As I said in an earlier Countdown to Wembley piece, I didn’t make the 1985 or 1992 cup finals. Nor, it must be said, have I made any of the playoff games, finals or otherwise. The nearest I have ever come to them was to arrive in Sunderland the evening after the loss to Crystal Palace.
What makes this late arrival more annoying is that had I been able to get up a day earlier I’d have had the use of a season ticket as brother-in law Ed was on holiday. But it was not to be and, as I wandered around a shell-shocked town where half of the pubs had been drunk dry, all I could do was reflect on a lost opportunity.
Such misses turned out to be the signature of my trips to Sunderland over the next few seasons. I visited about twice a year on work matters, liaising with a season ticket holder, but we never managed to fit in a game.
But I digress. This series is, after all, focussed on Wembley. I did visit the old stadium twice after the 1973 final. The first visit was for an England international, when I was expecting Dave Watson to play but he didn’t. The game was boring with nothing of note happening over the 90 minutes, so no change there.
The second visit was something completely different. In a harbinger of my move to the north west I ended up with a bunch of Widnes fans and some Boltonites at the 1975 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, between Widnes and Warrington, my first and last visit to a Rugby League match. It was a crucial crunch derby between two keen rivals whose towns are about six miles apart. Warrington were the holders while Widnes were contesting their first final in ten seasons. Despite the edge this gave the final I have to say the game left me unmoved. Perhaps Mr. Sixsmith was there and will let us have his views.
That doesn’t mean it was a bad day. I was with a good bunch of lads and we visited a few pubs before and after the game. I remember we encountered a group of Morris dancers performing in one pub so we took them on in a singing/dancing contest. They did a dance, we sang a song, then we drank some beer, and so on. One of the locals (or tourists, or passers-by, maybe even the landlord, how would I know?) said he’d never seen anything like it.
And that was that. I left the old Wembley behind and it was demolished. Its temporary replacement, the Millennium Stadium, never called me, although I visited Cardiff a few times and my nephew made it to watch Liverpool. But now the new Wembley beckons. It’s 39 years since I visited, 7 years since it opened and I’m old enough to think this could be my last visit. Alternatively, being a Sunderland supporter living through this season, I’m also thinking I could be back there in a few weeks. In Gus we trust, and life’s like that.
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