Today is May 25th – and you don’t need me to tell you what that means.
Two years ago on this very day the yellow and green hordes pitched up at Wembley for one of the greatest days in our club’s history.
For many of our younger supporters, it was probably the greatest – i.e. those who were not around to witness the 1985 Milk Cup Final win over Sunderland or that night in 1993 at the Olympic Stadium in Munich.
I am old enough to have been at the 1973 and 1975 League Cup finals against Spurs and Villa respectively, shared the heartbreak of Cardiff against Birmingham in 2002, and the FA Cup semi-final defeats against Everton and Sunderland do not really bear recalling. The defeat against the Toffees paled into insignificance when events elsewhere that day unfolded and against the Black Cats (or Rokerites as I think they were still known then) we were simply awful.
After the Sunderland match I will never forget four of us trudging into the KFC in Newark. This old boy in a beanie hat saw our colours and said: “What did you boys think of that then?”
“We were crap”, said Vince the Postie.
“We weren’t that good”, replied the old fella. You had to be there.
But enough of the miserable memories – Middlesbrough was a day out to be savoured indeed.
I travelled alone – basically because I wanted to go by train rather than be stuck in a car. The inevitable track works meant the trains stopped at Stratford and getting home might prove problematical, so I took out insurance and booked a Novotel or whatever for the Monday night.
It was a beautiful morning as I walked to the train station. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, but nothing did. The gods smiled upon me and City in equal measure that day.
Emerging from Budgens as it then was on Prince of Wales with four cans for the journey, I saw a twenty pound note lying on the pavement. There was nobody in view who could have dropped it, so I did what Arthur Daley would have done. The sun shone even brighter.
The journey was fantastic. There were loads of youngsters in my carriage who got increasingly raucous, playing drinking games and singing the expected songs. What they sang as the train stopped at Ipswich is unrepeatable.
They then broke into “Who put the ball in the Ipswich net?” and me and the older guys I was sitting with responded: “Super Bradley Johnson”. They looked at us with good-natured contempt. They’d just changed it to “half of fricking Norwich” and I doubt the older version was ever sung again.
I heard Ace of Spades onstage before Motorhead ever recorded it, but I’d never witnessed the birth of a new football song before.
I worked in Wembley Park for a while so know the locale quite well. However, the quiet wine bar I remembered had become a kebab joint so I ended up in The Torch, which was one of several pubs designated for us on the day. My pint of cider came with unrequested blackcurrant in it but as the barman was built like Sebastien Bassong’s big brother I decided to go with the flow.
The walk along Wembley Way was awe-inspiring. This was actually my first time at the New Wembley, and it really was quite something. I met a steward mate I owed a beer to, discharged my debt and took my seat amidst good company.
Half-time was spent with a different steward mate and some other friends from Coltishall.
There’s no point going over the match itself as none of us will ever forget it.
I left the ground quite soon after the final whistle and the Middlesbrough fans I shared the tube journey with (most of our lot were still going ape in the stands) were as gracious in defeat as I have ever seen. Gentlemen and women in extremis.
As I got off the tube at Stratford a train guard spotted my colours and yelled: “Hurry up mate we’re off in under a minute”.
And as we pulled away towards Ilford, I suddenly realised I’d blown nearly a hundred quid on a hotel I didn’t use. Cancellation? Refund? You’re having a laugh. And I can’t say I blame them!
One conversation on the train home that day has recently returned to haunt me.
I remember singing the praises of Alex Neil to the guys I was sitting with when one said words to the effect of: ‘Hold you hard. He (Neil) is unproved. We’re miles behind with recruitment and the Board doesn’t know its bottom from its elbow. I’m as excited as you are, but I’m not getting carried away. My guess is we’ll be straight back down.’
But nothing was ever going to ruin that day for me.
And just in case Stuart Webber and co are reading this, I wouldn’t mind a similar day out this time next year. Although should that prove unnecessary for the right reasons, I’ll not be complaining.
In his most recent article, our very own Stewart Lewis asked a couple of devilish quiz questions, and I suggested I’d pick up the baton so here are mine – they both concern the sendings-off of goalkeepers at Carrow Road.
#1: Who is the only (to my knowledge) England international goalkeeper to see red at The Carra? And who did he foul?
#2: Kevin Keelan once blatantly punched an opposition centre forward and walked towards the dugout before the referee even had the time to send him off. Who were we playing and who was the “victim”?
Nobody over 50 years of age is allowed to Google!