We mourn the end of the Premier League season. We fill the empty tinnies by our beds with tears. We sprawl on our filthy mattresses, rolling in the breadcrumbs and desiccated baked beans. We scratch ourselves in apathy and squint in light of the new day, before pulling down the shutters and concealing ourselves in the foetid darkness. With trembling hands, we force ourselves to eat a Hobnob, just to sustain what little life we have left.
But wait, we've remembered something! There's still an FA Cup final to be played! Despair not, fellow football fans, for the unbearable misery of summer is not yet upon us. Here's the semi-definitive guide to the cup final, so you can enjoy the final game of the season before abandoning yourself to two months of utter listlessness (and Euro 2016).
ALAN PARDEW'S AFTER-DINNER SPEAKING
There are two possible outcomes of the FA Cup final, and both have their drawbacks. The first is that Crystal Palace triumph, defeating Manchester United in a victory for underdogs and little guys everywhere. Though this is doubtlessly preferable to the other option – we do love an underdog, us Brits – it comes with one terrible consequence.
Alan Pardew will never, ever shut up about it. He will never stop talking about "my FA Cup". He will spend his entire post-match interview lecturing us all about how he tactically outmanoeuvred Louis van Gaal, a man he will refer to as "probably the greatest strategic mind of our generation" despite secretly wanting to give him a double wanker sign and throw a load of eggs at his car.
The self-aggrandisement won't end with the post-match interview. Alan Pardew will be doing after-dinner speaking until the end of time. When he's a 98-year-old man, he'll be wheeled into a futuristic conference room at Selhurst Park to mumble incomprehensible anecdotes to an appreciative audience. After his mortal body has finally given way to the passage of time, his brain will be preserved in a jar until psychic communication is invented; then he will continue to do after-dinner speaking until the universe expands beyond its conceptual limit, and our galaxy finally sputters and dies.
LOUIS VAN GAAL AND HIS CRUSHING DEATH GRIP
The other possible outcome of the game is that Manchester United are victorious, defeating Crystal Palace in a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup final. Did you know that Alan Pardew played for Palace that day, and even scored a crucial goal on their way to Wembley? Yes, of course you did, because he never stops going on about it.
While the 1990 final is famous as the game that saved Alex Ferguson's career, Saturday's clash could at least prolong Louis van Gaal's time in Manchester. While an underwhelming fifth-placed league finish has left him teetering on the brink of extinction, some silverware might convince Ed Woodward and co. to let him see out his contract at the club. That leaves us in a difficult position, with conflicting feelings on what would be more disconcerting for Manchester United fans.
Do we want to see United suffer the ignominy of defeat in the final, or would we rather see them burdened by Van Gaal's gelatinous brand of football for another year?
While Crystal Palace would doubtlessly treasure an FA Cup win more than their mega-successful counterparts, there's something to be said for prolonging Van Gaal's turgid reign at Old Trafford. United fans think they have suffered over the past few years, but they really haven't; another year watching Louis van Gaal crush the creativity out of their side will be character-building.
SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE
If United really must win the cup, we at least want to see Marcus Rashford score the winner. The 18-year-old has been one of the breakthrough stars of the past few months, nabbing eight goals in all competitions despite being widely derided as a last resort when he made his full debut for the club.
Imagine it now: Rashford running at the defence; Rashford skipping past a two-footed lunge from Pape Souaré; Rashford slicing through Scott Dann like a hot knife through butter; Rashford slotting low under Wayne Hennessey and seeing the ball hit the back of the net. As he wheels away to celebrate in front of the fans, the magic of the cup will reach Fantasia levels. It will be the perfect end to his first senior campaign, the heartwarming culmination of this season's most romantic narrative.
In reality, this will probably come to be known as "the Fellaini final" after Van Gaal's midfield enforcer escapes unpunished for a series of jaw-breaking elbows before nodding in a 90th-minute winner from three yards. That's the way of the world, kids: we all want to see romance prevail, but nobody wins anything without elbowing someone else in the face.
ON THE WINGS OF THE ANGELS
While Palace started the season in scintillating form, the second half of their campaign has been – for want of a better word – shite. As much as anything else, this has been down to the collective decline of their counterattacks. A mid-season injury to Yannick Bolasie didn't help matters, while Wilfried Zaha has struggled for confidence in recent months.
Now, though, the time for excuses is long past. If Palace are to win on Saturday, they'll need their fleet-footed wingers to fly with all speed.
At their best, Bolasie and Zaha are an unstoppable combination. Few teams are able to boast such rapid wide men, not least a Manchester United team lumbered with a narrow, one-paced midfield. They move quicker than wildfire, swifter than a roaring torrent, faster than light through the infinite vacuum of space. Come kick off, they must run on the wings of the angels. Then, and only then, can Palace prevail.
DINNER IS RUINED
Bit of a gripe here: what the fuck is up with the 17:30 kick off? What happened to the good old days, when the FA Cup final was at three o'clock? A late-afternoon start means fans won't have time to get dinner, presumably so everyone is compelled to buy a seven-quid Rollover hotdog at Wembley. This is how cynical football has become: the FA have ruined everyone's teatime, so they can force each and every matchgoing supporter to buy a massive bag of Minstrels at extortionate cost.