On Saturday I travelled down to Wembley Stadium in London, to watch my team Manchester City take on Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup final. Precision planning involving car and tube bore fruition and I arrived an hour and half before kick off.
Herded from Wembley Park tube station with a group of raucous, good natured fans, I emerged to see the famous silhouette rising above a sea of two different shades of blue before me. As I took it in, my mind was filled with the echoes of tales, often told, of club and blood and British tradition.
This new Wembley Stadium, opened in 2007, is built on the site of the previous one, and both are joined in the continuing role of creating history and more personal legends.
My Dad went to the 1956 ‘Trautmann’ final, so called after the City goalkeeper, the great Bert Trautmann,a former German POW, played out the final moments of the game with an unsuspected broken neck. A black and white image of my Dad, aged sixteen, stood before Tower Bridge with three of his mates, took form in my mind’s eye. A first, tangible connection to this day.
My Dad, center, back.
I recalled the tale of how he and his mates were reported missing that night, failing to return home in Manchester. After frantic searches they were eventually discovered asleep on an empty train, abandoned in a siding. Supporting City takes it out of you.
The memory of my uncle came next, unbidden, with the knowledge that he attended the 1969 final, often describing Neil Young’s winning goal to us impressionable and spellbound youngsters. Both were lifelong City fans, both are no longer here. They had experienced that pre-match mixture of excitement and fear. The FA Cup final- the dream of every football loving kid, tinged with the knowledge that just one momentary lapse can forever taint this much heralded and longed for day.
I thought of the final of ’81, when my team was beaten with the help of a replay and a wonder goal which is always re-shown and always tormenting. But it was a goal that mostly passed me by in those halcyon days of childhood, as I only began attending matches two years after this in 1983. That 1981 game would be City’s last FA Cup final appearance until we lifted the trophy thirty years later in 2011.
I walked up Wembley Way with the other participants of this great romance, the followers of two northern clubs who had made the pilgrimage south to this iconic landmark.My brother was also somewhere among this great mass of people.
I was optimistic, holding strong to a faith in my team based both on what it had recently achieved and also on its future potential. But I was dangerously close to taking things for granted. I tried to temper this by reminding myself that although we were regarded as clear favourites, over 90 minutes anything can happen. The cup creates a level playing field.
I had on my lucky Nigel De Jong, Cup Final shirt of two years ago, when we brought to an end some lean and very challenging times for us long suffering blues.
Supporters on the whole are a superstitious lot. Faithfully sticking to pre-match routines and rituals, certain words and sentences are made absolutely taboo in the inexplicable knowledge that fate can be tempted.
Always open to omen and portent, I was nevertheless optimistic and confident.
But as the countdown to the kick-off time began, above the huge arch of this great sporting cathedral, dark storm clouds were beginning to gather…….