When my son opened the front door this morning, as we were rushing away for school, he was confronted by a huge cardboard box which had been left on the doorstep. In itself, quite exciting for an eight year old boy. The fact that this box carried my son's name on the address label was doubly exciting. The rush to school would simply have to be delayed for a little while yet.
Wide-eyed and fit to explode with excitement, my son tore at the box. I had no more of an idea what it contained that my son did, so I felt that same buzz, albeit dampened somewhat by age and years of experienced disappointments. But the innocence of youth is a marvellous thing to behold; for those few seconds, as the stubborn wrapping tape refused to be torn and the contents remained a secret, it was obvious that the youthful expectation was only of something good, great, wonderful. It was a huge cardboard box after all, how could he expect anything else?
Before the arrival of the box I had been looking through today's newspapers. I was keen to see how tomorrow's FA Cup Final was being covered by the national press. There is so much gripping football to be had at the moment, what with the play-offs, the FA Trophy and FA Vase Finals, the UEFA Cup Final involving Rangers and next week's game in Moscow. I feared that this season's FA Cup Final, with the big names absent, may be overshadowed somewhat by the all-English affair in the Champion's League Final; I think to some extent this is true. But the game tomorrow is afforded some back page space.
Many newspapers are running the same story. It is about Cardiff City's exciting young prospect with the nickname of "Rambo".
Aaron Ramsey, in a quite charming way, displays all the innocence of youth. When Cardiff City arrive at Wembley tomorrow, Ramsey will be a mere 17 years and 144 days old. If Cardiff go on to win the cup, he will replace Paul Allen's name in the record books as the youngest FA Cup winner in the history of the competition. His team mates hail him a "superstar in waiting". The Independent's headline today reads "Wembley awaits Ramsey, the boy who would be king". No pressure then.
Last season Ramsey became Cardiff's youngest ever player, taking that crown from John Toshack. The prodigious young talent has already been courted by a host of Premiership clubs, with Sir Alex Ferguson allegedly leading the interest. The youngster from Caerphilly is seen by some as the natural successor to Paul Scholes up at Old Trafford. Ramsey has also been selected for the full Wales squad for their games against Iceland and the Netherlands later this month, and the Portsmouth camp, ahead of tomorrow's showpiece, have identified Ramsey as the real danger in the Bluebird's team. His playing style has been likened to Steven Gerrard.
It amazes me that for someone so young he does not appear to be fazed or hold any fear about tomorrow and is coping with the pressure that the attention and expectation bring. He could be playing in an FA Cup Final for heaven's sake, only a year after sitting his GCSEs.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says "A new-born calf fears not the tiger". I just hope that Ramsey does not succumb to the nerves and the pressure that can come from playing in such a big occasion at Wembley. We have seen the occasion get to older, wiser, more experienced players in the past and has made the best players crumble under the burden. Ramsey would not be the first to be paralysed by the moment, and won't be the last.
But Ramsey seems to have a good head on his shoulders and in David Jones and other experienced players such as Hasselbaink and Fowler at Cardiff, he is well protected. His feet appear firmly secured. Following the semi-final, he is taking another Wembley appearance in his stride, but admits that he does not remember the old Wembley. He knows not of the twin towers. Now that makes me fell really old. Should I therefore be amazed that he holds no fear? How can one fear something never before experienced? Perhaps it is the total innocence of youth that will actually help and carry him through.
So Ramsey could write his name into the history books. To do this, tomorrow will be the day he will have to come of age, this child amongst men. He will have to remain calm and composed in a manner that will belie his age, and I'm sure he will. But if you look closely, very closely, you will undoubtedly get a glimpse of that wide-eyed excitement that can only ever be portrayed in the face of youth. I'm sure it will be there, just for a few fleeting seconds.
Just like my son opening that box this morning.
What was in the box? It was a radio-controlled football game won in a competition. A competition that he had entered in a kid's magazine. We had told him at the time that the chances of winning were slim at best. On the way to school he chatted excitedly about his win and carried a huge grin from ear to ear and all the way to the playground. He already has a plan for this evening. We will unpack the game, put the batteries in and play out a match. He has already decided that I will be Cardiff City and he will be Portsmouth.
And he has already declared that he will thrash me. Ah, the innocence of youth.