FOR the second time in a fortnight, James Chester wore a pained expression after the final whistle of a football match.
Not just any old game on Saturday, with the Hull City defender left to contemplate the slings and arrows of outrageous footballing fortune following a Wembley FA Cup final which had all the ingredients to create an intoxicating brew.
For Chester to be there and striding out on the pitch in the first place was an achievement in itself, given the hamstring strain he picked up in the Premier League loss at Aston Villa on May 3 when he looked a picture of angst, suggesting his own cup final dream was over.
Fourteen days on, the former Manchester United centre-half was entitled to comment on how football’s clock can quickly turn around in your favour after he scored an instinctive opener to put the Tigers 1-0 up in a final against Arsenal which turned out to be a classic.
Better was to come with the East Yorkshire outfit in dreamland when Chester’s defensive partner Curtis Davies doubled their lead on eight minutes.
And then the comeback, sealed through Aaron Ramsey’s extra-time strike to end the Gunners nine-year trophy drought in a captivating 3-2 victory.
For Chester, just as he felt in the Midlands, there was pain, but not necessarily of the physical variety at the sight of Arsenal walking up the steps to lift the cup, which many Hull fans will have been visualising being bedecked in amber and black ribbons when Davies struck their second goal and time seemed to stand still.
Despite the unfortunate outcome, Chester has caught the Wembley bug and after two appearances this season, it has whetted his appetite for more.
Chester said: “Seeing Arsenal lift the trophy has given me a real desire to come back here.
“I certainly don’t want this to be a one-off. Not at all. It’s been an amazing experience – getting through the rounds and playing here. It’s something I’d love to emulate.
“It was so disappointing, although I’ve got happy memories too. After all, not too many get to score in an FA Cup final.
“I think you could tell by my reaction when it went in that my celebration needs a bit of work.
“It was a great feeling to get the first and even better to get the second. We also came so close to a third. We really thought we could go on and do it.
“But they got a free-kick soon after. If we’d held on a little bit longer, it could have been different.
“There was a lot of disappointment in the dressing room afterwards, but I didn’t see any tears.”
On his relief at actually making the final, regardless of how proceedings turned out following a build-up to the showpiece which was testing both mentally and physically, he added: “That was a bonus, just to be on the pitch at the start of the game after the last couple of weeks I’ve had.
“It was great. Although it would have been much nicer if we had won the game.”
Some FA Cup runners-up aren’t exactly remembered in the years to come, but Hull’s contribution to an epic final should at least ensure that their name is etched in football fans’ psyche.
Saturday represented the final act to what has constituted the most remarkable campaign in the club’s 110-year history.
But for Chester, the hard work now begins, with the unforgiving nature of the Premier League such that any vestiges of complacency are exposed ruthlessly in a division which never stands still.
The Warrington-born defender sampled a footballing culture at Manchester United where success is savoured only momentarily before being locked away in the memory vault with the next objective quickly assigned.
“We’ll go away now and hopefully there will be a few new faces on our return,” he added.
“We’ve had a great season, but to see some new faces would give everyone a lift.
“We’ll have to be at our best if we’re going to do well again. It’s the gaffer’s job to make sure we don’t suffer from second-season syndrome. That’s what he gets paid for. He’s done really well in the last two transfer windows.
“He’s signed the players who have kept us up. The cup run has been a bonus. It’s got to act as a springboard for us. This has been a great journey we’ve all enjoyed, but it’s not the end. The Premier League is the main one and having been in the Championship, I don’t want to go back there.”
Reflecting on a bitter-sweet final, Ahmed Elmohamady – the first Egyptian to play in the Wembley showpiece – felt bitterly disappointed with the result but said no-one could be faulted for a lack of effort.
The final outcome may have pleased Egyptians who follow Arsenal in his native Cairo, but many were also cheering him on.
He added: “It was a huge game at home, to be honest.
“There’s a lot of Arsenal supporters and it’s good to be the first Egyptian to play here and we gave everything and scored twice against a top team and a top manager.
“The FA Cup is a huge thing and there were some supporters for me and Hull as well.
“We gave our all and it was just unfortunate that we couldn’t win.”