Monday 14 October 2019

Not standing out in the Wembley crowd


SUNDAY, 3.50PM. We are officially on the road to Wembley. Something odd has happened to the car's CD system and when set to shuffle, it repeatedly spits out Christmas songs. It's mid-april and members of the British public are zooming past on the M25. These motorways are not for the feint-hearted.

Robson and Jerome start to sing I Believe, and this car-load of Spurs supporters decide that it's an omen. In just over two hours time we will be sitting in Wembley Stadium but we have one small problem; our seats are in with the die-hard Chelsea fans. We're not sure if we will be able to keep quiet should Spurs score, though we know we'll have to, or run the risk of a kicking.

5.45pm. There are fifteen minutes until kick-off. After being wisely advised, we rang ahead to find out about parking and were told that for a significant fee of £27, we could park right outside the stadium. To save time and scenes of three hillbillies coming to town and badgering the coppers, we agree to the deal and it was well worth it. We park 100 metres from the Wembley doorstep, perfect for a quick escape should our cover be blown.

5.55pm. I am in the gents and around me stand a pack of about 14 Chelsea supporters. I am not wearing a jersey so it can't be easily deduced where my loyalties lie. Just then a young man walks in, slaps the wall and begins a Chelsea chant. I find it hard to understand the cockney accent but tap my foot along politely. Then they all start slapping the walls and roaring and cheering and grunting. It is oddly endearing.

6.01pm. There are over 87,000 fans in the stadium, for today's FA Cup semi-final and they are asked to observe a minute's silence to remember those that died in the Hillsborough disaster 23 years ago, and for the footballer Piermario Morosini who died while playing in Italy's Serie B recently. A section of the fans refuse to respect the request and sing through it. The majority of the crowd is disgusted, rightly, before the game gets under way.

8.00pm. As it turns out Chelsea give Spurs a hammering and we don't really have to worry about celebrating a goal (Spurs get one, Chelsea get five). After goal number four, two Chelsea fans give me a great big bear hug and tell me 'we've done it'. I nod at them and sit back down. To my right a man in his 50 is doing a jig and singing about hating Tottenham while somewhere in the distance some of the Spurs fans are singing a very uncomplimentary ditty about the mother of a participating footballer's mother. In the magical sporting theatre that is Wembley their mostly good-humoured revelry adds to the occasion.

As supporters we might have come out the wrong end of the result and a disgraceful piece of refereeing where a goal was given and the ball hadn't crossed the line, but this trip to Wembley is reason to mark another activity off my personal bucket list. I also got the opportunity to see Luca Modric play in the flesh while still a Spurs player; I don't expect he has that many games in a white shirt left.


As a big fan of horse racing and someone that often has lengthy discussions with those who protest against the cruelty of the sport, I was taken aback by what happened in this year's Grand National race at Aintree. To lose two horses, one of them this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised, and watch as jockey after jockey fell and diced with being crushed to death by landing hooves, will hopefully heighten the call for greater safety measures being implemented.

As regards picking a winner, it was the first time in many years that I didn't bump into anyone who had backed the eventual champion. It was a great performance by horse Neptune Collonges, jockey Daryl Jacob and trainer Paul Nicholls. Hopefully those in positions of authority will seriously review what happened, and that the action taken will reduce the possibilities of similar tragedies occurring next year.

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