As a Nottingham Forest fan in my 20s, I haven’t had a chance to experience club football at Wembley Stadium. Long gone are the days of Clough & Taylor’s red men, often walking up the famous steps to lift silverware. And even all of that was before my time.
In 2007 I practically had my trip arranged for the Play Off final. It was going to be a diamond in the rough after two seasons in the murky pits of League One. We’d beaten Yeovil Town convincingly, so how was I supposed to know that the village minnows would turn us over in the return leg? But I should have known. Since then we’ve had two Play Off campaigns and two failures at the Semi Final stage. But I’m used to it now.
I’ve been to the old stadium a couple of times, on day trips with the old youth club on my estate. Nothing major, just some low-key England friendlies against – I can’t even remember – probably some lesser-footballing nations. Hungary and Scotland perhaps? But the rebuild is almost ten years old, and I still hadn’t been. I had the chance to go last year, when Peterborough United got to the JPT final. But my pride got in the way, I was determined that my first trip there would be when Forest made it, which I was sure would happen in the next couple of seasons. But reality has since kicked in and I’ve come to realise that it won’t be happening any time soon. I never, for one second, thought my first trip would be to witness Walsall and Bristol City though. But it was free, so who’s complaining?
The day started well – a bacon cob, followed by a debate; whether it’s a ‘cob’, ‘roll’ or ‘barn’. And what is the best condiment to compliment the swine; red or brown? The answer is ‘cob and brown sauce’. Once the argument was settled we hopped on a train to the Big Smoke. At King’s Cross (other train stations are available) it cost 30p to take a squirt. There was a fella in there, at the sink, wetting his whistle from the hot tap. Welcome to London.
We got off the tube and headed to, what we thought was, the exit; up some stairs and down a corridor. It was a dead end. As we turned round to begin the walk of shame, we realised that we’d been followed by about thirty or so Bristol fans. We went from trusted leaders-of-the-pack to headless chickens in the blink of an eye.
The Football League Trophy final wasn’t the only game on that day, and Kev being a Liverpool fan insisted on watching the first half of the Manu game, before we made the last leg of our trip. It didn’t take long to find a pub with Sky, but the place was rammed with spivs and Cockney reds. We were ushered into the basement, where I estimate the temperature was roughly about SCORCHIO. It was full of families eating their Sunday roast, so we just propped up the bar. We had to take out a Wonga loan to buy a beer in there, so then came the balancing act of trying not to slurp it down too quickly, at three quid a sip, and trying not to dehydrate to death. Luckily, for Jarred and me at least, Liverpool went a goal down, Kev had seen enough and wanted to leave. So we crawled out the front door like Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
After a short train journey, we made our way to the ground. At this point, we didn’t even know which set of fans we’d be sat with, so just tried to blend in with whoever. I’d like to be able to say that the atmosphere amongst the walking supporters was electric, but I’d be lying. To be fair, there was a couple of Brizzle lads who attempted to start a chant – something along the lines of; “Marlon Pack is fat, and (someone?) is his uncle”. It didn’t catch on.
I never preach about being “against modern football” but spending 750 Million quid on a stadium seems a bit much to me, especially when clubs like Hereford United, for example, are going out of business, just for needing only a tiny fraction of that amount to survive, but we all know the FA don’t give a rat’s about anything below the Premier League. I couldn’t get to grips with the electronic turnstiles, I’m used to some old biddy with an attitude problem, not Johnny 5, but a steward came to the rescue and I was in. I was grateful for the fact that they had escalators as well, I certainly wasn’t against modern football when I realised I wouldn’t have to use energy on steps and we didn’t have to spill what little hydration we had left. I’m being a bit ungrateful though, the stadium is very impressive.
We took our seats, up in the gods, and surrounded by Walsall fans. Unfortunately for Jarred, we were sat in front of some kids with an air horn, and as soon as they realised that he jumped out of his skin with every toot, they were in their element.
The pre-match entertainment was interesting. A graphic of some bongos appeared on the big screens, whilst a cameraman would search for folk in the crowd to play the air drums to the beat blasting from the PA. Each time they did this, we all got our phones out and proceeded to look busy, like petulant children at a kids’ party, refusing to join in with pin the tail on the donkey. The half time display wasn’t much better. A fan from each side taking shots at an inflatable paint pot. Neither could hit it, so they split the prize money. The cynic in me suspects they were in cahoots.
That was all better than the football though – what a garbage display. As soon as Bristol scored, about fifteen minutes in, there was only going to be one winner. Walsall had plenty of chances, but they couldn’t hit Marlon Pack’s backside with a banjo. Their fans seemed to feel the same way, I got the impression they’d accepted defeat before Kick Off and were just happy to be there for a runners up medal. But they were still in high numbers. About 73,000 were in attendance in total. Very decent for the Football League Trophy, to be fair. I even missed Mark Little’s goal, as I wanted to use facilities I didn’t have to pay for. On principal.
Seeing as we’re not Bristol or Walsall supporters, we decided to leave with about ten minutes to go, in the hope of beating the rush. I was amazed at how many Brizzle fans had the same idea. You’ve come all this way, at least stay to see your team lift the trophy!
On the train, there was some plastic football hooligans with swimming goggles on their hoods, and were giving a half-hearted rowdy display – Doing things like; banging their fists on the doors, raising their voices and littering. Shine on you crazy diamonds!
Getting back to King’s Cross was a mission, we had to take about eight trains on the tube. Kev acted as our tour guide, and I reckon if he wasn’t there, we’d probably be in Wigan about now. And on the final stretch home, we helped ourselves to a first class seat. But our fellow passengers were clearly annoyed by our presence, and it didn’t take long for the conductor to hoof us out, along with a lady and her kids, who had already scranned all of the posh biscuits by that point. The mother still caused a bit of a scene though, whilst we just stood in the door way, deciding not to take the walk of shame into ‘second class’ with the rest of the peasants.
So that was my first trip to the new Wembley stadium. Not exactly a memorable tale, but a cracking day out with the boys and I was glad to have swallowed my pride to make the effort to go. Forest won’t be there anytime soon. Basically, we just spent the day moaning, but at least I’ve still never paid for a ticket.