This post isn’t all about football. I can almost hear my football loathing sister muttering dark oaths as I type, but really, it’s not about football. This post is a celebration of a perfect day. The kind of day that makes me want to explode with happiness. The kind of day everybody needs to experience from time to time throughout their lives. Whatever floats your boat, be it music, sport, theatre, dance, occasionally that floater (not sure ‘floater’ is quite the word I want, but you get my drift!) feels so damn good.
At the end of the 2004-2005 season my beloved football club, Cambridge United, was in disarray. The club was in administration, the ground had been sold to the vultures and the team dropped out of the league. I cried all the way home from the 4-0 thrashing at Scunthorpe which saw Cambridge all but mathematically relegated with three games left to play. Well, actually I cried until I realised I could make it home in time for Doctor Who, but ‘all the way home’ sounds more poignant. The fact remains that I was devastated.
Fast forward nine years to a sunny day in May 2014. Being a Sunday, my day inevitably kicked off with a hangover, particularly as it followed an engagement party on the Saturday night, but there was no chance of me staying in bed to sleep it off. After all, it’s not every day that my non-league football team plays at Wembley for a coveted place in the football league.
I wasn’t the only one with a hangover, I hasten to add. Some drank through it on the train journey to London, others had a little kip. I didn’t do either, being far too busy painting my nails in Cambridge United’s amber and black colours, much to the amusement of the people around me. My travelling neighbour suggested that I might need some new amber nail varnish, and he had a point. I’m not sure how old it is, but it’s pretty much one solid lump now, and claggy nail varnish is not a good look.
Going to London always gives me a huge buzz, and factoring into the equation a crowd of high spirited football fans, beautiful weather and the anticipation of a big day out, I was hangover free and ready for a beer by the time we surged off the train at Kings Cross station. The excitement was palpable. Forget the image of drunken sunburnt thugs rampaging through Europe that too often taints English football fans; yesterday we Cambridge fans, with our sunny colours and equally sunny smiles, spread good cheer everywhere we went.
I don’t know whose bright idea it was to head for Leicester Square for a liquid breakfast, but we were thwarted from the off by that area’s ‘no alcohol until midday’ policy. Midday? Mid-flipping-day? Luckily, nearby Trafalgar Square had no such dry pub nonsense going on, so off we went, losing one of our party in the process.
‘Man down! Man down!’ Eventually we located him: we’d left him in the toilets of the last dry pub we’d visited in our anxiety to find alcohol. After a brief tour of the sights, he caught us up and we were a group reunited.
Once the hair-of-the-dog pint was safely out of the way, I was back in the groove. High spirits became unabashed jubilation as we drank ice-cold beer, took the piss out of each other (and anyone else up for a laugh), had a sing-song and generally enjoyed the pre-match piss up. The pub contained an eclectic mix of supporters of both play-off teams (Gateshead being our opponents), Royal Marines veterans celebrating the 350th anniversary of that fine institution, tourists of many different nationalities, and a lady-boy. The lady-boy in particular got the noisiest member of our party very excited, and he’s excitable enough at the best of times.
With a couple of hours to go until kick off, we embarked on the next part of our mission. Half an hour and a very hot tube journey later, we were in a pub within sight of Wembley Stadium. I have to admit I still miss the iconic twin towers, but the new Wembley was certainly impressive to behold as the overground ‘underground’ train rounded the corner into Wembley Park. Excitement reaching fever pitch, we had a couple more pints in possibly the skankiest pub ever. Did we care that it was a hovel? Did we heck!
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of walking along Wembley Way to see my little local team play in the national stadium. The city of Cambridge had come together for one day to support the players, and the mixture of excitement, pride and nerves was incredibly moving. The memory is bringing up the hairs on the back of my neck as I write. Once inside, we discovered we were a man down again. One of our group had decided he couldn’t bear to watch, so he’d turned tail and headed back to Cambridge. Having come home empty handed from two play off finals in previous years, all Cambridge supporters know what an awful feeling it is to lose at Wembley, but I wouldn’t have missed the game for anything. Not even a banging hangover!
I’m not going to go into details about the game, as this post is not about football. No, honest to God, it’s NOT! The first half was a bit of a non-event anyway; we were more interested in taking the piss out of the bloke we’d nearly lost in dry Leicester Square earlier, who spent most of the 45 minutes asleep.
No one slept during the second half. Within minutes Cambridge were 1-0 up and playing well. Midway through the second half the deserved second goal came from a magnificent free kick. What the hell, I’ve got to share. Just listen to that roar, while I go and shed a few more tears of joy.
After scoring, though, things got extremely tense. Gateshead pulled a goal back, and it was as if someone had pressed a mute button in our end of the stadium. Seven agonising minutes of injury time followed the regulation ninety, and I saw grown men weep. Stiff upper lips, my arse. We were so close to the prize of league football coming back to Cambridge, but so used to disappointment that we were braced for the expected cheer from the Gateshead fans signalling an equaliser…
I’m pretty good with words, but I’m struggling to describe the explosion of Cambridge joy that greeted the final whistle. I’ve never felt so emotional after a football match. People were crying and laughing all at once, hugging complete strangers as we celebrated our sporting bond and displayed our feelings in a manner not usually associated with the British. The jubilation then spilled over into a mass sing song; we didn’t know which football chant to air first, and the result was a cacophonous, joyful din of the whole lot merged together.
This morning I woke up with no voice, chipped (claggy) nail varnish and a random smattering of bruises on my knee. Who knows where they came from! When I told you this post wasn’t going to be about football I was possibly bending the truth a little, but only a little. Football was the reason behind it all for me yesterday, but the result was something to which I hope you can all relate: the sheer joy of celebration.
The Monday Moan will return. I’ve not had anything to moan about recently, but I’m sure that will change.