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The 5.15 FA Cup Final 2012 – with Budweiser and ESPN.

Set up in May last year, one of the first pieces written for this blog was about how the FA Cup had lost much of the ‘magic’ that has always led it to be such a special competition to win.

A year on, with the 2012 final set to take place in under an hour’s time, there is even more evidence of how the event is no longer the occasion it once was.

The FA Cup sponsored by AXA is no more, and in its place is The FA Cup with Budweiser 2012 Final.

Meanwhile, the traditional 3.00pm kick off has been replaced with a start time of 5.15pm, no doubt a bid to maximise TV audiences not only in the UK but also in North America – an important factor given that ESPN, an American based cable television broadcaster, secured a four-year rights deal to broadcast live FA Cup matches from the start of last season.

For those travelling to the match, there’s also been the added inconvenience caused by scheduled track maintenance work undertaken by Network Rail, meaning that tens of thousands of supporters from Liverpool were left without the option of rail travel on the day of one of the nation’s biggest annual sporting events.

At least the match itself promises plenty of drama. Liverpool and Chelsea have developed quite a rivalry over the past decade, and meet in the final for the first time.

Chelsea go into the final with a possibility of winning two major trophies this season. It’s been a huge turn-around in the fortunes of a club that appeared to be in turmoil only a couple of months ago, and Roberto Di Matteo has the chance to become the 16th person to win the competition both as a player and a manager.

His opposite number, Kenny Dalglish, can already claim that feat, and a Liverpool win would give Dalglish his third FA Cup win as a manager – a tally bettered by only five managers in the competition’s 140-year history.

The 2006 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and West Ham at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Sponsored by noone.

From a personal point of view, Liverpool’s most recent FA Cup final success was the last major final I was lucky enough to attend in person.

Having already witnessed Liverpool winning all three European trophies on offer, and also the League Cup and Charity Shield, the FA Cup was the only cup competition left to witness live. And for much of the contest with West Ham United, the dream of watching Steven Gerrard lift the oldest cup competition in football looked to be fading away.

West Ham had performed brilliantly on the day, and were within touching distance of the cup before Steve Gerrard’s stunning 35-yard strike in the last minute of the game saw the match go to extra time, and eventually requiring penalty shoot-out heroics from Pepe Reina to decide the match.

It was a typical Liverpool cup final – plenty of goals, drama, and nail-biting tension. Neutrals watching the game on both sides of the Atlantic would probably be delighted with more of the same.

Personally I’d prefer it if, just for once, Liverpool could lift a cup following a match involving a slightly more comfortable 90 minutes for their fans!