Can you see that question mark in the title of this, my first ever blog? Wick to Wembley? In my very first post I explained that the question mark was there for a reason, a very significant reason. It symbolised the fact that there was every chance that I would not complete this journey from Alwyns Lane, Chertsey to Wembley, North London. These two locations are physically separated by a mere 58 miles but I travelled 2354 miles to get there.
The dust has now settled for me. I have deliberately let that be so before I came back to write this piece. All week I have thought that this last post would indeed be that. The last post. The final summary. A conclusion. The end. But in reality, it is only the beginning. And look, that there is no question mark this time in my post title, because this I know for sure.
When I say the dust has settled, that is not strictly true. There has been the odd whirlwind and eddy of activity since last Saturday. For a couple of days (Monday was the worst on my return to work) I felt quite down. Quite hollow as if something had been taken from me. This FA Cup adventure has played a significant part in my life for eight months and it ended as suddenly and as quickly as it had started. A few days in to the week and the expected newspaper and radio interviews came and went. Many, many messages of congratulations were received; thanks to everyone who made the effort to contact me. This whole FA Cup thing has remained high on my agenda.
In the middle of the week we were served up the "game of all games", the Champions League final between Chelsea and eventual winners Manchester United. Probably over-billed, but a very good game with a dramatic end. But the thing that struck me most at the end was, within minutes, with the trophy barely lifted, thoughts back in the studio and with the players on the pitch turned to next season. What would happen to Avram Grant? Would Chelsea sell most of their players? Is this start of a period of dominance from the reds from Manchester? Ronaldo - staying or going?
Football never stands still. There really is no end. Many clubs are already deep into planning, scheming and plotting about next season whilst this season has not truly finished. Promoted clubs gear up for life at a higher, tougher level. Relegated clubs have already come to terms with their fate and are adjusting accordingly. In the lower levels of the non-league pyramid decisions have already been made (and don't forget it is still only May) about league restructuring; some clubs already know which league they will be playing in following enforced sideways moves based on geographical location and changing league numbers. In football the dust is never allowed to rest.
And with me the same is kind of true. I am now entering a period where I have some tough decisions to make. I am mulling over a serious book offer - who would have though that back in August? - and it is a decision I cannot afford to take lightly. I have rediscovered my taste for writing and I hunger for more. This blog, and more specifically the response to it, has been a real eye-opener. This is indeed the last post for this particular site, but I have a feeling another blog may be just around the corner. But who knows? Let me think on it for a while.
And what of the FA Cup? The journey for me was more important than the end. And I have not been surprised with what I have found. The FA Cup is alive and well and it is not only about the big boys. Far from it. It is about clubs and teams from all over our land, in the villages and small towns and local communities. You or I could play in the FA Cup; I know some of you reading this have. On heavy pitches surrounded by single railings on miserably wet October days in front of fifty people. Knowing that game could be the first steps on a footpath that grows into a magnificent road, a road that leads all the way to Wembley.
I have already found myself wistfully looking through the list of teams who have requested to be in the 2008-09 FA Cup. Some will not be accepted, but some new first-timers will. The list is made up of names such as AFC Wulfrunians, Heather St John and Walsall Wood. A world away from 2007-08 winners Portsmouth but undoubtedly still part of the same FA Cup family. The draw for the next season's Extra Preliminary Round will be made in only a few weeks time.
I wonder who Chertsey Town will draw? Wick again? Who knows? This is the beauty of the FA Cup. Only a matter of weeks and we will be back at the start. Return to go. And for me, I know I have not reached an end, but arrived at the beginning. Of that, there is no question.