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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
FA Cup Trail:
FA Cup Quarter Final Replay, 25/03/03
Chelsea 1(0)
Team: 23. Carlo Cudicini 15. Mario Melchiot 26. John Terry 13. William Gallas 12. Mario Stanic 20. Jody Morris 8. Frank Lampard 17. Emmanuel Petit 14. Graeme Le Saux 9. Jimmy Floyd Hasslebank 25. Gianfranco Zola
Scorers: Terry 79
Arsenal 3(2)
Team: 13. Stuart Taylor 12. Lauren 23. Sol Campbell 18. Pascal Cygan 28. Kolo Toure 15. Ray Parlour 4. Patrick Viera 17. Edu 7. Robert Pires 11. Sylvain Wiltord 9. Francis Jeffers
Scorers: Terry 25 og, Wiltord 34, Lauren 82

Referee: D Elleray
Crowd: 41,456 (official)
Conditions: Mild, still

Entry: No joy
Programme: 3.00 for 68 pages with 2 staples, full colour
Refreshments: None
Distance travelled: 62 miles

"The future of retailing"
By Baz Barry
 
We knew it was too good to be true. We knew it didn't add up. But like being mistakenly picked for the school football team knowing it should be your best mate who should be playing, you live with the glory of the error hoping it won't be spotted, not wishing to contend the issue but waiting for the inevitable and humiliating correction.

Having spent the build-up to the two previous rounds hunting high and low for tickets, it was simply too easy to walk straight into the replay with few questions asked. But that's what happened. Or at least it appeared so. On the Monday after the first game, we stumbled across an announcement on the Chelsea web site that declared, as part of an experiment, tickets would be on sale to non-members. Dave made the necessary Internet application and received an acknowledgement stating the tickets would be dispatched in the next few days. Of course, nothing arrived. And inevitably in the meantime we turned down the odd sniff of tickets in the firm belief we had secured a pair direct.

Skip forward to the Thursday before the game and still no sign of the tickets. Dave phones Chelsea to be told that they had made a mistake and they wouldn't be selling to non-members and they were very sorry they didn't bother to let us know. A close inspection of the reply to our "order" reveals Chelsea only acknowledged receipt of our "application". Which is like going to buy a TV, leaving your details including credit card numbers, getting a receipt for your "application" and then having to chase the shop to learn that they've sold the stock of TVs to others. Is this the future of retailing?

On further prompting, the lady confirmed that they were destroying the credit card details of all the unsuccessful applicants and sadly the game had sold out. That left us with three working days to send the usual plethora of groveling faxes and make begging phone calls trying to secure tickets but to no avail.

In the match day programme, Chelsea Chief Executive Trevor Birch, shed some light on the cock-up. They did sell to non-members who went to the ground and over the phone as well as via internet "applications" on the first day. They soon realised they should have been selling to Season Ticket holders first and then members. Various deadlines were changed to rectify the error and at the end there were just a hundred tickets remaining for public sale. Clever Trevor "holds his hands up and admits there was a mistake" but at no point does he apologise. Mind you, he didn't need to grovel because the ticketless non-members wouldn't have been at the game and wouldn't be buying the programme.

All of which is an over-elaborate, bitter but by no means twisted explanation as to why we were on the Fulham Road on Tuesday evening furthering our education on how to deal with touts.

Central to the way they operate are the phrases "Anyone got any spare tickets?" or "I'll buy any spare tickets". Normally, and as was the case for the previous game, this is a bluff and what they actually mean is "I am a tout and I am more interested in selling you tickets at prices that include a sizeable mark-up enabling me to make a reasonable living" but they can't say that because it's illegal and they'd get nicked. For the replay, the touts were out in force, many already familiar faces from the Highbury game, and all declaring their occupation with the usual opening gambit. Only this time we soon discovered they really were all trying to find spare tickets because there were no touted tickets on sale. Not one tout had a spare ticket to offer. Doom and gloom descended as we mooched around the ground for an hour, too embarrassed to ask strangers for any spares. Five minutes after kick-off, we got our one and only snifter - two separate tickets at 120...each! A non-starter. We overheard the tout instantly offering one of the tickets to a continental looking man for 150 and moments later notes were being counted! There's inflation for you.

Fifteen minutes after kick-off, we gave up and watched the rest of the first half in a pub on the Fulham Road. Behind us were three Frenchmen who got very excited both times Arsenal scored. We resisted the temptation to discuss the Iraq war with them. At half-time, we left for home and reached Marlow in time to see the remaining two goals.

And so our FA Cup Trail comes to an end.

Or does it?

Dave and I have been in almost daily debate as to whether we should carry on or not, often finding each other counter-arguing against a stand that we made the day before. Having got so far, neither of us wants to give up. Central to any decision is whether replays were ever an integral part of the Trail. Tucked away in my first report I make reference to following "the winners in the round". I also wrote about "a minimum of thirteen" games (implying there would be more) and the "prospect of a midweek replay". Layered on top of this is a further argument that if replays were not part of the Trail, then why did we try and get tickets and go to Stamford Bridge in the first place? The counter-argument being the Trail was about trying to get to games and even if we missed a game we would try and get to the next. Which would mean we'd have to try and get tickets for the Semi-Final at Old Trafford. Going on our current lack of success, there's no doubt we'd then have to motor up to Manchester on the day to lay ourselves at the mercy of the touts again. Not a prospect that fills either of us with joy. Nor does watching Arsenal against Sheffield United for that matter. You couldn't pick a worse pairing if you tried. And if we don't get to see the Semi-Final, do we do the same for the Final?

And then there is the small diversion of the other Semi-Final. There was no way I am going to miss the game at Villa Park. If we decide the Trail is still alive, I'd have to leave the Arsenal game early, Dave would make his own way back to Marlow and I'd make a mad dash to Villa Park on the back of a motorbike. I have a chum who may be persuaded to do the honours. Mad fool. It has to be a motorcycle because it's eighty-three miles ground to ground and have you ever driven that stretch of the M6 without getting caught in traffic? Exactly.

Nevertheless, as things stand at the moment, the purist in me feels the Trail is over. I've had this vision of being outside the Millennium Stadium on Cup Final day wearing a tee shirt on which is a list of the games we've seen, nicely presented with trendy typography. I'm not sure I could wear it knowing there was a gap where the Chelsea v Arsenal replay should be. It wouldn't be right.

However, the debate continues and I'll keep you posted.

If only we'd bought those tickets on the Monday over the phone. If only we'd made the rules of the Trail before we'd started.