Muggins happy to be finally in a final
The list of those who have been sent off in an FA Cup final is short, and all the more memorable for it – Kevin Moran of Manchester United was the first, in 1985, and Jose Antonio Reyes of Arsenal, the second and so far last, five years ago. The list, however, of those who have missed a Cup final through suspension is longer but less easy to recall. But one of those who has suffered exactly that fate, Hayden Mullins, has a shot at redemption this weekend against Chelsea when he thought his hopes had long gone.
Mullins, the Portsmouth left-back who could be up against Nicolas Anelka on Saturday, was playing in midfield when the red mist came down in a league game in April 2006 that meant he could not play for West Ham United against Liverpool in the final the following month.
By coincidence, his sending off came against Liverpool, and Luis Garcia, the Reds’ midfielder, suffered the exact same punishment. Mullins says: “I don’t know why I did it, it was one of those stupid things. I didn’t really hit him as such, I just sort of tried to push him away and he sort of knocked my arm up and I caught him in the face. But it was a red card and it was a stupid thing to do, to react like that.”
Mullins, 31, admits he felt crushed. “I was just devastated, having played the whole season and the semi-final. I knew I would have played. You can’t really put into words how stupid you feel and how bad it is after, but it’s gone now. It’s cushioned the blow but it’s always in the back of your mind. It was a great final [West Ham lost on penalties] and it still hurts to this day but it’s gone now. It’s a stupid error by me and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Mullins, nicknamed Roberto Carlos by his manager Avram Grant, to try to make him feel more at ease in his position, has not been one of the game’s most fortunate players. To be at one club that has gone into administration could be called unlucky, to have been at two could be considered careless. Crystal Palace, his first team, called in the men in suits in 1998, while Pompey have, of course, done the same this season. But there is no comparison, he says. Portsmouth have won that particular battle of the paupers, past and present, with their £136m debts.
He recalls: “Palace were in and out of administration but this has been unbelievable. You think it couldn’t get any worse: nine points [deducted], then administration, no money, then the debt is getting bigger every week. You have to have a sense of humour to get through it, you have to look at it and laugh because it’s such a bad situation that the club finds itself in. Hopefully this is the end of it and we can build next year and get promotion. Then the club may be more stable than it is now. That is the only thing we can hope for.” That, and for Mullins, a final appearance at last.