The sun shone, the crowds cheered and vows were exchanged… it was a day this special couple will never forget; the kind of event only Britain knows how to stage.
A military flypast, fireworks and a huge security operation swung into place as the crowds, some of whom had been waiting for hours in the sunshine, enjoyed the spectacle. All the hard work that had gone into the preparation was worth it in the end.
Millions around the world watched on television as Tony Conte and Jose Mourinho stood alongside each other, each vowing to win at a sun-soaked Wembley. At the end, they exchanged an embrace. A glorious occasion; the FA Cup final.
And, against all the odds, Chelsea won, with Conte out-tacticking Jose Mourinho and leaving the Manchester United manager grumpily acknowledging that his old club had beaten his new one, even if he felt they hadn’t deserved to.
The moaning and whining on the Jubilee line at the end of the match, as the Man U fans made their way back to their central London homes, had to be heard to be believed. “I don’t like Mourinho – he’s not really a United manager. Trouble is, he’s too powerful,” said one red replica-shirted supporter, speaking for the overwhelming mood, as those in blue shirts suppressed smirks.
Chelsea outclassed United in a surprisingly concerted and skilled way (after the previous weekend’s Newcastle debacle), bossing the first half, then absorbing the inevitable red fightback in the second, while maintaining their composure. Only United outfield players were booked, although one of the men of the match, keeper Thibaut Courtois, picked up a late yellow for the Blues for helping to wind down the clock.
Eden Hazard’s first-half penalty was the difference, after Phil Jones had clumsily felled the clever Belgian in the 21st minute, earning a yellow from ref Michael Oliver, not the red that Conte was baying for… to Mourinho’s disgust. It has left United empty-handed this season, and Chelsea in the extraordinary position of having won three FA Cups in a single season – a treble no one had ever really considered before.
The FA Cup, the Women’s FA Cup and the FA Youth Cup now all gleam in the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet.
Hazard himself took the penalty, gently passing the ball into the net after David De Gea had hurled himself to his right.
Lacking the punch of forward Romelu Lukaku, a late sub who only played for the last quarter of an hour, United were toothless in the first half, and containable in the second.
When Alexis Sanchez did finally put the ball in the net, it was ruled out as offside, with the video assistant referee (VAR) used to confirm the decision. Paul Pogba came closest to equalising, but his header wasn’t on target.
The 87,647-strong crowd was well entertained, with Chelsea fans – resigned to near-certain defeat after the disappointing 3-0 defeat to Newcastle a week earlier – having to pinch themselves as they watched a linked-up, well-marshalled, neat-passing game that few had expected to see from their side.
It was Mourinho’s first cup final defeat in charge of an English club, having won the previous six, underlining the magnitude of the achievement.
For the Blues, it was an eighth FA Cup win, confirming it’s the trophy they love more than any. Now level with Spurs in the all-time winners’ table for FA Cups, only United (12) and Arsenal (13) are above them.
And yet, in his moment of triumph, the expectation is that Conte will be gone next week, his bank balance considerably better and yet another managerial change being made at the Bridge. Chelsea fans are used to it now. Just a shrug will greet the news when it comes through.