Season-ending showpieces need to start living up to the hype
The season effectively comes to an end (at least for five minutes before Euro 2000 is upon us) in the next six days with the two biggest club showpieces of the year - the FA Cup final and the European Cup final. CABLE deliver the former and ATV the latter after they stepped into the breach left by ESPN's untimely disappearance.
Now 'showpiece' is a bit of a misnomer. Scrag-end may be more appropriate. There is no doubt that these are treated in the media as big events. The teams always say the right thing about the 'great occasion'. And you can be sure that the television productions will be worthy of Hollywood.
But it seems that the louder the clamour, the less good the football has been.
If you're honest you'll acknowledge that there has not been a great, entertaining or memorable FA Cup final for 10 years. You have to go all the way back to Manchester United v Crystal Palace in 1990 (and not the dismal replay) for a match that came anywhere near living up to the hype. That six-goal extra-time thriller with a couple of lead changes and a two-goal substitute's appearance by Ian Wright set the pulse racing.
Intervening editions have been more likely to set the eyelids drooping.
Think that's an exaggeration? Then just try reading the following list and see if any golden memories are evoked: Tottenham-Forest, Liverpool-Sunderland, Arsenal-Wednesday (twice, for our sins!), United-Chelsea, Everton-United, United-Liverpool, Chelsea-Boro, Arsenal-Newcastle, United-Newcastle. Get the point? It's like a hypnotist's mantra to induce a trance.
And the Champions' League final is not much better. A similar list of the travesties turned up by Europe's finest over the same time span would yield such blood-curdling horrors as Red Star Belgrade v Marseille and Marseille v Milan.
Yes, there have been a handful that you wouldn't be ashamed to show your mother. Last year's United-Bayern showdown was unforgettable for it's dramatic denouement but not a great game. And others of recent vintage have been good if not wonderful exhibitions of football.
Can Valencia v Real Madrid and Villa v Chelsea get the new century off to a brighter start? Or will the action on the field once again play second fiddle to the glitz? Stay tuned.