Watching the Cup Final from the dugout - well, almost!

Last updated : 18 May 2003 By Darren Hawken

Freddie - Champagne in hand, medal in mouth!
The day started out with a phone call at 7am with the news that I had secured a ticket, another phone call to cancel work and then I was on my way to Cardiff thanks to the very kind offer of a lift from Nikos.

Listened to Talk Sport on the way down as the build up was starting. They were in a pub full of Saints supporters all saying how they will beat the mighty Arsenal etc. etc. - yeah alright.

Got to Cardiff met up with my ticket, Row 4 seat 1 - hmmm, right at the front of the pitch, wonder what the view was like?

Pre-match beers with various esteemed Gooners including Chris who runs this brilliant football site and Vix, before departing to find my seat.

Made my way down to the very front on the halfway line, Television and microphones all around me and a little empty section approx a yard from me that looked like the bench, oh my god I am sitting next to the bench, a quick ask and found out it was the Arsenal bench, the day just became special.

The teams come out and some suited blokes start sitting to my left, I notice some bloke who looks like Edu, no it is Edu, that is it who else is going to sit next to me, and then they all take their seats, Stepanovs, Jeffers, Cygan, Campbell and the man himself Patrick Vieira. Pat Rice and Wenger sit down at the front, Wenger looks coolness personified in his sleek suit and Rice the opposite in his track-suit and fidgety nature.

The subs take their seats Kanu, Gio, Taylor, Toure (who looks frightened by the whole occasion) and Wiltord who has been there done that. The bottles of water are handed out to the players and I cannot take my eyes off their reactions to the whole game.

Taylor looks around the stadium and keeps glancing up and over to the mass ranked horde of Gooners decked out in Red and White. Rice as always is fidgety and barking out orders to Dennis (close them down), Ray (push up). Strachan is non stop on the pitch issuing guidance and bollockings in equal measure, The Saints assistant manager is a funny sight, out of the dugout shouting and swearing at a decision and then muttering to himself about how the world is against him.

Ray Stubbs is sitting next to me making notes (obviously for his Match Of The Day later that night), he claps the saves from Niemi, but looks uninterested in most of the action. Collins the moustached one of Sky Sports fame is also sat there with his microphone, I presume giving a touchline report of the action and any goings on from the bench.

Half time comes and goes and it gives me an opportunity to ask Sol or tell him more like that he wouldn't get many days like this if he was still at Tottenham, he laughs, although he tries his best not to. He spends the whole game next to Jeffers discussing the game and pointing out various players.

To be honest I am in heaven being able to see players up close and personal, Cygan looks bemused by the whole atmosphere, Steps wonders what he is doing on the bench, Sol looks on obviously gutted to miss out and Vieira sits there taking the whole occasion in. Taylor spends the whole game looking across at the bank of Gooners to his right and applauding Seaman every time he does something of note (this says a lot about him).

Overall the whole occasion is special at the Cup Final and the players and fans celebrate as one, to actually sit next to the Arsenal team is an honour I can take to my grave, add the fact I nicked Ray Stubb's programme and his scribbled notes on the Arsenal players and a BBC special on the facts and figures and player involved written by some bloke called Albert Sewell, let's hope Match Of The Day wasn't affected to much.

Back to the pub for long in the night celebrations, the team bus goes past with the trophy proudly on show at the front.

All in all not a bad day out and the highlight was when Bergkamp got his standing ovation and then plonked himself a couple of feet away from me, looking knackered but pleased with his days work, shout to Bergkamp well done mate, he glances an acknowledgement of sorts, that's it footie heaven is complete.

Wiltord, Edu and Silva do a samba dance on the pitch, Luzhny is mobbed by Campbell and Vieira at the end of the game and Seaman stands in front of the tunnel on his own with the FA Cup and his thoughts.

Bergkamp is the second to last person off, the last is course the double footballer of the year Thierry Henry who obviously wants to milk the occasion, what a poser this man is in the nicest possible of ways.

Thank you Arsenal and thank you Cardiff for a day out that will be hard to beat, now back to work and a nice week of telling the Saints supporters who won the cup. They have been giving me stick all week, methinks they might be a bit quiet this week.

Darren (in footie heaven) Hawken