of morals?"
Mind you, Carlos Tevez, the man who said Terry "would lose his legs or worse" for his tinkering with Wayne Bridge's missus, has been exposed in the Sunday Mirror today for seeing some blonde while his wife Vanesa is at home in Argentina tending to their premature child.
To be honest, the whole tabloid-footballer-sex scandal thing is getting tedious - The Sun did Patrice Evra on Saturday - just wish there wasn't a market for it.
Honest prediction for the FA Cup? Chelsea beating Spurs in the last big domestic event before the World Cup. And Arsenal sneaking up on the rails to take the Premier League crown after Manchester United's lacklustre 1-0 win over Wolves yesterday.
PPS: My good friend and chef Gavin Billenness - the next Jamie Oliver - has produced a recipe for "manly" sports nuts to try (at my request, the kids are tired of meatballs). I'll be sweating over the hot oven soon:

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