End of Term Report: The Flash


A happy crew

I love The Flash. Forget this grim’n’gritty nonsense, the superheroes I grew up on, who imprinted upon me my innate sense of recognition for the form, were filled with excitement and a sense of fun, and from its inception, this show has been the best at portraying that internal lightness, the joy and thrill of powers and the sheer yee-hah cut-looseness of superspeed.

A lot of people have talked down season 2, and are already talking of even further limited expectations for season 3. Not I. Whilst I recognise the flaws of this season, especially the way its first half was rather clogged up by the donkey work required to set up Legends of Tomorrow, the show had me from the moment when, at the end of episode 1, this tall, clean-cut guy walked into Star Labs and said, “I’m Jay Garrick.”#

The Flash of Earth-2. Earth-2. Earth-freaking-2 and it’s on tv and I’m watching people crossing the vibrational barrier that blew my mind so much fifty years ago!

So my objectivity and critical faculties tended to get overlooked on Wednesday mornings and I luxuriated in the show. And there was a lot to luxuriate this season. Iris growing into a viable and respectable character. The introduction of a young, strong Wally West (even if he isn’t ginger-haired). The week-in, week-out excellence of Jesse L. Martin’s performance as Joe. Danielle Panabaker getting to rock it out as Killer Frost.

And the presence of Jay Garrick, wearing a darker version of the Golden Age Flash’s costume, but hell’s bells, I am watching such an esoteric thing on TV!

True, I wasn’t happy with the show turning Jay into a villain, though the reveal was nicely handled. And I was definitely not on board with how, after the writers revealed that Jay wasn’t Jay at all, but was actually Hunter Zolomon, everybody still kept calling him Jay. But, still…

The finale was well set-up last week, with Zoom, aka Hunter (not Jay Garrick) Zolomon, killing Barry’s Dad, Henry, who we all remember is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the Barry Allen/Flash on the 1990 series. This wound Barry up to a pitch of genuine agony/anger that everyone else thought was unsafe, but which enabled him to face off and defeat Zolomon in a final race, where the penalty for losing was not just death for Barry and everyone on his side, but the destruction of the entire Multiverse, Earth-1 excepted. Barry pulls off a neat trick by duplicating himself, leaving one version to save the day Crisis on Infinite Earths style, by running himself into disintegration, whilst the other whupped Zoom.

So, this led into a seemingly downbeat endgame. The man in the iron mask in Zoom’s lair had already been revealed by Zoom to be the real Jay Garrick, whose name he had stolen, and who turned out to be the Flash of Earth-3. But the kicker – which did not come unforeseen – was that he was the spitting image of Henry Allen. Which did Barry no good at all.

So, rather improbably stuffed into a red and blue Flash costume, John Wesley Shipp took Harry Wells and Jesse back to Earth-2, where they would help him get on to Earth-3 (it’s funny how Barry hasn’t told anybody about his side-trip to Kara Zor-El’s Earth). Jesse wanted to go home. Harry had her blessing to stay, since he obviously fit in over here, but his promise never to leave her held, which means some hopefully tolerable contrivance is going to be needed next season to bring Tom Cavanagh back, because he is just as important to The Flash as Grant Gustin.

But the real Jay’s appearance completed the job of breaking Barry Allen. Iris is ready for him, what he’s dreamed of, but he feels too hollow, too broken inside to be what she deserves. So the real finale is Barry running back in time to his old home, that very night, the night the Reverse-Flash killed Nora Allen.

This time last season, Barry did this, but was warned off saving his mother by a future version of himself, wearing this season’s uniform. But this time, the season 2 Barry rips into the Reverse-Flash, and saves Nora. When season 1 Barry peeps through the door, he sees his Mom alive, and promptly fades out. As does season 2.

So. Barry’s saved his Mom. He’s Flashpointed his world (which ought technically to bugger up Arrow, Legends and Supergirl, if it now turns out Barry never became the Flash) which led to absolute disaster in the comics (the new 52, for a start).

Let’s bring it on! I can’t wait to see how they get themselves out of this. Roll on September.

Crap Journalism: Re-naming Titty


This next example of Crap Journalism is by regular Guardian columnist Ben Child. The article is about the forthcoming new Swallows and Amazons film, which I mentioned here months ago. Famously, the Swallows themselves were based on a real life family of four children, the third of whom, Mavis Altounyan, was immortalised under her family nickname, Titty.

Yes, I know. Times change and the book was written in 1928. For the forthcoming film, Titty has become Tatty (she was Kitty in the 1963 BBC TV adaptation). You could hardly do anything but change the name, but the late Mavis’s niece has complained about the change, calling it disrespectful to her aunt.

In that she’s objecting to applying the name ‘Tatty’ to her late aunt, Barbara Altounyan would appear to have a case. It seems to be completely unsuitable. On general terms, however, objecting to any change at all, she’s on dodgy ground.

But the crap journalism that made me snap at this article is when Childs sets up the background of Ransome’s using the Altounyan’s as templates for the Swallows. He names them all, starting with Mavis’s elder brother John, the model for Captain John Walker. There’s just one problem: John Altounyan never existed!

The eldest Altounyan child was the tomboyish Tacqui, a daughter (who later wrote a memoir, In Aleppo Once). Ransome used her as a model, but changed her into the boy, John, for commercial reasons (a two boys, two girls split read better), sexist reasons (a girl giving orders?) and possibly unconscious personal reasons (John Walker was a means by which the 40+ Ransome could take part in his children’s adventures).

This isn’t esoteric information, it doesn’t take ages to dig out, it’s crap journalism. Get the facts right, Child, it’s your job to be accurate.

Incidentally, if the film is a success, there are hopes to turn it into a series. I for one would support that gratefully. But I’m on the family’s side over ‘Tatty’.

Crap Journalism: How I Quit Diet Coke


I suspect this is going to become a very regular feature on this blog. As I have previously mentioned, I was registered with the Guardian to comment on their comment threads, but cancelled my membership as far back as 2012, over certain policies towards regular commentators. Since then, I have had no means to respond directly to articles, as I refuse to re-register with a new account.

So I’m going to sound off here whenever I see something that deserves scathing response, under the Crap Journalism heading.

This article‘s a few days old. Basically, it’s about Diet Coke and it being bad for you, and how breaking an addiction to it (which the writer still hasn’t quite achieved) is the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

Ok, fine, personal interest story, we get it. But Ms Valle starts her piece, and keeps bringing up, over and over, that Diet Coke tastes awful. Everybody hates the taste of it.

Hmm. I like Diet Coke. It doesn’t taste awful to me (takes swig from bottle). Article refuted, case collapses entirely, waste of space.

Yes, this is another of those yet again articles where a journalist mistakes their personal opinion for an objective fact. It’s the most basic of crap journalism, but it pervades the Guardian like the smell of a skunk pervades a room, and it’s just as pleasant to read. I automatically dismiss all such things as unimportant, and the journalist as having nothing to say.

There’ll be another example along any day now. Don’t worry, I won’t call out all of them.

 

Deep Space Nine:s2e14 “Whispers”


Someone’s not enjoying being kissed…

To be truthful, I didn’t particularly enjoy this latest episode of DS9. It seemed entirely too predictable from the start and whilst the ending contained a twist I hadn’t foreseen, and which was a bit smarter than I was giving the episode credit for, overall this was just a self-contained story, of no moment before or after its broadcast, but which played with things that would normally have wider-ranging effects.

‘Whispers’ was an O’Brien-centric episode which seemed strange scheduling immediately after an O’Brien-centric episode. It set the tone by starting at the end: O’Brien on the run from the station, from something disturbing that was treated in nebulous but portentous tones: in short, we were in for paranoia.

The episode itself was primarily an extended flashback as the Chief records his side of things against fatalistic overtones of ‘who will they ever allow to hear this?’ It was designed to point one way, and I duly fell for it.

Basically, O’Brien has been off-station among the Paradas in the Gamma Quadrant, agreeing extremely stringent security protocols for forthcoming peace talks on DS9 with the rebel forces in their Civil War. But once back, the Chief finds everybody behaving suspiciously, unnaturally around him. It starts with Keiko and Molly but it encompasses everyone. And he’s being pushed around to prevent him doing his normal jobs: an exceptionally lengthy physical with Bashir, a repair job that may be deliberate sabotage.

It builds up in his mind. A conspiracy, by whom and for what he can’t see, but everyone is against him.

So far this is clearly Paranoia 101, which is why I mentally downgraded the episode. A red herring trail had been paid in a throwaway line about Paradan body odour: some sort of gassing, clearly. O’Brien’s been affected somehow. What was dispiriting was that I knew the episode would have no after-effect, no carry-over. Early Nineties drama series, self-contained episodes, capable of being shown in practically any order. I’ve made that comparison several times already, to DS9‘s detriment, and knowing that this intense paranoia would vanish immediately next week, I couldn’t help but be dismissive.

I was, of course, wrong, and the programme was a lot smarter than that, but too late to change my now well-fixed attitude. O’Brien flees, is pursued, finds his way to Parada 2 and an underground rebel base where Sisko and Co are meeting with the rebels: but it is O’Brien who is wrong. The Chief is already there, just being released from abduction. The one we’ve followed is a replicant, created to destroy the peace talks. Everyonewas acting strangley towards ‘him’ because he was the wrong one out.

The replicant is shot and killed. It was incredibly detailed, so well-programmed that it not only passed an extended physical, it genuinely thought it was Miles O’Brien. It says Keiko’s name. It’s last words are, “Tell her… I love…”

I should be applauding this episode for taking me in so well. That so rarely happens and I love being misled, but for once it didn’t work. It only reinforced my depression over the insular nature of this episode. It won’t have any bearings, not even temporarily, on future relationships because the proper O’Brien wasn’t even on the station. That’s an aspect of series drama I really don’t miss.

Bingewatching Person of Interest s01


Persons of Interest

I’ve never really bingewatched an entire TV season before. I’ve set aside days to watch the extended versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies one after another, and I have been known to breeze through box-sets of The Big Bang Theory in pretty short order (after all, you can do four advert-free episodes in well under ninety minutes). But I’ve never previously taken an entire drama series and shot through twenty-three episodes of it in just a fraction over seven days.

As a fan of Lost, who had thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Michael Emerson as Ben Linus, I did take note of his casting in 2010 in Person of Interest. But I never got the chance to watch it. I hadn’t gotten into a rhythm of catching things from America, and over here it was being broadcast on Channel Five. I did catch one isolated episode which did not especially grab me.

But the summer’s coming up, and there’s two last final episodes this week, so there was room to experiment. Man cannot live by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine alone. Therefore I got my hands upon Person of Interest season 1 with a view to trying it out.

Last Sunday, back from the Rheged Centre in Penrith, and feeling tired after my 6.00am start, I wasn’t in the mood for doing much so I decided to try the Pilot episode. I found it interesting and, whilst not necessarily brilliant, it interested me enough to carry on.

The next day, I took the train back to Manchester. The journey was badly delayed, I got home after 2.00pm, with nothing to do and no plans and still feeling the effects of Sunday’s early start. It seemed easier to watch a bit of TV than anything else so I went back to Person of Interest. I ended up watching four episodes in a row.

During the next six days, I watched the entire season.

It was easy watching. As I’ve said before, now I’m blogging regularly, it’s hard to just watch something without thinking about how I would write about it. What made PoI so easy to watch was that I had no intention of blogging it. It could just slip past, case of the week by week. And the background stories, the delving into the complicated pasts of Mr Reese and Mr Finch, the shiftings of position as various forces try to fins out about, and stop, ‘the man in the suit’, have been slipping away quickly, no complicated delays for thinking and speculating.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the premise is simple. In response to 9/11, the American Government commissioned a super surveillance system, to collate and monitor all input nationwide. The Machine was designed and built, in secrecy, by Emerson’s character, currently going under the false name of ‘Harold Finch’. The Machine was built to identify terrorist threats but it also identifies all threats of violence to individuals.

Finch, who is supposed to be dead, has built a back door into the Machine that, every week, delivers the Social Security number of a person who may be the victim, or perpetrator, of murder. In order to prevent these things, Finch employs a man using the name ‘John Reese’. Reese is a burned out ex-CIA killer who has lost his purpose after the death of the woman he loves. The Machine gives him something worthwhile to do.

The two men know little about each other. Both are naturally secretive, especially about their backgrounds. Both are believed to be dead, and, if discovered in what they are doing, are likely to end up that way.

Basically, we have a case of the week superhero set up, with Finch’s software skills and Reese’s fighting abilities getting people out of trouble. The cops are after them – Detective Joss Carter in Homicide principally, though she winds up aiding the cause, as does Detective Lionel Fusco, a dirty cop being used by Reese under what begins as blackmail but ends up as being a genuine desire to do good work.

What distinguishes the series is that it operates in the moral grey zone. Bad is done to achieve a good outcome. What lengths will, or should, people go to to achieve a positive, desired outcome. This shifting ground is brilliantly incarnated, week in week out: after all, Finch and Reese can only do good as a result of unprecedented, unjustifiable, illegal surveillance.

The show ended on a well-judged cliffhanger. I shall look forward to watching season 2. At the moment, the show is closing in on the end of its truncated, final season. I doubt I could possible bingewatch fast enough to get there along with the series’ regular audience.

But having enjoyed bingewatching, I am keen to repeat the experience.

Uncollected Thoughts: Preacher s1e01


Oh my God, this might just work.

Like Lucifer, the Vertigo Comics series, Preacher, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon looks, sounds and feels impossible to translate to television. There are things in there you just can’t say and do on the Goggle-Box. Good comics stories tend to be like that. Lucifer the tv series was a perfect example of an abject waste of a subject.

Preacher the tv series is, on the evidence of the pilot episode, tons better than that. Of course, when Lucifer is your bar, any three-month old baby who can crawl over that is already tons better, so the praise that entails is so faint as to be non-existent.

But it worked. And it worked for one simple reason. It took its subject seriously, seriously enough to introduce its three primary characters as clear, recognisable, mainly intact versions of the ones in the comics, to create a setting that sticks closely to the initial set-up in the series, and to only mildly dial back on those aspects of Preacher that will offend the unwashed masses.

So, we have the Reverend Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper playing downbeat, tired, drained and depressed, a complete contrast to his Howard Stark in Agent Carter), preacher in the West Texas town (?) of Annville. Custer’s following in his Daddy’s footsteps, fulfilling a promise to be one of the Good Guys, extracted by Custer Senior in the final seconds before being shot through the head. But he’s no damned good at it, and his heart’s not there.

And we have Cassidy (Joe Gilgun playing a gloriously OTT role to the hilt,  with a genial Irish accent you could grind knives upon), arriving by plane, out of which he jumps, from 3,000 feet, holding only an umbrella. Cassidy’s a vampire, you see, with an uncomplicated outlook on life, except when it comes to the folks hunting him down and trying to kill him.

And we have Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga, balancing tough girl slinkiness, independence and a clear need forher ex-Bad Boy boyfriend Jesse), introduced fighting two guys in a car driving heedlessly through a Kansas cornfield, and impressing a 12 year old girl for life by making a bazooka out of half and dozen coffee cans and a shitload of toy soldiers. Someone’s chasing Tulip too.

We also have Arseface (incredible make-up on Ian Colletti: you simply cannot take your eyes off his mouth), introduced out of place from the comics series, and treated with a greater degree of human sympathy here.

It’s a pilot episode, it’s set-up time, so things move slow, but confidently slow. No-one’s spinning wheels and sacrificing coherency for atmosphere. We are allowed the full hour to get ourselves into Jesse’s mind, to understand where he starts from, what Annville consists of.

Whilst we’re doing that, in fact before we even meet Jesse or get to Texas, something roars out of space, a comet, swinging in through the solar system. It penetrates an African church, a primitive place full of enthusiastic believes, Christianity at its most purposeful and joyful, invades the preacher, infuses him with the power of the Word of God. Until he explodes all over the congregation.

We see this recur a couple of times, with a brilliantly evil twist as the tv news brings reports of Tom Cruise exploding at a Church of Scientology meeting! Then it comes to Annville. And it merges with Jesse. And instead of him quitting, it fills him full of purpose and determination.

It also gives him the Word of God, which has an unexpected consequence which ends the episode with one great big black boom of humour. Throughout the pilot, Jesse is afflicted with Ted, constantly complaining of how his mother, in Florida, phones him up and denigrates him. Jesse patiently counsels him to speak to his mother, tell the truth, be brave, open his heart.

To no avail until the Reverend says it after merging with the comet/creature, Genesis. He has the Word of God. Ted does as he is told. He immediately sets off for Florida, incessantly repeating, “Tell the truth, be brave, open my heart.” He finds his mother in her retirement home. He tells her how he feels, with calm dignity. Then he opens his heart. With a butcher’s knife. And puts it on the table.

You know, I think this just might work.

Shameful


It’s enough that Manchester United are now going to appoint Jose Mourinho as Manager, a decision as wrong-headed as Brian Clough’s takeover at Leeds United all those years ago, but to break that news within minutes of yesterday’s FA Cup win was an utter disgrace. I may not like Louis van Gaal or what he has done with United – after all, most of United’s play last night was the same slow, dull, turgid, passion- and inspiration-less football we’ve suffered all season – but he deserved to enjoy his triumph at least until this morning.

As did I , and those United fans who think like me. I didn’t even get to relish being the Cup holders. Mourinho is poison,in so many ways. He will cause chaos, he will bring disaster. He will leave things worse than when Fergie left. I can’t support a Mourinho-led club. I have to step back.

It makes an already shitty life even shittier. It puts a wall between me and the club I support. By their shittiness shall ye recognise them. Until he’s gone, I’m gone.

Up for t’Cup: 2011 – 2016


I’m at the end of this series now, right up to the modern day, Cup Final Day 2016. At the time I’m starting this piece, we don’t yet know the Finalists: indeed, as I write, it was only yesterday that Manchester United even confirmed the semi-final line-up, beating West Ham United in a replay that took place exactly one calendar month after their original draw. This is the longest delay, excluding weather-related postponements, between tie and replay in the Cup’s long and no longer august history, and it is yet another symbol of its unimportance in this degenerate age.
United’s victory means that they are the only one of the ‘Big Four’ or ‘Five’, however it is to be defined, in the semi-finals. They face Everton, twice opponents in the Final. If United win, they have a shot at their first Cup Final win at the New Wembley, and at regaining a share in the FA Cup record, equalling Arsenal’s newly-set record of twelve wins.
The other semi-final will produce a record of some sort: whichever of Watford and Crystal Palace reaches Wembley, then they will produce either the forty-fourth Cup-Winner, or else the fourth team to have appeared in two or more Finals without winning the trophy.
Having opened the doors to sponsorship with the power company, E.ON, the Cup allied itself in 2012 with Budweiser. A beer company. An American beer company. Their name still came after ‘the  FA Cup’, making it easier for purists like myself to shut our eyes and ears to it.
There was another record number of entrants, 763, and Manchester United exercised revenge for their semi-final defeat last year, by defeating holders Manchester City 3-2 on their own ground in the Third Round, though they were knocked out in the Fourth by eventual Finalists Liverpool.
As we’ve seen, the Cup has suffered tragedies off the pitch, at Bolton and Hillsborough, but in the Sixth Round, this season came perilously close to the most personal of tragedies, when Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch at Tottenham Hotspur, having suffered cardiac arrest. Thankfully, the provision of medical support at grounds had only lately been enhanced, following an incident when Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech sustained a fractured skull. Muamba’s life was saved, though he could never play again. The tie, 1-1 at that point, was abandoned. Spurs won the rematch, but were defeated in the semi-final by Chelsea.
It was Chelsea’s fourth Final in six years, and their fourth win, beating Liverpool 2-1 with the aid of a winning goal by Didier Drogba, setting a new record by scoring in his fourth Final, more than any other player (though not equalling Ian Rush’s record of five Cup Final goals). And they went on to claim a Double, winning the European Champions League Final, the first London team to win that trophy, and the last English winners to date.
Sadly, the Cup was yet again degraded. The Final was once more scheduled for a day with a full Premier League programme, with yet more fixtures scheduled for the following week. This time, the decision was taken to provide a four week gap between the end of the domestic season and the 2012 European Championships.
This time, however, the Premier League fixtures were not moved around. They took precedence. It was the Cup Final that had to shift, to an unprecedented and utterly dismaying 5.15pm kick-off.
It was a disgraceful decision, ending 140 years of tradition that previously had only been disturbed by war. It showed blatant disregard for the Liverpool fans, who would be leaving Wembley and North London no earlier than 7.15pm, having to make their way home to the north west.
But the fans were of no importance. Television had made that plain from the very beginning of the Premier League: Sky selected Southampton vs Manchester United for their first Monday Night Match, leaving the visitors to start heading home at 10.00pm from the South Coast. The FA had sold out yet again. There would be no need the following year for the Cup Final to be played alongside a League programme. Indeed, it would be restored to the ‘showpiece’ position, but television, having noted the audience figures for 2012, insisted on the early evening kick-off. It suited them better, it made them more money. It stank on ice, but who gave a shit?
The following year there was a more orthodox controversy in the Second Round when Bradford City, after drawing at home to Brentford, were disqualified for playing an ineligible player, Curtis Good, whose registration had not gone through by the deadline hour. Playing an ineligible player is an absolute rule, as Droylsden found to their cost in 2008. Suddenly, it wasn’t: Bradford appealed and were reinstated, their punishment reduced to a financial penalty: one rule for some, eh? Natural justice saw to it that Brentford comfortably won the replay that should not have been permitted.
The same round also saw the draw pair M. K. Dons with AFC Wimbledon, the first meeting of the two clubs with an unwanted relationship. This caused great concern for Wimbledon, with talk of withdrawing from the fixture rather than extend recognition to the team many still called Franchise United. The game did go ahead, covered live on TV due to the rivalry between the clubs, with M.K. Dons, the higher situated team, winning 2-1.
Luton Town, once Finalists, once of the old First Division, got through to the Fifth Round before being eliminated, a more impressive feat for a club who had slipped into the Football Conference.
The semi-finals paired the Cup’s last two winners, with the unfancied Millwall and Wigan Athletic – one of the second tier, the other in grave danger of returning to that level – in the other tie. It was the two north-western clubs who prevailed, making Wigan the latest First-Time Finalists. Their prospects were rated no higher than those of Sunderland in 1973 and Wimbledon in 1988 – a good omen – or Sunderland in 1992 or Millwall in 2004, making history a very mixed blessing.
A long way back in this series, I teased the fact that the 1959 and 1960 Finals were linked by a bizarre kind of coincidence. The first half of this paid off twenty-five years later: Roy Dwight, scorer for Nottingham Forest in 1959, was carried off with a broken leg. His nephew Reg, better known as Elton John, was chairman of Watford when they were beaten as First-Time Finalists in 1984.
Dave Whelan, Blackburn Rovers defender, who suffered the same fate in 1960, had to wait over half a century, but this time it was he in person who came to Wembley as chairman of a First-Time Finalist.
And unlike the Dwights, the tale ended with unexpected but delightful glory. The game had reached injury time scoreless, and Manchester City had been reduced to ten men, Pablo Zabaleta having collected a second yellow card to become the third player to be sent off in a Final. Wigan sent a corner in from the left and their substitute, Ben Watson, who had been out of action for six months with a broken leg, sent a header over City keeper Joe Hart to win Wigan the Cup.
Wigan Athletic became the forty-third, and most recent club to win the FA Cup. Having been founded only in 1932, they also became the ‘youngest’ club ever to win the Cup.  Their victory was marred, to some extent, when defeat in their final League match saw them undergo relegation from the Premier League, emulating the fates of Leicester City (1969), Brighton (1983) and Middlesbrough (1997), though unlike their predecessors, Wigan actually won the Cup!
City’s defeat came as a shock, though perhaps not to the same extent of those of Leeds and Liverpool, as the Manchester club were relative newcomers to prominence. It was also the last match in charge for their manager, Roberto Mancini, in succession to Bill Shankley (1974) and Tommy Docherty (1977), though it was an open secret throughout football that irrespective of the Cup result, Mancini was to be replaced.
Improbable as Wigan’s feat was, they came within a penalty shoot-out of back-to-back Finals, this time as a second tier club. Their conquerors were Arsenal, whose victory set-up a near-identical Final to that of the previous year: a well-established, leading club facing off against First-Time Finalists, this time in the shape of Hull City, the fifty-sixth and most recent team to reach the Cup Final. What’s more, Wigan beat Manchester City again, at their own ground, in the Sixth Round.
The Cup did enjoy another first in its earliest stages, with the first appearance of a club from the Isle of Guernsey, prosaically called Guernsey FC, though their landmark appearance only lasted as far as the Second Qualifying Round.
Hull’s opponents in their semi-final were third tier Sheffield United and both semi-finals had their kick-offs held back by seven minutes, in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster.
The Final, once again, endured an evening kick-off, although this was slightly alleviated by being brought forward to 5.00pm. And for the first time since 2010 it returned to its rightful place as the last match of the domestic season. For an astonishing seventeen minutes, a repeat of Wigan’s bombshell looked to be on, as Hull took a two goal lead eight minutes after kick-off (and very nearly added a third!).
But Arsenal pulled back a goal comfortably early and went on to defeat Hull 3-2, in injury-time. It was their eleventh Cup win, drawing level with Manchester United as record-holders. They were also the first team to be presented with the fifth FA Cup. Once again, identical to the third Cup, this version is heavier yet than the fourth, and meant to be more durable in an era when the Cup itself spends as much time on the road and travelling to different events than it does in the hands of its current holders.
Arsenal also concluded an unusual Cup Double when their Ladies team won the Women’s FA Cup Final, a fortnight after this victory.
As Arsenal had already qualified for the Champions League by virtue of their League position, Hull City took the Europa League slot available to the FA Cup. They are the last team to do so to date: changes to UEFA rulings now bar the Cup runners-up from qualifying for Europe in that role.
Last year saw a host of minor issues. Rights to terrestrial coverage returned to the BBC once more, though this made no difference to the kick-off time of the Final, which went further back yet, to 5.30pm. However, the BBC did revive the old-time tradition of an entire day’s programming based on and around the Final, starting at 9.00am.
To rub further salt in Droylsden’s wounds, a second League club fielded an ineligible player, in the Second Round, but instead of being expelled, were simply ordered to replay the tie. The discrepancy was further emphasised by Chesterfield being the beneficiaries: they beat M.K. Dons 1-0 in both versions of the game.
In the same round, a new record was set for a penalty shoot-out, with thirty-two kicks needed to separate Worcester City and Scunthorpe United, the latter winning 14-13.
Arsenal, having knocked out Manchester United away in the quarter finals struggled to overcome second-tier Reading in the semi-final, needing an extra-time goal deriving from a goalkeeper’s mistake to return to Wembley, where their opponents were Aston Villa, the former record holders, in only their second Final since establishing that record fifty-eight years previously.
Though Villa had performed prodigies to defeat Liverpool in the semi-final, Arsenal’s Final was as easy as the 4-0 scoreline suggests. It was only a surprise that Villa held out until the 40th minute before conceding the first, and once Arsenal scored their third, confirming victory beyond any shadow of a doubt, I switched the game off, missing the injury-time fourth goal, that equalled Manchester United’s twice-held record victory margin in a Wembley Final.
Arsenal’s win did however send them clear of United as record Cup winners, and Cup Finalists, with a twelfth win from a nineteenth Final. Their win was blighted during their victory parade when midfielder Jack Wilshere made an obscene reference to rivals Tottenham Hotspur (not a first offence) bringing down a misconduct charge on his head.
****************************************************************************************************************
The current season has progressed (at the time of writing this section) to semi-final weekend: in six hours from this moment, Everton play Manchester United in the first such match, at the New Wembley.
There have been no especially memorable stories to date in the competition. FC United of Manchester reached the First Round for only the second time, in only their tenth year of existence, but were comfortably beaten at home by, ironically for my personal history, by Chesterfield. It has not been a season for non-Leaguers: only  Enleigh featured in the Third Round.
Nor has it been a competition with any great giant-killing feats, the closest to that being Watford’s Sixth Round defeat of holders Arsenal at their home in the Sixth Round, putting paid to the serious talk at Arsenal of winning a third Cup Final in succession.
But the Sixth Round also threw up another example of the Cup’s decline, with the month-long delay between the drawn Manchester United vs West Ham United tie and its replay. The delay was due to the inability to find a suitable date. In addition to the Police stipulations about providing security, there was the UEFA demand that televised matches should not clash with rounds of European competition.
In the end, the date did clash with the Champions League, the best the FA could do being to order the tie to be played at 7.00pm, heedless of the convenience of the fans, because that way only the second half would overlap.
In addition to the various possibilities I’ve outlined above, there is a double possibility of a repeat Final stemming from this weekend’s results. A Manchester United victory this evening could set up a repeat of the 1990 Final if Crystal Palace overcome Watford, whereas if the results both go the other way, we’re looking at a repeat of the 1984 Final.
And if the first option should come off, then there’s the possibility of a United win not merely pulling them level again with Arsenal as record holders, but also of Crystal Palace duplicating the unique achievement of Queen’s Park, of failing in two Finals – against the same team!
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And the outcome was a repeat of 1990, Manchester United vs Crystal Palace. In addition to the possibilities I’ve set out above, this will be the third time United have played a repeat Final, more than any other club, and given the club’s current struggle to regain their domestic fortunes after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, there’s an echo to this year’s Final.
Not only would a United victory see them equal the record number of Cup wins, exactly as it did in 1990, but a United victory over Palace was the first trophy of the Ferguson era, and a repeat performance would be the first trophy of the post-Ferguson era.
A lot rests on this year’s Final – for both teams. Remember too that Palace Manager Alan Pardew is also deeply connected to the first meeting, having played for Crystal Palace in both Final and Replay.
The Final will be played on 21 May 2016, and will be the 135th Final in the Cup’s 145th year.
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And with extra-time required, a sending-off and having to come from behind with ten men, Manchester United beat Crystal Palace for the second time to regain a share in the Cup Final record, immediately equalling Arsenal’s new record set last year. Only Blackburn Rover of the previous record holders and sharers have returned from being overtaken.
Palace are now the fourth team to have played in more than a single Final without winning the trophy, fifty-five years since the last team to fall into that category, Leicester City.
And Chris Smalling became the fourth player to be sent off in a Final, and Manchester United became the only team to have experienced two such red cards.

WINNERS
(all Finals played at the New Wembley Stadium)

2011/12   Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
2012/13    Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester City 0
2013/14   Arsenal 3 Hull City 2 (aet)
2014/15   Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0
2015/16  Manchester United 2 Crystal Palace 1 (aet)

Only half a decade has passed. Nine clubs have appeared in the five Finals to date, and there have been four different Winners, Arsenal being the only team to reach and win two Finals. In doing so, they set a new record, although Manchester United recovered immediately to regain a share in that record). There have already been two First-Tine Finalists, and one First-Time Winners. Wigan Athletic also became the only team to win the Cup and be relegated in the same season. The last Final to date is a repeat, with Manchester United prevailing again. The Cup’s future lies ahead. In light of the last two decades, it is hard to imagine it ever recovering the pin-sharp brightness of previous decades. A personal hope: after their remarkable first League success, I would love to see Leicester City finally win the Cup, and eradicate its most painful record.

A Man and a Palamino: Another R.I.P.


Bamboo Harvester and Alan Young

It should have been called The Alan Young Show, but the man refused to put his name to it. If he had, we would probably never have called it by that name, or remembered its proper title. After all, there was an American TV sitcom called The Phil Silvers Show, though the millions of us who roared with laughter at it, and can’t resist catching the reruns, even though they’re nearly sixty years old, only ever think of it, or call it, ‘Bilko’, or ‘Sergeant Bilko’.

So Alan Young starred in a funny, popular, successful sitcom from 1961 to 1966. It made him a star and by all rights he should have been the star, and be entitled to have his name above the door. But when the show was in preparation, Alan Young had no faith in the (unoriginal) premise and refused to have his name affixed to such an obvious disaster. The producers therefore named the show after Young’s co-star, a palamino. Like I said, even if they had ignored Young’s reluctance, we would still have called it by the title they chose.

Hello, I’m Mr Ed.

For those too young to remember this era of American sitcoms, in which I grew up, the show officially starred Young as Wilbur Post, a somewhat klutzy young architect, who finds that, along with his new house, he has inherited a horse, left behind by the previous owner. Oh, and the horse can talk. (Ed was voiced byformer Westerns actor , Allen Lane). But he’ll only talk to Wilbur (Wiiillbuuurrr!).

It’s silly, but it was gloriously silly. Ed was a naturally born mischief-maker, with a high intelligence and a range far beyond the capability of horses (according to accounts, the horse, a palamino named Bamboo Harvester, was extraordinarily intelligent in his own right). It was a time when American sitcoms were in a stupid phase, with bizarre ideas (I promise not to mention My Mother the Car).

Of course, all such things depended on the ability of the human being in the centre, and Young was a delight in the part. Mild, unassuming, hapless, Wilbur was unavoidably overshadowed by Ed, but without his natural believability, the show could not have succeeded.

Alan Young died yesterday, aged 96. He was born in North Shields, Northumberland, to Scottish parents who originally named him Angus. He was raised in Canada and first got into the comedy business of radio. I’ve looked these details up for this, because in truth I never knew anything about the man except for those years in the early Sixties when Mr Ed popped up around teatime, in ITV Granada, to get a little boy to laugh his head off. I didn’t know he was still alive, but at any time I could sing you the Mr Ed theme song.

For that alone, I raise a glass to Alan Young, in grateful memory.

End of Term Report: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow


Offscreen

Let’s be honest, it’s not brilliant. It never has been brilliant from the start, except in one respect. It’s been loose and clunky and the Big Bad plot has never entirely worked, even in its best moments. The first season ran to sixteen episodes and it’s done well enough to be renewed, but even in the final episode it’s had moments that made you roll your eyes in embarrassment.

But in that one respect of brilliance, Legends of Tomorrow has been brilliant indeed, and in its last few seconds, dropping one heavyweight teaser for season 2, it had me whooping out loud with glee. Because Legends of Tomorrow features a bunch of DC Comics characters, all bar one of which went back to my earliest days reading those silly,enthralling, wonderful things (Firestorm, the exception, dates from 1976, making him the baby at only forty years old). It features them running and bouncing around, flying, throwing punches, being snarky with each other. Man, I would have loved this as a kid and I’m still close enough to that kid inside that I can just relish the thought and give this show a critical bypass on execution.

The show’s supposed to have been about Vandal Savage, The Immortal Villain, and preventing him taking over the world in 2166, and about the 4,000 year long struggle between him and the Hawks, man and girl, Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders (no, no, it should have been Shiera, Shiera Saunders Hall), but the writers couldn’t keep that interesting.

So it’s only properly worked when it’s been about the team doing all the things a team does, and not trying to tie it in to any any season-long arc.

Naturally, we had to dispose of Savage in the finale, and the gang did it in gloriously OTT fashion, killing him no less than three times, with everybody getting in on the act. I say everybody, but the Hawks didn’t really get to finish things off, and it was neither a surprise nor a disappointment to have them write themselves out of season 2.

There was the usual moment of clunk at the end. There’s a Thanagarian meteor about to go off and basically discombobulate the Earth. Our only hope is for Rip to fly it into the Sun, courtesy of the Waverider, all noble sacrifice and that. Rip’s suicide mission, his final reconciliation to the loss of his wife and child, his emotional journey concluded, serenity all around.

Then he jerks himself awake, jettisons the bomb into the sun and flies back. Sigh. You gotta love this, right?

Anyway: no more Time Masters so Rip appoints himself as freelance. Everyone except the Hawks (bye bye birdies) signs up for a repeat voyage with him, and at this stage there’s not necessarily a Big Bad to pursue, though there’s always the Thanagarians round the corner. And then…

Enter one crashing and burning additional Waverider, out of which a hooded, fresh-faced guy emerges to tell our brave band of lads (and one lass) not to get into their Waverider, or they’re all dead. He’s been sent here with a specific message, by none other than Mick Rory. Who is he? He’s the new cast member for season 2. He gives his name as Rex Tyler.

For a moment, the name registers as being familiar but, shamefully, I don’t place it. Until he adds, “I’m a member of the Justice Society of America.”

Woo-hooooooo! Bring on that second season, NOW!