It is the middle of May, and it is Cup Final weekend.
The sun always shines on the cup final, and it looks set to do so again this year. It feels, in fact, as though the sun has been shining unbroken for weeks; it is surreal to think of the rain that would not stop just a few days ago.
The sun always shines on the cup final, but no one really cares much any more. When I was growing up, not only was the sun always shining, but the world also stopped. From three o’clock on cup final Saturday, nothing moved. There was no sporting event like it. The World Cup, perhaps. But the Cup Final was really the business end of everything, and the beginning of summer proper.
I don’t know when my interest, along with the interest of the rest of the country, started to wane. It was already perilously close to indifferent on the occasion of Chelsea’s victory over Middlesborough in 1997 (2-0, goal from di Matteo after forty-two seconds), a match I watched in Rome on an enormous screen at the house of a friend, an occasion notable not so much for the football as for the fact that we went ten-pin bowling after the match, my first and, to-date, last time.
This weekend Arsenal play Hull (at football, not at ten-pin bowling), and I don’t suppose anyone who doesn’t support one or other of those clubs cares all that much.
Still, for all that, it is nice to know that the boys will be running around in the sun on the eternally green grass. Summer can begin.
Sunday, meanwhile, sees a much more vital contest, again at Wembley, this time between Cambridge United and Gateshead. The winner will be promoted to the football league (League Two, as it is confusingly known, being the fourth tier of English football) from the Football Conference. Cambridge have been to the play-off final twice in recent years, losing on both occasions.
This year, however, they will have the sun on their backs.