32,910 is the number of people who bought tickets for today’s FA Cup Final. We bought tickets as well. That took the total number of attendees to a record-breaking 32,912.
Who knew when I selected tickets for Arsenal’s last match of the season hoping to see a trophy presentation that I really would get to see Arsenal hoist the trophy amidst silver confetti?
Indeed the Arsenal ladies did win today, 1-0 against 2015 Cup holders Chelsea in the Ladies’ FA Cup Final match before a record crowd for the Ladies’ FA Cup at Wembley. We happened to see that the match was taking place after we arrived in town. I had never been to the famous Wembley stadium and my husband hadn’t been to the new one, so it seemed a no-brainer.
Our day started early with breakfast at the Borough market. It’s so fun to visit the market; the food is so pretty and colorful, and so varied. Cheeses, bakery goods, fish, vegetables, goats’ milk ice cream, giant vats of yummy goodness bubbling. I had only walked through the market before, but never shopped.
I had the scotch eggs special of the day from Scotchtails and my husband had a cherry custard crumble. My husband is a sucker for custard. Put custard in the name of a dish and he can’t resist.
We stopped by Monmouth, a coffee shop across from the market for a flat white.
We decided to take a quick ride out to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on the Jubilee line. I had been out to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park the time I came to London with my son to see the Manchester City match, but my husband hadn’t.
The Olympic Park had a completely different vibe today than it had in December. In December, it had been reasonably deserted. But today, there was an international swim meet underway at the Aquatic Center and the English Handball Finals were at the Copper Box Arena. And there were droves of people heading into the Velo Park. Droves of Indian people, specifically. We got upstairs and into the Velo observation area. In the middle of the Velo track were numerous red school desks. A security guard saw us and conducted a bit of effective racial profiling, determined through a few questions that we were not invited guests, and politely kicked us out. There was some private event going on.
We headed back to the Jubilee line on our way to Wembley. Stratford is at the terminus of the Jubilee line and Wembley Park is very nearly at the other end of the line. It was a cold day in my opinion. I was wearing a big sweater and a jacket, and for part of the morning I even wore gloves. I was sitting on the Tube across from a young lady who was wearing an odd, off-the-shoulder pink floral top with matching pink floral leggings. She did not seem cold.
Two women who were traveling together sat in our car as well, one next to me and one across from me. The one across from me took off her coat and was wearing a tank top, also not cold. She was eating a breakfast sandwich from a bag and the one next to me was chatting on the telephone. The breakfast sandwich lady picked small pieces of sausage, cheese, and eggs from her sandwich and ate these tiny bits with her fingers. What she seemed to be avoiding was the bread.
At some point, Pink Floral lady got up to leave, and Finger Sandwich lady looked her up and down, from off-the-shoulder Pink Floral top down to matching Pink Floral leggings. I knew Finger Sandwich lady was going to render a verdict to her friend, Telephone Lady, as soon as Pink Floral lady got off. The verdict turned out to be surprisingly diplomatic: “I like the bottoms but not the top.”
We arrived at Wembley Park. From the station, we could see Wembley in the distance. Beautiful! We walked to the stadium and bought our tickets, then set out to find lunch. We found JJ Moon not too distant from the stadium along High Street, which was filled with shops and restaurants. A token Security guy at the front door looked us over with disinterest. The crowd was a family crowd. Not a hooligan in sight except garden-variety toddler sorts. I ordered the five-bean chili and my husband had lasagna. Neither of us had been particularly hungry when we arrived but we both enjoyed our lunch. The chili had a distinctive curry flavor; it was very good.
We left amidst crowds of families on their way to the match. A particularly large and vocal group of Chelsea supporters under the age of 10 was singing for all they were worth as they walked to the stadium. Two young Arsenal supporters were walking next to us. One said to the other “I don’t know about these fans.” She brushed toward them with her hand. “Shoo away!”
We found our seats in the stadium, somewhat high and near the end holding the Chelsea supporters. The atmosphere was quite festive. Huge Arsenal and Chelsea banners were being floated on the field under massive, helium-filled tubes. Music was jamming. The players were introduced with photos of each woman on the jumbotrons. With the exception of one or two players who’d been in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, I wasn’t familiar with players on either team.
Our section was one that would normally hold “neutrals,” but there was nobody truly neutral in our area. Arsenal and Chelsea supporters, mostly adults, were interspersed throughout our section. Sitting in front of us was a particularly ardent Chelsea supporter. Over the course of the match I concluded that he looked as I might imagine Jose Mourinho to look in his 70s. Imagine Jose Mourinho in his 70s with a slurred Cockney accent instead of Portuguese. Three seats to his right was a vocal Arsenal supporter, a woman with long hair piled on her head. Remember that I was cold enough to have worn my gloves for parts of the day? She was in shorts. Hearty souls, these Brits.
Nobody felt particularly inclined to tone down their support. Old Jose yelled for “Chels-ee” nonstop. Arsenal dominated the first 18 minutes and were rewarded with a goal, a beautiful long-range shot by Danielle Carter. The Arsenal supporter cheered heartily in front of us, and Old Jose glared at her.
Old Jose kept up a steady stream of commentary. He was with a friend who shrugged in apology to the people around him. Old Jose was deeply invested in the team and they were paining him mightily. His particular focus of pain was a player named Millie Bright. Every time Millie made a mistake, our Old Jose would curse her presence on the team. “We don’t want you anymore, Millie!” he shouted, “We’re going to sell you on.” It quickly became clear that “Millie Bright” was any blond on the field who failed to live up to expectations. Gilly Flaherty went down injured and Old Jose was yelling at her, spit flying, “Get up, Millie!”
In the second half, the real Millie Bright was substituted. Old Jose was forced to turn his attention to Gemma Davison. He had nonstop advice for her.
Chelsea were plenty dangerous but they couldn’t manage to score. The match ended and Arsenal had won it 1-0. Old Jose’s friend shook hands with the Arsenal supporter and he and old Jose left. A tearful Chelsea supporter was shown on the Jumbotron. He covered his face.
The trophy ceremony was just like the mens’ where the teams climb up the stairs to be awarded their ribbons by one of the Royals, first the referees, then the runners-up, and then the winners. The winners then lift the cup from the stands. Arsenal supporters let up a roar when the cup was lifted by the captain. Then the Arsenal women came down on the field and enjoyed a champagne-soaked, silver confetti-flying celebration.
The biggest celebration was mine when we left the stadium and saw thousands of fans streaming toward the tube station. Of course I had seen them in the stadium, but it hit home just how many had attended this match when they were stretched before us as far as the eye could see. Unimaginable to me that so many people would attend and be entertained by a women’s match when I started playing soccer as a young person.
And you know women’s soccer has more-than-arrived when a team can pain its fans the way the Chelsea women did Old Jose.
We headed back to Tower Hill and had dinner at The Keeper. Although I would have assumed that it was possibly football-themed, in fact the name comes from the bee-keeping tradition of the hotel in which the restaurant is housed. My husband had Penne alle Arrabbiata and I had a dish unfortunately named Baby Chicken. Chicken in London is a world better than chicken in the US where the birds have been genetically modified beyond all flavor. My baby chicken was amazing. And hopefully not an actual baby.
For dessert I had profiteroles. They were mini profiteroles stuffed with ice cream, accompanied by a dish of chocolate sauce and a small dish of more ice cream. I lost my presence of mind in the face of those lovely profiteroles and forgot to take a picture of them.
We went out and took an evening walk near Tower Hill, down to the Thames. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.