It was the moment football had been waiting over a year for, to bring the trophy Leicester City had been waiting their whole history for.
Youri Tielemans scored one of the most spectacular FA Cup winners this competition will ever see, in what was one of the most celebrated victories the competition will see. It was not just that 22,000 supporters were here at last, to make football’s national day an even greater national event. It was that half of them watched a club finally win their first ever FA Cup, as Leicester City beat Chelsea 1-0. Wrapped up in Tielemans’s soaring strike were decades of anguish, and four lost finals. He let fly, and fans just let go. Leicester had been the club to have reached the most finals but never won one. No longer.
All of that could be felt in the explosion of ecstacy that followed the goal, a sound almost as sensational as the sound of the strike.
Only the noise at the final whistle matched that, although one other moment came close. Another form of history was made as Chelsea had a 90th-minute own-goal equaliser ruled out by VAR for the thinnest of offsides.
Many will maybe fairly point to the tragedy of the natural emotion of the game – and especially this 150-year-old fixture – succumbing to such cold protocol. The result, however, was the most human emotion you could see – despair on one side, jubilation on the other. After all that, it was at once a classic final for the ages and a unique one from very modern times.
Leicester won’t care. They finally had what they’d waited their history for. Brendan Rodgers finally has his first trophy in England final, to ensure this season – that has sometimes seemed set for another underwhelming drop-off – was not just a success, but had a joyous climax.
Thomas Tuchel meanwhile must wait for his first trophy in England, if there is to be one at all. Chelsea’s chance for a double could dissipate into nothing. A greater pressure is on, because they could not quite put the pressure on here. The VAR call should not be the only moment they rue. There was more to it, just as there was so much more to the game as an occasion. There was also – it must be said – the unsavoury boos for players taking the knee, from both sides, but they were drowned out by applause. The memories were of course overwhelmingly positive.
The atmosphere made every individual moment feel that bit more exciting, that bit more intense, even though there were initially long periods when the two teams were only threatening to do something rather than actually making anything happen. So much of the real action was in that raucous final half hour.
It had admittedly been Chelsea who were doing most of the threatening up to then, which made Leicester’s win all the more cherished. There were so many occasions when Timo Werner was surging forward and seemed set to open the Leicester defence and the cup final, only to misplace a pass, miss-time a run or miscue a shot. It is actually to the German’s credit that none of this ever saps the adventurousness in his game. He always remains so eager to instantly charge forward.
That eagerness did seem to cost Chelsea once, though, if only by inches. At the height of their best spell in the first half, and after a series of crosses and corners, Thiago Silva finally seemed to clip the right ball in. His delivery was perfectly flighted and just begging to be nodded in. With Cesar Azpilicueta waiting to do just that, though, an almost imperceptible touch from Werner appeared to just take it away from him. It was as close as Chelsea were to get for some time. The game remained so tantalisingly tight, though.
In normal circumstances, that spell might have been considered a cautious game. Tuchel’s tactics were somewhat reserved, which has actually been a bit of a trend for him finals. Leicester were meanwhile as pragmatic as they can be, illustrating Rodgers’s evolution as a manager. This was still anything but normal, though.
It was a long-awaited gathering, that must have almost seemed an alien occasion to the players given how long they’d been playing in front of empty stands. It was as if the game – and the fans – were waiting for that moment to set it off, to release it all, to let it all out.
That is precisely what Tielemans did. He simply let fly, with a rocket of a shot that brought an explosion of ecstacy. How we’d missed a sound like that. How Tielemans caught it. Kepa Arrizebalaga had no chance in stopping it.
If that was to instantly go down as a classic cup final goal, it set up the classic up final situation. There was a siege. This was where Kasper Schmeichel – among so many Leicester players – really stood up. He did it by getting down so quickly, so sharply – so crucially.
There was first the header from Kai Havertz at the near post. There was then the impressively improbable reaction to keep out Mason Mount at the far post. That was almost as spectacular as Tielemans’s goal – and certainly as important. There was still the VAR call to come.
It was eventually met with jubilation by Leicester’s supporters – but nothing like at the final whistle. There’s no sound like that in football. It’s what the game has been waiting for – but not as long as Leicester had waited for this.