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May 14, 2006

Watching the Liverpool - West Ham F.A. Cup Final in Hania

Well, I've seen some F.A. Cup Finals in bizarre places, and even some of them wearing bizarre clothes - but I think yesterday's experience watching Liverpool versus West Ham must have been the strangest of the lot. The fact that my dad and brother-in-law are both West Ham mad and I wasn't with them only served to heighten how weird it was not to be watching the match at home.

(Mind you, next week is going to be even stranger when I think I don't even get to watch Leeds United's play-off final appearance, instead having to make do with internet commentary)

I finished work just before 5, and scouted around the harbour for a likely looking place to watch the match. Cafe Remezzo was showing German football, Galileo didn't have the TVs on, and although I'm sure Cafe Notos would have put the game on for me, they don't usually have the sound up - plus I was going to have to spend the rest of the evening working in there anyway, so I went in search of somewhere else.

The game kicked off just as I passed a cocktail bar at the side of the harbour called Galini. We hadn't been in it before, but they had a big screen, and the volume was up, so I thought I'd give it a go. (I should add at this point that I can't really follow much of the Greek commentary yet, but being able to at least hear the referee's whistle stops a lot of confusion over whether free-kicks have been given or goals disallowed!).

Facup It was only after I'd settled down and I'd ordered a beer that I realised how odd the place was. There were only a handful of people there. Myself, one other guy, and the two waitresses were the only people without white hair. Next to me was an old couple from the North-East of England who followed football just enough to have to debate whether it actually was Sven-Goran Eriksson when he was on camera. On the other side was a Greek couple, and he had his arm in a comedy sling. It was also deathly quiet. So...not quite the raucous London pub atmosphere I was used to.

In fact, for many years F.A. Cup Final was a day with big traditions for me and a group of my friends. My online identity as 'currybet' all over the place comes from the football sweepstake we used to run which always climaxed with a big pub crawl around Walthamstow on F.A. Cup Final day, with the loser, usually me or my friend Andy, in fancy dress, with a massive curry at the end of the night.

Claire met me in Galini and did her best to inject a bit of laddishness into proceedings, calling a bunch of slightly over-weight Greek lads who entered the bar "lardly", and things like that - but despite her best efforts it wasn't quite the same.

I behaved myself for the first goal, but when West Ham went two-nil up I couldn't help shouting out, shattering the ethereal calm of the bar, and causing the Greek guy with the sling to just about fall off his chair laughing.

We also got some other entertainment during the match that you don't get in London. A pigeon got into the place, and calmly hopped up onto the bar and started helping himself to the complimentary bowls of nuts that came with your drinks - making us have second thoughts about how much we had enjoyed the ones we had eaten so far!

The other guys watching the match had paid up and were ready to leave just a Gerrard scored Liverpool's last minute equaliser.

"Well, you have to say it has been a really exciting cup final, great value for money for the fans" one of the guys said to me.

"I was quite happy with 1-0 to be honest" I said, speaking, I think, for West Ham fans everywhere.

We had been horrified to overhear that the beers we had been drinking cost €5 each, so we shared one during the extra time - imagine that in The Queens Arms in Walthamstow! As the end of the game drew near the waitress then presented us with two complimentary cocktails - our first "cocktail o'clock" for some time.

The rest, as they say, is history. Some guy who hadn't been watching the match walked in to the bar right at the end and helpfully gave us a Ron Manager style commentary over the penalty shoot-out:

"Oooh, it's all over for West Ham now - so cruel. So cruel"

Which helped of course.

Later on I reflected how the Champion's League is not just mostly boring in itself during the group stages, but it is also now making domestic football boring as well. That is the second season in a row in England that the three major domestic trophies have gone to the teams finishing in the top three in the league, all of whom have been playing, and perhaps more significantly, earning, in the Champion's League.

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This was a classic match, I've watched the dvd a million times since :)

Good luck against Inter tomorrow Liverpool

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