40 in the year of 40 – #7 ‘Wembley’
Some people say that like a calling to the clergy, you don’t choose your football club, it chooses you. I’m not sure that I agree. But whoever you support, however big or small, you will dream of seeing them at Wembley.
May 19th, 2010. League 2 Play-off Semi-Final second leg. Don Valley Stadium. Kevin Ellison heads the ball into the Aldershot net to put Rotherham United 3-0 up on aggregate and the singing gets louder and louder:
“Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be. We’re going to Wem-ber-ley. Que Sera, Sera”
And so it was that on Sunday May 30th 2010, I drove my father and Thomas, my eldest son, to Wembley Stadium for the Play-off Final against Dagenham and Redbridge. I’d been to the old Wembley a couple of times before it was knocked down and rebuilt, but from the beginning of the year, a trip to the new stadium was one of my 40 things to do this year. Granted, back in January, my best bet was either for a stadium tour or an England match. Perhaps they will still happen. But Rotherham don’t get there that often so this was a massive birthday-bonus.
Unfortunately we lost 3-2 and League 2 beckons once more in August (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/eng_div_3/8701564.stm). It’s a cruel way to miss out on promotion and to be honest, I decided to wait a few days before writing this post for a couple of reasons. In the need to rationalise the whole thing, my first inclination was to write about the performance and the Millers’ season. But would you really have been interested in that? Well maybe some of you would, but I know that it would have mostly been for my cathartic benefit. The second reason was that I felt … and if I’m entirely honest I still do feel … a lot like the days after the occasions in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006 (how depressing is that?) when England were knocked out of major championships, 5 times on penalties – i.e. a bit empty, low, fed up.
However, the day, Wembley, the experience and sharing it with Dad and Thomas, were all magnificent. The stadium really is fantastic, with all of the facilities you would ask for. We took in the new Wembley Way approach and the statue of Bobby Moore. We sat in the sunshine and watched the pre-match entertainment without much conversation, because we were just drinking it all in. Although we were fairly near the front, we had a great view – I doubt there is a bad one anywhere.
It’s a shame how the day turned out, and it would be wrong to say that will not colour the memory, but it really was one of those days to cherish because 3 generations of the family shared it all together and none of us will forget it. The photos tell the story.
When you are born in a town like Rotherham and brought up in one of its larger ‘suburbs’ like Maltby your choice of team can be complicated. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maltby,_South_Yorkshire)
Do you follow the team that your father or close relatives support? Do you want to go to matches and get behind your team on a regular basis? Do you want the shared glory of trophies, titles, national and international recognition? Do you just want quality?
Most people that I knew in Rotherham, from my childhood right up to my 30s, were Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Manchester United or Liverpool fans. All were, or had been, in the top division to a mixed degree of success. A few of the Wednesday fans would actually go to the matches rather than rely on the limited TV coverage.
By the summer of 1978 football had become my first real sporting obsession. I spent hours in the garden, running around, kicking a ball into imaginary goals and providing my own detailed commentary on the action. When the weather was poor I would make up leagues and lay out a season’s worth of fixtures on paper, determining the results with dice.
My Grandmother (a Sheffield United fan, and the only Grandparent I ever knew) bought me a Liverpool pennant which was hung from one of the knobs on our Rediffusion TV for the European Cup Final. That night I was allowed to stay up and watch Liverpool beat Bruges 1-0 and retain the trophy through a goal scored by Kenny Dalglish (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gHw4WH3TG0). I thought I was in heaven. Dalglish had become my idol and I lobbied my parents to name the Golden Retriever that we bought that year after him. You’ll be disappointed to learn I was unsuccessful.
My father, a lifelong sports obsessive, began to pay attention to my ‘schooling’. Through either a wish to develop my interest, or to nip this misplaced, vacuous allegiance to the champions of Europe in the bud, he decided it was time for my first live experience, and for him this meant one thing: Millmoor, where he’d been going since his childhood.
I can picture the day vividly now. My Dad, my sister Kerry and I sat in the old main stand watching a 1-1 draw between Rotherham and Plymouth Argyle. I don’t remember many of the players off the top of my head other than Tom McAllister, who was in goal for Rotherham, and Martin Hodge and Gary Megson playing for Plymouth. It wasn’t the best of games (shocker eh?) but to me it was absolutely brilliant and I wanted to go again.
This was of course very good for Dad because it mean’t he could go more often and over the next 2 to 3 years we were regulars. We abandoned the seats for the terraces, where I was aided by a small stool to stand on. We always stood in roughly the same spot.
It was a period of relative success for Rotherham and my list of heroes became both more local and tangible: ‘Tiger’ Tony Towner on the wing, Gerry Forrest, Jimmy Mullen, Rodney Fern (a legend to the bald men of Rotherham) and of course Ronnie Moore. For a couple of seasons we even had Emlyn Hughes, who had lifted that 1978 European Cup as captain of Liverpool as our manager and, capitalising on the efforts of his predecessor (Ian Porterfield) he guided Rotherham to 7th place in the old Division 2 (now the Championship) in 1982 – the highest in my lifetime.
Aside from the stool, my other abiding memories of that time are: the excitement of being allowed to go to evening matches particularly on dark, cold winter nights; fetching scalding hot bovril from the tea urns by the touchline for me, my Dad and his friends, and; the occasional trip to an away match – including the time we had to get 2 buses and a taxi back from a midweek match at Barnsley because Dad had parked our car on a Renault dealer’s forecourt, returning to find a barrier blocking our exit. Mum was not impressed.
Important bonds were formed and cemented, most obviously with my father. I loved the time we shared going to matches and I still do when we get the opportunity now. My bonds with the Millers had clearly also formed, but they have been through more ups and downs.
In the mid 1980s Rotherham’s footballing fortunes began to mirror those of the town. They were difficult times. The coal and steel industries, on which the town rapidly developed in the 19th century, were decimated. On the pitch, relegations followed, along with dodgy chairmen and misplaced finances. We began to go to less matches, with golf taking over as my major sporting interest. We still went a few times each season, calling in at my Great Aunty Maud’s around the corner from the ground afterwards for a cup of tea, the results and the end of World of Sport’s wrestling, but it was just less often.
In such times, the question about which team do you support becomes even more relevant. I was lucky in that I was introduced to the Millers at the start of a short period of success. I can’t imagine there are many people from Rotherham who became interested in the game in the mid 80s who are actually Rotherham fans. It was no fun and no glory.
Like a lot of children who support lower division teams, I developed a liking for a ‘second team’ to support if they were on TV. For me it was Tottenham Hotspur. I didn’t want to go for the more obviously successful league champions of the time and Spurs, who played attractive, expansive football, had won the Cup in 1981 and 1982, so they fit the bill (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHMSqea3OX8).
When I went to study in London in 1988 I had greater access to some of the bigger teams in England, including Spurs, and I visited White Hart Lane quite often. This was a different thing altogether, much more glamorous, packed stands, the most famous players of the time and high quality play. Over the next 3 years, Tottenham had stars such as Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne.
The first game that I went to at Wembley was the 1991 FA Cup semi-final, Spurs v Arsenal, most memorable for Gascoigne’s 35 yard free-kick into the top corner (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVMaIUSeRxA). It was a brilliant occasion with Spurs, the underdogs, winning 3-1 and spoiling Arsenal’s double.
Whilst I lived in London, the odd opportunity to follow the Millers on their travels did present itself. I particularly remember a day watching them draw at Leyton Orient, followed by an evening watching a thrash metal band called Bomb Disneyland at the Marquee. Strange day. Have you ever done that?
My Dad had always said that if Rotherham made it to Wembley he would have to be there. In 1996, at the age of 65 and when he thought the time had passed, he got his first chance … and I’m glad to say that I was there with him to see it. Rotherham beat Shrewsbury Town 2-0 in the final of the Auto-Windscreens Shield, with two goals from Nigel Jemson (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/football_league/article5537054.ece).
As for my sons? Well, there are times when I wonder if I’ve done Tom a terrible dis-service by indoctrinating him into the Millers’ following. He is undoubtedly destined for a lifetime of disappointment in this respect as a consequence, but at least he is not running around in a Chelsea shirt. His first live game was at Millmoor – Rotherham v Wycombe in January 2008. He was only vaguely interested before the game, but very quickly became hooked and he always leaps at the chance to see Rotherham, home (well temporary home at Don Valley currently) or away. He even willingly came to Grimsby last season. As was the case with me at his age, given a choice he’ll kick a ball around, watch a game on TV, choose Rotherham as his subject for creative writing exercises at school. Obsessed.
With Jacob things are slightly different. You see I married into a family of Wednesday fans and Nicola, fearing total isolation in our own nuclear family, worked on Jake to declare an allegiance to the Owls. Yes his first live game was Rotherham v Morecambe this year, but unfortunately it was a particularly dull 0-0 draw. He says he supports both Rotherham and Wednesday but, although we don’t like to talk about it, we all know that’s not really going to work in the long run. Relegation won’t have helped but the chances are that Wednesday will come back. To be fair I’ve taken him and his Grandpa (Nic’s Dad) to Hillsborough a couple of times, to give him the opportunity to see his team. But the bug hasn’t fully hit yet. He’s still younger than Tom was when he went to his first game. Tom went to both of those Owls matches by the way. He had to sit on his hands when the opposition scored.
So … back to Wembley. With luck, health and a fair wind, I will have a number of opportunities yet to see Rotherham win there again. I particularly hope that the next one will come soon for myself, Thomas and Dad.