It is amazing how quickly opinions can change, not least one's own. After Cardiff City's great win at Middlesbrough just over a week ago, I stood in front of the ESPN-Star TV camera outside the Riverside Stadium and said, with an air of confidence, I had a reasonable chance of getting tickets for the semi-final at Wembley. I've seen the footage; I even had a wry smile on my face, that kind of smug look that suggested I knew what I was talking about; the look that suggested that I knew something everyone else didn't.
Watching that footage one week on I can re-evaluate the situation. What my expression actually said was "this bloke is talking a load of crap". A week is a long time in football and much has happened since our journey back from Teesside.
First up, as we all know, the draw pitted Cardiff City with Barnsley. Already confident of getting tickets because of the lack of any of the big four in the last four, this draw boosted my confidence even further. The new national stadium has an official capacity of 90,000. In my naivety I thought that both these Championship teams would get a fair wedge of the allocation. Take off a little for segregation and each team would be looking at around 43,000 tickets. I was already registered on the Cardiff City database and I actually felt quite pleased with myself.
That was on the Monday of last week. Two days later and my mood had changed markedly. Both clubs were having a planning meeting at Wembley on the Thursday to discuss, amongst other things, ticketing arrangements. But by Wednesday news had filtered out that Cardiff City and Barnsley were to get an allocation of only 33,000 tickets each. Confirmation from both clubs followed pretty quickly with additional information that suggested that at least 20,000 tickets were going to Wembley club members and corporate sales. If that is indeed an accurate figure, that is a staggering proportion of the total tickets that fans from neither Cardiff nor Barnsley will be able to get their hands on. Shocking news. My confidence was rapidly seeping from every pore.
The clubs then announced their own ticket sales arrangements. Quite rightly, both clubs are to sell tickets in a phased approach, providing the regular fans with first dibs. At Cardiff, Ambassadors and Season Ticket holders will be able to buy first, followed by Away Travel Members and finally holders of a ticket stub from last week's league game against Hull City. This incentive swelled the gate for Hull's visit to Ninian Park. Good marketing ploy. Additional incentives include extra semi-final tickets for Ambassadors or Season Ticket holders who renew for next season if they renew by the end of this week. Barnsley have a similar phased approach for their own ticket sales.
The worrying part for me is that I do not figure in the equation. I do not fall into any of the Cardiff sales categories. I will have to wait for the "general sale" phase, if there are any tickets left by then.
This gave me a glimmer of hope through a door that had been left slightly ajar. But then I heard an announcement from the Football Association that appeared to slam the door firmly shut in my face. With regards to general sales, it went something like this:
"The regulations for this game prevent any information regarding general sale being released at this time. The Football Association have stipulated that tickets may only go on general sale should both clubs involved in the fixture have tickets remaining".
This left a massive question. What if one or both clubs had tickets left to sell after their predetermined sales phases had completed? Where do these tickets go? Back to the FA for corporate guests? Back to the clubs for another sales phase? Questions that remain unanswered.
Whilst I was beginning to accept the fact that my chance of getting a ticket for the semi-final was virtually non-existent, I was confronted with another, more unexpected emotion. When I started this venture I knew it would be a struggle to get tickets in the latter rounds, something I have repeatedly acknowledged. I am even quite surprised I have made it this far; the draw has certainly been very kind to me. But in those early days I envisaged that, if I got this far, I would be competing for a ticket with supporters from the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool. Or any of the other top Premier teams. For some reason, the thought of a fan from one of those clubs missing out on a trip to Wembley, because I had managed to get my sweaty mitts on a ticket instead, didn't really bother me. I felt it was something I could live with.
But now, faced with a scramble for tickets alongside Cardiff and Barnsley fans, it has become something that doesn't really sit comfortably with me. It is an unnerving feeling. Listening to the fans from South Wales and South Yorkshire, it is evident that there will be genuine fans from both sides who will not be able to get tickets. Those who are not Season Ticket holders or Ambassadors or Away Travel members. Those who are exiled in different parts of the country or on foreign soil. Fans who have much more of a right to watch this game. And I find that quite sad. This will be a huge occasion for both clubs. Absolutely massive. An occasion that the bigger clubs and their fans are familiar with. But for these two second tier teams, something quite unique. An FA Cup semi-final. An FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Chances are that many fans of either club will not live to see anything like this happen again. What right do I have to a ticket?
Well, that is a much easier question to answer.
So what about that question I was asked in the post-match Teesside chill up at the Riverside last week? If asked again now, I would answer it quite differently. I would not have that smug look on my face. The answer could not be any more different.
But who knows? Ask me again this time next week. A week really is a long time in football.