Welcome to our new series recording football fans across the world;s first football matches. We all remember the game, if not all the details like we do our first kiss. But football is a lifelong love so this series will show the weird and wonderful games that broke our cherry.
Birmingham 7 Blackpool 1
St Andrew’s, Birmingham (att: 18,025)
Endsleigh Insurance Division Two
31st December 1994
Most Birmingham City fans that I know insist that being a Bluenose is ‘in their veins’. For me, I suppose, that’s more accurate than most. Don Dorman (who played 59 matches for Blues, managed our youngsters to their only ever FA Youth Cup final, and stepped in as caretaker manager in 1970) was my granddad’s second-cousin. And after undertaking a bit of family genealogy last year, it turns out that my paternal ancestry lived in Bordesley, spitting distance from where St Andrew’s was erected in 1906 – Cattell Road, Camp Street, Garrison Lane, Bordesley Green.
But for all that, I was never pushed into it – my dad allowed me to explore my footballing curiosity, probably knowing my roots would reel me in eventually. Manchester United were my first passion, and I could probably still name most of the Red Devils’ squad from 1994, of whose Panini stickers I pretended I hadn’t ‘got’ even though I had, and whose posters lined my room like wallpaper.
Until then though, football had really only existed through the telly. So imagine my delight when my dad offered to take me (at the age of eight) and my sister to St Andrew’s for the first time, to see Blues face Blackpool on New Year’s Eve, 1994. Not exactly the Theatre of Dreams, of course, but the Kop and Tilton Road End had had their terracing cleared and had been rebuilt during the summer (and decontaminated, owing to the rubbish tip that once lay below the Kop). And it was in the brand new Kop which we sat, which had only been fully reopened the month before.
I was happy to be going to see Birmingham City. Where I’m from, the affiliations are split relatively equally between Birmingham and Aston Villa – and it seemed Blues were the more ill-fortuned of the two sides. Villa had just won the Coca-Cola Cup, which led to no end of smugness from my Villa-supporting classmates, which I didn’t like to see. In such matters, I took my natural stance and aligned myself with the underdog.
In truth, I can’t recall much of what happened on the pitch. Luckily, I suppose, I can piece a lot of it together through YouTube – it ended 7-1 to Blues, the biggest win by any team in the Endsleigh Insurance Division Two in 1994/95 – and as such, has entered the folklore of the club.
What I took more from the game, however, was the atmosphere – which was quickly muted by Darren Bradshaw’s early goal for Blackpool, recovered when he netted an own goal in front of the Railway End (still terraced at this point), and then exploded after each of the goals that followed – including two apiece for Louie Donowa and Steve Claridge, of whom I’d heard so many school-friends talking about. I remember rousing renditions of songs that I didn’t know that words to (‘we’re off to park a van?’) and I recall snow falling and being frozen to the bone, but being deeply disappointed and confused to have to leave with the score at 6-1 so that we could ‘beat the traffic’.
It was a little while before a made a fully-fledged transition to being a Bluenose, but that was certainly a watershed of my life as a football fan. And, given all that’s followed, something of a false dawn.
Australia vs. Iran
World Cup play-off MCG, Melbourne
29 November 1997
My first game also shares the catchy title of ‘The lowest moment I’ve ever had to endure while witnessing both a football match and the greatest disappointment in our nation’s sporting history’.
In 1997 our Terry Venables lead side were drawn against Iran in a play-off for a place at the World Cup in France. This one had a little extra in it for me as it was not only my first proper game but it was also against the nation of my step-mum, a typically clichéd nasty cow.
The first leg in Tehran resulted in a 1-1 draw in front of a modest 120,000 spectators.
For the second leg, FIFA did the typical FIFA thing and overturned their rules enabling 3 suspended Iranian players to now play. Plus, in his first treacherous act for the evening, my dad decided to travel to the ground with my step-mum and other Iranian fans, instead of my brother and me.
None of this mattered as nothing was going to stop us from booking our spot in France. This meant more for Australian football fans than just qualifying for the World Cup. This was finally the chance to get one back at the heavily biased media and vested interests that had a long history of knocking down Australian football at any opportunity.
We completely dominated the game from the start, Harry Kewell scored first and just after the break we went 2-0 up. This was finally our moment to prove to the country that we had what it takes, this was our moment to prove how great our game really was and this was my moment to get one over the wicked witch.
But then it all went to total shit.
Venables hadn’t seemed too bothered to change any of his tactics and was still playing attacking football, actually he hadn’t seemed bothered to do bugger all except grin every couple of minutes from the sideline.
An imbecile then ran onto the field and damaged one of the nets causing a lengthy delay. This gave time for Iran to re-organise and break the momentum the Australians had.
With 14 minutes to play, Bagheri realised that the best way to score in a game like this is to be offside and he was rewarded by the linesman who kept keep his flag down. The Australian defenders then decided that being 2-1 up and having a dodgy linesman was as good as time as any to start playing a suicidal offside trap and a few minutes later Azizi sprung it to be one on one with Bosnich.
This wasn’t happening. The Iranian players were not finished with us yet and for a final insult they produced a quite brilliant attempt at instigating a riot by going down in excruciating pain at any opportunity for the final 10 minutes.
They’d then get carried off on a stretcher while their teammates mobbed and congratulated them. This seemed to perform a miracle because as soon as the stretcher reached the sideline they were cured of whatever horror they were enduring as they sprinted back onto the pitch.
Then, the final whistle and at 2-2 Iran went through. The majority of people just stood in the stands, staring blankly. We’d somehow found a way to screw it up again.
Our legs eventually pushed our lifeless bodies back to the train station with the only interruption to the silence being the air broken with various fans’ sobbing.
Once I got home I rang dad to see where he was. “I’m at the hotel for a celebration with the Iranian players.”
“You fucking what?”
If my version of the day sounds bitter and jaded that’s because it is. I still can’t watch the game and I know a lot of people who were there that feel the same. Nine years later some of the pain was eased when my brother, dad and myself travelled to the 2006 tournament in Germany and saw Australia’s first ever World Cup goal., And my former step-mum wasn’t there.
And my former step-mum wasn’t there.
Kane Ludic – @crapfballfacts
Seattle Sounders FC vs. FC Dallas
Century Link Field, Seattle WA
October 24, 2009
Result: 2-1, Sounders FC
Until 2009 I was what the book Gaming the World would call an “Olympicized fan” of soccer. I took notice whenever the World Cup rolled around, but I paid no attention to regular domestic competitions. That all changed when the Seattle Sounders FC started play in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2009.
While not a club in a traditional sense – MLS is a closed league based upon a franchise model without the possibility of promotion and relegation – the Sounders had a rich history and a commitment to making the league’s playoffs when they began play in MLS. On-field success throughout the season and a general love of soccer in the Northwest enabled the Sounders to sell out their stadium all season and average more than 30,000 attendees over 15 home matches. I had been watching them on local TV throughout that first season, and I decided to take the plunge by attending the final match.
Having to buy my tickets through a Craigslist scalper, I set up what might have been impossible expectations for my first match. Picking up the tickets a few days before the match, I held them in my hands as if they were a prized possession. I knew the match mattered to both franchises. The Sounders were fighting for a higher playoff seed, while their opponents (FC Dallas) were attempting to qualify for the playoffs. One of the most successful inaugural seasons in MLS history was going to come to a tense ending for Sounders supporters. I was ready to plunge into a sea of 33,000 fans to see if the experience was worth the hype.
I could barely contain myself as match day arrived. My wife and I showed up early to participate in the March to the Match, a caravan of supporters and team ownership from downtown to the stadium filled with chants, music, smoke bombs and flares. It culminated in an impassioned performance outside the stadium by the club’s band, Sound Wave. I walked up the dozens of steps at the north end of the stadium and arrived in a cauldron of green scarves, numerous banners, and a sea of noise. I already felt like I was part of a soccer community, and not a minute of soccer had been played yet.
The atmosphere during the match was even more intense. Our seats were situated in the south end of the stadium, just outside the section reserved for the Emerald City Supporters. Hundreds of ECS members jumped, chanted, and waved flags at the command of a single man with a bullhorn. Beer flowed freely, and the stadium pulsated with chants of “C’mon Sounders score a goal, score a goal, score a gooooo-ooooo-ooal!”.
The Sounders went down a goal in the 14th minute. Years of being a Seattle sports fan had conditioned me to expect the supporters to quiet down and take their seats. Instead, the Sounders’ supporters continued to stand and got louder. I couldn’t help but join them, subconsciously joining a community of thousands. As if pre-ordained to enhance my first match experience, the Sounders’ goals didn’t come until the second half when FC Dallas was defending the goal in our end of the stadium. The first goal came from a one-touch shot that involved assists from our leading goal scorer that season and our marquee designated player, Freddie Ljungberg. The winner, coming in the 85th minute, was a chip shot over the FC Dallas goal keeper at the near post. I had never experienced the emotional release associated with a long-awaited goal, let alone a game winner. It was the most satisfying type of victory best described by Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch, one in which the doubt from an early deficit is erased by the elation of a come-from-behind victory.
I immediately went home a convert and bought over-priced tickets to the Sounders first playoff match. They fought to a scoreless draw in that match and lost the series in the second leg at Houston. It didn’t matter. I was hooked on the experience of attending a live match.
Being a divorced father of two young daughters, I have been unable to purchase season tickets. However, I have picked up single match tickets to at least five matches each of the last two seasons. I’ve witnessed the Sounders win their second- and third-straight US Open Cup championships. I’ve seen them lose each of their first round playoffs all three years and wouldn’t trade the experiences for the world. I attended MLS Cup 2009 and watched the improbable win by Real Salt Lake over the heavily favored LA Galaxy. I gave my daughters their own piece of history by ensuring all of us attended Kasey Keller’s farewell match with 64,116 other supporters. Like my first match experience, theirs ended in a 2-1 comeback win. Someday I will attend an MLS Cup in which the Sounders are playing, and I will attend a match at the home of my adopted European club, Arsenal.
I am sure the Sounders’ unusual success over the last three years have helped feed my love for the game and the matchday experience. But given how poorly Seattle sports fans have been treated by their professional sports franchises – two relocated by leagues and another two who have been in relegation form for most of their existences – it is the sense of partnership and community that draws me to the Sounders. The sense of willing the team to victory during my first match while facing a 1-0 deficit will forever be in my mind, and it has helped start me on a belated relationship with the most beautiful sport in the world. It’s tens of thousands of such experiences that have made the Sounders the best attended club in MLS, and generated attendance numbers that are better than half the clubs in the Premier League. After several abortive attempts by other leagues and a near death experience for MLS in the early 2000’s, the beautiful game is finally getting its due in the United States. It’s popular center is located in Seattle, Washington.
Next up is Enzo Giordini’s first ever game, in New Zealand.
Mt Albert-Ponsonby 1, North Shore United 1 (The Shore won 4-5 on penalties)
Chatham Cup Quarter Final, 1992
Anderson Park, Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s ever humble club football grounds can feel a bit like derelict graveyards nowadays. Unkempt, overgrown and crumbling. With nobody left in the realm of the living who remembers the occupants, they have become dejected looking, lonely monuments of a bygone era.
In 1992, our National League was in its death throes, shortly to be replaced by regional winter leagues and a modest franchise based nationwide summer comp. North Shore United was a glamour club, in so much as we had them. They had been National League winners on 2 occasions and Cup winners on 6. When my brother, a passing supporter of The Shore, dragged my decidedly unenthusiastic carcass to their Cup quarter final, he billed it as “something different to do”. I remember thinking that apart from having to endure the odd Coronation Street Special, it was going to be right up there with the most boring two hours of my life.
Some avid fans of European football might have agreed with my pre game analysis but instead, to my great surprise, I had a great time. I have to admit I don’t remember all that much about the game itself, but what I do remember has become part of the fabric of how I have enjoyed the beautiful game in its local form ever since.
I remember there were maybe 50-60 people standing around the side lines and thinking that most of them were probably related to the players. I remember 20 odd supporters standing on the balcony of the club rooms yelling abuse at the opposing team and the match officials. Best of all, I remember the penalty shootout. I’d never seen one before and given I hadn’t yet grown attached to any teams that had been the victim of one, they seemed at the time like the best thing since Lego. Perhaps the most influential thing I remember however, is how absolutely besotted I was with the cheese and pineapple toasted sandwiches available from the tuck shop! To this day I get one at every game I attend as a matter of ritual.
I played football as a child, but alas, I was woeful and the experience was somewhat traumatic. I had no interest in the game again until I was much older and then only as a spectator who evolved into a passionate follower. In my youth, cricket was my game. Our provincial rep side, Northern Districts was my team. Their beautiful leafy home of Seddon Park in Hamilton was my sanctuary. Many a sunny summer’s day was spent on the grass banks, watching some great players and collecting autographs. Winter and the rugby and football season was seen as nothing but a dreadful and unnecessary interruption to the gentleman’s game. This began to change at Anderson Park on that day in 1992.
Following my first game, I became interested in Waikato United, my local National League club. From there, Italy and USA ’94 captured my imagination and A.S. Roma followed on as surely as the New Zealand cricket team does versus Australia. Through all that growth as a football lover however, I have maintained a love of lower league football. It’s charming, quirky and relaxing. Like Abba, in some ways it’s good because of how bad it is. But most of all it’s pure, unvarnished, warts and all football the way it started. When I watched that game in Mount Albert, I was having a similar experience to what a kid my age would probably have had at Newton Heath in 1880, long before football was fashionable. You don’t get that at Old Trafford.
We all remember our first game don’t we? Well not unless you are a few months old and then it the job of your Dad to record it for you. So here is Daniel Richardson’s account of his daughter’s first game….bless.
The lowest league of the pyramid in the 25th ranked domestic league of European football. What better place to kick-off a childhood if not a lifetime of watching football? Or so my Dad would like to think; the truth is I was just 6 months old and had no choice in the matter. My family who took me to the match didn’t even know who was playing. Dad found out the next day by scouring the depths of the Slovak Sports Daily Dennik Sport that it was Okoc / Sokolec v Pol’. Mocenok in the Slovak 5. Div West South.
Okoc, or Ekecs, as the locals call it [they speak Hungarian, see] is a village in the South of Slovakia. You can’t even find it on Wikipedia. Officially it must be the South of the West I guess, but anyway, it’s down there and not much goes on. Therefore the football is quite a draw because a home game provides the highlight of the fortnight to families in these sleepy villages. Kick-offs are always Sunday afternoon at 17:00 by which time people will have already spent a good 7 hours eating, drinking and generally being merry, together. Forget your I-pads and designer clothes, deadlines, twitter and ‘better things to do’; this is real family stuff, and that’s why I went to the footy and everyone, including the dog, came along too.
Free entry for ladies, babies and dogs. €1 each for the men, who can begrudge paying that when the sun is shining, the atmosphere is jovial, the bar is open and there’s a game on? Even the pitch was in good nick and the football wasn’t as bad as they said it would be. There was also a “10ft football in a magic hat” to quoteDanny Last. I was asleep in the buggy, Dad was drinking too much with Granddad and the girls were talking about me, so no one really knows what happened in the match. We just know Okoc won 1-0, because Dad checked the paper the next day. Despite the win, they remained bottom of the league pyramid but no worries; there is no relegation from this league.
Crowds for village football, especially in this region of Slovakia, often better those in the 2nd or even the 1st Division, in some cases. There was no official attendance published but Dad estimates between 200-300 were in for this match, which, when compared to 347 at Senec v Petrzalka the previous day, is not half bad. It’s a meeting place, an open air bar, a Sunday afternoon party and a chance to support the local lads. Everything you need, what more could I ask for from my first match?
Follow Britski’s Dad on Twitter – Britskibelasi
My Father was never into his football. He still isn’t. He is a recovering addict who has now worked as an addiction counselor and in volunteer support. As you can imagine, he doesn’t drink, but he remained determined to follow through in two father son activities: taking me to the football and buying me a pint. I’m glad to say he has done both. Sometimes to wind me up, he’ll say he supports Chelsea. He asked me once, during a fairly important match I seem to remember, if the referee could be offside, but he still took me to my first ever match.
I’d been to see my local team (Exeter) but this was my first game proper. We drove to London and my dad woke me up to show me the floodlights and said, “you know what that means jacko?” I nodded.
As we drove through the streets of west London to get to Q.P.R’s Loftus Road I was engrossed by the atmosphere, the burger stands and the club shop where my dad bought me my first Fulham shirt. It was an XXL shirt from the previous season as that was the only one left in the sale. I didn’t care; I tucked it in. It still doesn’t fit me.
As we settled into our seats, I could see my dad was visibly uncomfortable on the wooden folder. The match kicked off, and what a match…
Tugays fine pass put Andy Cole in to open the scoring mid way through the second half. I always had a soft spot for Cole so I wasn’t too upset. To my delight, Fulham Legend John Collins scored a brace before the half was over to put us 2-1 up, and in good sprits. My dad bought me a coke and we watched the half time entertainment, whatever it was.
The ref blew his whistle to start what was to be an interesting second half. Blackburn dominated and scored two quick goals. Douglas got the first, his first for the club also, but the goal of the match was to follow. Lorenzo Amoruso scored a 30-yard free kick, which whipped past the wall and deceived Van Der Sar in goal. We were 3-2 down, but I’d seen five goals.
Boa Morte made it six goals for the match and 3-3 on the night after running from the half way line to finish past Friedel. It was a stunning goal in its own right, but a result of a mistake by Lucas Neill, which took the shine off it.
Andy Cole slipped in Jonathan Stead to spoil the party for Fulham as he scored with 15 minutes to go. Fulham didn’t offer a come back, and we lost 4-3 on the night. What a game though!
I’ll never forget my first match. We drove back to Devon that night and I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired. I think, if it weren’t for that night, I wouldn’t be entering the 2011/12 season as a Fulham FC season ticket holder!
My first ever match was at Brighton & Hove Albion’s Goldstone Ground at the thick end of the 70’s. However, since I write for the European Football Weekends blog, I’ll tell you about my first match abroad.
Back in 1996, the Bernabeu wasn’t quite the overpriced corporate-fest it is today. It even had an atmosphere. I went to the Madrid derby that year and aside from the six goals – Real won 4-2 – the thing that won me over was the crowd.
There was terracing along the middle and upper tiers on one side of the ground that contained the ultras. As the two teams trotted out onto the pitch, a sea of white streamers and bog roll were launched into the sky. They were then set fire to. As the police and fire brigade tried in vein to contain the fans and put out the flames, they were pelted with missiles for their troubles.
Fire crackers that were louder than bombs and flares were the norm as it rained goals throughout that game. I was hooked and since that day, I’ve been ever so slightly obsessed with European Football Weekends.
HVC 1 Fortuna Sittard 1
29th April 1973
This was my first match in professional football that I saw. I was a little kid and we had to cycle for almost an hour to get to the stadium. We had to climb De Berg, our local mountain. People who are not from Holland will probably laugh about it, as they would call ‘our’ mountain flat. “Does Holland have any mountains?” But as a little kid it was a though one every fortnight.
I don’t remember much about the match itself. The result was a draw. Cycling the way back was very heavy. It didn’t stop me though from going the next 9 seasons until they went bankrupt. I don’t believe I got the football fever that afternoon. That came the week after this match.
This was the day that I got the football fever. We visited Feyenoord that day with our local football club. All the youth players could join the trip and so we went off to Rotterdam with a lot of cars and players. We had to drive for an hour and as one of the youngest kids it was an enormous adventure.
I was overwhelmed when entering the stadium. I had never seen such a big stadium and up till today The Kuip to me is still the biggest stadium in the world, although rationally I have seen bigger stadiums.
What a way to start your FootballFan life. Feyenoord trashing FC Amsterdam 7-2. Jörgen Kristensen scored three goals that day. Normally one should stop at the highlight of his career and this probably is one of the highlights of my FootballFan life but luckily I didn’t stop that day.
Years later when I got a hand on the statistics of the match I read that that day there was an attendance of only 16.000. In my imagination, the stadium was fully packed. My perception is not always the reality as I found out in the rest of my FootballFan life.
I didn’t keep my entrance ticket of the match, what really is a pity. A souvenir that I miss up till now. I have been looking for it for years
Frans van den Berg
For a young lad, there are lots of things that we dream about when growing up. Things like your first day at school, your first holiday, your first car and your first girlfriend (which of course leads to other firsts). But for any lad that loves football, there is of course one thing that they will look forward to more than anything else and that’s going to a live game. Ideally of course they’d like that game to be a big one involving their team (at whatever level of the game) and that it’ll be a fantastic day for them to look back on.
My first football match came rather embarrassingly at the age of 14. It wasn’t that my dad hadn’t been promising to take me and my brother to a Premiership/England game, it was just that he never got round to actually booking the tickets!
Out of the blue in December 2001, a week or so before the school break for Christmas came up, my mate Jonathan asked me whether I’d be interested in going to see his team Arsenal face the mighty Middlesbrough at Highbury.
Despite wanting to see a Manchester United game first, as after all they’re the team I support, the chance to see guys like Henry, Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and Carlos Marinelli (there’s a blast from the past) play live at one of the best grounds in world football, in Higbury was a chance too good to turn down.
At the time, the 01/02 Premiership was quite tight with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle all challenging. Coming of good wins over Liverpool and Chelsea, Wenger’s Arsenal were the clear favourites to win the game and were just about gearing up going into what would be a double-winning season for them. Boro on the other hand were being managed by Steve McClaren who was in his first season as manager of the club after leaving Manchester United. Despite having good experienced guys like Southgate, Ehiogu, Ince in their team along with talented foreign enigma’s like Hamilton Ricard and the aforementioned Marinelli, the team were struggling near the bottom of the table.
On match-day itself, I felt like a little kid in a toy shop and I felt really excited as we made our way out of the underground station nearby before starting our journey into the stadium. It was an incredible rush walking up to the ground and I remember running as fast as I could to get my match programme to remember the day, much to the laughter of Jonathan and his family. We had a cracking view of the game sitting in the West Stand Upper and had a clear view all over the pitch.
The match itself was quite a good one. To the shock of everyone in the ground ‘Boro look the lead through a tidy finish from Noel Whelan in the first half which caught us by surprise, as Whelan was the last person I’d have imagined seeing score a goal! Arsenal to their credit as they did so often that year turned on the style in the second half and deservedly won the game.
Arsenal’s equaliser was nothing but spectacular as Robert Pires brilliantly fired in a 20-yard volley after I think Ince was nudged of the ball on the edge of the box. Arsenal’s winner came from the then innocent looking Ashley Cole who bravely headed in a deft cross from Bergkamp with around 10 minutes left.
My lasting memories of the day looking back at it just over 7 years later were that it was a hugely enjoyable day for me. The roar of the Highbury crowd was amazing and just like the view I had from my seat, really surprised me just how different a live game is to watching it on the box. It was also great seeing the Highbury Clock in the flesh as well.
I later went back to Highbury with my mate and his family for a second time 2 seasons later when I saw that ‘Invincibles’ side draw 1-1 with Manchester United funnily enough, which was quite an experience for me as a United fan cheering against my beloved team whilst sitting amongst the fans of our then most hated rivals, which my dad wasn’t impressed about!
Looking back I am incredibly proud I saw not 1 but 2 games of football at Highbury, which was a ground that of course generated more than a fair few moments of magic down the years that fans of all clubs will never forget. Shame the same can’t be said for that goal by Noel Whelan!
If one word was to sum up my first ever football match it would be confused. I can’t have been more than five years old when my dad took me to ST James Park, Exeter to see the Grecians play Stoke City.
Now I’m a Huddersfield Town fan, but I was born in Exeter and lived there for my infant years so this was my first taste of football, and to say I loved every second of a game that finished 0-0 would be an utter lie.
For most of the game I was just bemused and blissfully unaware of anything going on around me, and totally ignorant to the rules and subtle nuances of the beautiful game.
I can’t remember too many details but I do remember thinking that the purpose of the game was to score past your own goalkeeper, something that I now realise nearly twenty years on isn’t the case despite seeing some fairly terrible defending from Huddersfield players down the years, which would suggest that I was right in my original reading.
As I’ve said the game passed me by, but I remember the atmosphere, the chants, the groans and moans, I recall my dad buying me a scarf, that I still own, and some strawberry bon bons that I thankfully don’t still posses, and I also remember “step ladder man”
“Step ladder man” really does what it says on the tin, it was a man who sat on a step ladder, in his house that overlooked the ground, and by positioning himself on top of it he would watch the game from the comfort of his own living room, without paying a penny. He was a pioneer in many ways, leading the way for illegal internet feeds and other ways people can watch a match without paying ridiculous amounts for the privilege.
So I don’t remember the result and in many ways I wish I could recall my first football match with greater vividness, but it is the little things that amuse me about football really, the stupid stuff and the rituals that surround the game, rather than the match itself, so I suppose that my first experience did shape my own eventual love for the game.
My first game can be summed up really by scarves, strawberry bon bons and step ladder man, that and on the way out Exeter hooligans clashed with Stoke thugs, and with this occurring on our only route home, my dad-not a brave, but perhaps a foolish man- picked me up and carried me through the rioting fans and home for tea.
By the time I and the rest of my scout group arrived at Ewood Park on Saturday 27th April 1996 I assumed the highlight of my day had already passed. I wasn’t interested in watching Blackburn entertain Arsenal in any shape or form. I’d just finished a tour of my beloved Old Trafford and seen the footballing home of my heroes. I didn’t care for Blackburn or Arsenal. Little did I know that over the space of the impending game, I’d not only be in love with Manchester United but I’d also fall in love with football.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, live football wasn’t easily accessible so I had to peer through fuzzy reception to make out Manchester United playing games shown on delay. The Red Devils had wrapped me up but as I was shepherded into my seat in the Darwen Stand I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the sight in front of me. The television coverage I’d been used to would no longer be good enough.
I was cold and if I hadn’t of been so enthralled, I’d probably have wished for more layers but ultimately, there was football to watch. Colin Hendry was named the Rovers’ Player of the Year before the game and then with both teams competing for UEFA Cup places, things got underway.
Kevin Gallacher raced onto a long ball early on and lobbed the on rushing David Seaman to put Blackburn into the lead, just thirty yards away from me. He raced to the Riverside Stand to celebrate and my young ears were treated to a whole new range of vocabulary. Arsenal pressed for an equaliser for the rest of the half and that meant the ball spent much of the half at the other end of the pitch. In the second half, Arsenal pushed for a goal into the goal I was seated behind and with time running out, the most clear-cut penalty I have ever seen was conceded. Ian Wright dispatched the spot-kick to share the points.
My father was a devout egg-chaser. Competing in the local Rugby Union leagues on a Saturday afternoon meant that my football fix as a youngster came from Grandstand and – if I was allowed to stay up late enough – Match of the Day.
My only footballing influences as a youngster came from my Uncle and Cousin who, unfortunately were Manchester United fans. For a while, this was to lead me down a path of red shirts and Ryan Giggs posters torn from Match magazine. But I never really felt comfortable as a Red Devil.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I realised that I was Luke Skywalker being pulled to the Dark Side by my Uncle Vader and Cousin Moff Tarkin (although there was less killing and planet destroying). My home-town team Leicester City had been playing well in Division One, and with the whole city on a football-high, they capped it off with a Play-Off Final victory over local rivals Derby County. The Empire had started to fall.
It was only fitting that, during the Foxes’ first foray into the Premiership, my Aunt received free tickets from her company to Leicester City’s game against Alex Ferguson’s reigning Premiership champions.
Upon receiving the tickets, I remember being disappointed that our tickets were for the “Double Decker” Kop rather than the season-old Carling Stand. I was even more disappointed when – after walking along Burnmoor Street, passing the electricity sub-station, and trekking up the stairs to the second tier – I found out that the “Obstructed View” printed onto my ticket actually meant that the East Stand covered the entire right side of the pitch.
Goals from Lee Sharpe, Paul Ince and an Andy Cole brace ensured that Manchester United ran out 4-0 winners, but the game couldn’t have been fantastic as I don’t remember a single one of the goals.
However I do retain a memory of the crowd holding it’s breath as the ball fell to Mark Draper at the edge of the United box. And with a shot that made the Rebels glad that they didn’t put him in charge of the laser for destroying the Death Star, Draper somehow scooped the ball right over the top of the North Stand.
I can still imagine that ball rolling down Filbert Street…
I ought to come clean immediately. This wasn’t my first match, or even the second … or third. However, more than any other it, with hindsight, clearly had a profound effect on me and my later enthusiasm football grounds (note the careful omission of the word ‘Groundhopper’); the more decrepit, the better.
OK, for the sake of completeness, lest I be condemned as a total fraud, let’s get those formative details out of the way. My very first match (I have no idea of the date or the score) was a Schoolboy International – England vs. Scotland – at The Den, probably in 1968 or 69. I recall that the tickets had been given away at school and my dad was no doubt pressurised into taking me, as he was far more into horse racing than football (a couple of years later – August 1970 – I also pressurised him into taking me racing at Epsom, but that’s another story).
Although Millwall was my local professional club, playing in all-white back then and boasting the likes of Derek Possee, Harry Cripps, and Eamonn Dunphy in their team; not surprisingly I wasn’t allowed anywhere near Cold Blow Lane on my own, so I never became a Millwall fan. Instead, my Uncle Dave came to the rescue and took me to Stamford Bridge. My first game there was a League game vs. Burnley which the visitors won 3-2, and I marked the occasion by vomiting all down the side of Uncle Dave’s white Mini on the way home (I still get travel sick in Mini’s to this day).
What was special about this game at Champion Hill however, was that it was the first match I was permitted to attend on my own. Well, not entirely on my own; it had been suggested by a friend at school that I come along, but you know what I mean. Champion Hill was a short number 37 bus ride from Peckham Bus Garage, to Goose Green, East Dulwich; and a short walk from there. I can’t recall the exact date but thanks to the wonderful ‘Football Club History Database’, which should be amongst everybody’s ‘Favourites’ I can confirm the year, and by a process of deduction make an educated guess that it was quite likely 9 September 1972.
It’s interesting that my first experience of a non-League football ground was not a roped-off pitch with a small shelter as might be the case today. Back then there were still some amazing old stadiums around and Champion Hill was one of the best of all. It was a venue with a capacity of over 20,000 with an enormous pitch-roofed stand along one touchline, and deep covered terracing (covered on the far side) all around. The stand alone had seating for 2,400 and everything was painted blue. Nowadays, when I think about my love of old traditional football grounds, it is quite clear where this fascination comes from. By this time course, the crowds were nothing like the 20,744 who attended the FA Amateur Cup Final there in 1933. The terraces were overgrown with weeds and crumbling, and we spent most games wandering around, just like the young teens that irritate me at matches today, rather than taking too much interest in the football. I certainly don’t remember too much about this particular game, other than Hamlet lost and that Hampton played in white shirts and black shorts. On occasions however, we would sit in the stand and savour the atmosphere (largely the smell of chips from the Chippy at the entrance to the ground).
After a few games I confirmed my allegiance by purchasing a hand-knitted scarf in the club colours. Now as any non-League aficionado will tell you, the Hamlet colours are pink and blue. Imagine an all royal blue strip, with a bright pink vertical stripe down the front of the shirt and you’ll get the picture. Living in Peckham, I have to confess that I tended to keep the scarf hidden until I reached the ground. There’s no point being a loyal supporter and getting bashed up for wearing a ‘girly’ scarf after all. I also purchased a few old programmes from the shed that served at the club shop, but thankfully, this was an affliction that didn’t last; I soon had other items to collect … like vinyl.
Apart from the aforementioned chip shop (there were no refreshments on sale at the ground as I recall), my other abiding memory of Champion Hill was a TV shop opposite East Dulwich station. Here we would pause outside on the way back to the bus stop, to watch the teleprinter on BBC Grandstand as it slowly revealed the football results from around the four divisions.
Before long I was travelling to away games, and far flung venues such as Sutton United, Woking and Bishop’s Stortford. Of course, none could compare to Champion Hill and when my school relocated from Camberwell to Wallington, necessitating a train journey; I often travelled by the most circuitous route possible from Peckham Rye and looked wistfully out of the train window at it passed Champion Hill (East Dulwich), and also Wimbledon’s old Plough Lane ground (Hayden’s Road) and Sutton’s Gander Green Lane (West Sutton).
Who cared if I missed Assembly, the train journey was far more interesting.
Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s
Here’s the thing: I’m not really sure. Whilst my father – through his love of Manchester City – had a huge influence upon my childhood attendance at football games, it was an uncle who took me to my first ever match. Of that I’m pretty convinced. I’m equally certain the venue was Edgar Street, the home of Hereford United. The opposition? Scunthorpe United, possibly. The score? I’ve since imagined it to be 0-0 but in truth I’ve no idea. The game? I don’t remember any of it and I couldn’t tell you if it was a league game, a cup tie or a friendly. No programme adorns my collection, regrettably.
Tempted to do a full and extensive research courtesy of Google and Wikipedia I refrained, loathe to betray my own patchy memories. Those memories are in black, white and sometimes sepia. I know I was very young – six or seven maybe – and my recollection is of a forest of legs on a grey terrace, of dry but very cold weather, and that the upper reaches of the legs were cloaked by thick jackets and long trench coats. Gloved hands would protrude down to my level.
My uncle took me to many games and it was with him, and my brother and cousins, that I visited a number of grounds for the very first time. He was a banker – no sniggering at the back – and as I grew up he frequently moved around the country with his work. At the time of my first game he lived in a huge house above the Nat West bank in the centre of Hereford. Some years later he moved to Telford and he took us to a match there against Barnet. I remember more about that game. We turned up hours too early not realising that it was an evening kick off, and having to go back to my uncle’s house and return later at the correct time. I also recall Geoff Hurst playing for Telford United, Jimmy Greaves for Barnet. I was old enough to appreciate the treat.
Later work moves for my uncle led me to virgin territories of St. Andrew’s, Villa Park, Elm Park and Vicarage Road. Each new ground and slightly older, the fog that blots the memory dissipates. But that very first game at Hereford remains shrouded in the past. The one concrete Edgar Street memory I do have is buying a bottle of Coca Cola. It meant so much to me, being allowed to go and buy something on my own. I remember the green brass threepence coin, with a million sides. I remember the queue to the refreshment hut. I remember the stylishly elegant design of the Coca Cola bottle and the white straw protruding. I remember the single old penny I received as change and the indignation that a single penny should be bigger in size than the more valuable threepence. I remember the joy when my uncle allowed me to keep that old penny.
I still have the penny.
As a youth I was thoroughly indoctrinated in the ways of football at an early age. From Subbuteo (age four) to my first appearance for Linthurst First School (age seven and a debut brace) it was always there. However until the the age of seven my Saturdays were spent shopping in numerous horrible provincial towns with my Mum (I remember Manchester being particularly grim) whilst my Dad swanned off to watch a game of his choosing.
On this momentous day I remember the conversation in our Nissan as my parents discussed if I was ready to attend my first game. In these pre-Premiership days the main focus seemed to centre on whether I was likely to get maimed by Scousers and/or Brummies but eventually my Dad won out I was off to my first game. I think part of this was down to football’s increasing mainstream appeal after Italia 90 where it became socially acceptable for middle class people to watch football instead of whatever they had done before on a Saturday afternoon (no me neither).
The game itself I remember very little about. Beardsley scored early on before David Platt equalised for Villa with a semi bicycle kick. The game was decided by a late John Barnes top corner effort which sadly I have been unable to find on Youtube.
So for the next month and a half I have to admit to being a Liverpool fan. This would all change at Meadow Lane when a certain Steve Bull struck to equalise for Wolves and not for the first time in this First Game feature secure a young man’s loyalty to the Gold and Black. Mr Bull you have a lot to answer for.
Saturday the 8th October 1994. That was a day that changed my life. I was 10 years old and had never really had more than a passing interest in football. I had loosely followed the World Cup in the USA that summer, and my Dad, a lifelong East Fife fan, decided to start taking me to the match following the ambitious appointment of former Barcelona and Spurs striker Steve Archibald as player/manager.
It was a cold, dry afternoon, and I was immediately immersed in the atmosphere of the now demolished Bayview Park, the black and gold scarves, the crumbling terracing, the distinctive smell of tobacco smoke, the pie and bovril, and the match programme that I took home and proudly pinned on my bedroom wall. My Dad reminisced throughout the match of better days when this old ground was packed with fans week in week out, and teams like Rangers and Celtic would get a tough time of it when they came to visit.
The match itself was entertaining (though looking back on the stats, different than I remembered it) with the Fifers eventually losing 3-2 to Dumbarton. Centre half Dave Beaton (a player I’ll always have in any favourite East Fife XI nowadays) scored the first East Fife goal I ever saw. Despite the defeat I was hooked and couldn’t wait to come back. I didn’t have to wait long to be rewarded for my new loyalty as Archibald built a team that went on to win promotion to Division One in 95/96. Ever since then its been a roller-coaster journey, and I can now speak with a degree of experience in saying that is something that’s unlikely to change in the (hopefully many) seasons ahead!
Football first entered my radar during Euro ’96.
There was something so special about that tournament. Three Lions on a shirt! For the first time I could see what every other boy loved about football. Shearer and Sheringham destroying the Dutch, Seaman’s heroics from the penalty spot, Gazza missing the ball by a gnat’s eyelash against the Germans.
Despite the tournament ending in heartbreak for England, I made a conscious decision to become a football fanatic. The main problem was that I didn’t have a club to support. With my parents not really following any particular team I turned to my Bolton born-and-bred Godfather Chris for advice.
“There’s only one team to follow young Tom,” Chris wisely said to the young me in his softly reassuring Lancashire accent, “and that’s Bolton Wanderers.”
I nodded in enthusiastic agreement. Wow! Bolton Wanderers. They sounded so exotic. I made an oath that day to follow Bolton through thick and thin, but in retrospect perhaps I should have made a couple of checks first. Like the fact that Bolton is over 200 miles away from my home in Hertfordshire. Or that the team had just finished bottom of the Premiership with a record low points total.
Chris took me to see Bolton away at Oxford for my first ever match. This was the day I inexplicably fell truly and utterly head over heels in love with football.
Oxford United 0-0 Bolton Wanderers. It was a school night in November. The Manor Ground. A creaky, dilapidated old terraced barnyard. Doesn’t exist anymore, it got demolished. There’s a hospital there now I think.
I was only 10. What can I remember? Think. Think. Nothing. Think harder! I can’t remember what happened last week, let alone what happened 15 years ago.
I remember… the cold. It was cold. On my feet especially. Why the feet? I was wearing two pairs of socks as well.
I remember it wasn’t what I had expected a football match to be like. The ground was smaller, much smaller. It was less glamorous. It was gloomy. It was grey and ugly.
I remember… Scott Sellars running up to take a corner, catching my eye, and winking at me. It was cool at the time. Seems a bit creepy now thinking back about it.
I remember… the swearing. Lots of swearing. Mainly at the ref, poor bloke. He wasn’t that bad.
I remember the chants. “We’re the one and only Wanderers!” We weren’t of course. There was Wolves. And one more, Wycombe was it? I even knew that and I was only 10. “Super, Super John! Super, Super John! Super, Super John! Super John McGinlay!” That was a good one. He was pretty super.
I remember the frustration towards the manager Colin Todd. Why was he taking Johansen off? He’s been our best player! I could be a better manager than him. And I was only 10.
I remember longing for a goal. Please. Just one! 0-0 was the scoreline I dreaded. It’s worse than a defeat in some ways. My prayers weren’t answered. I didn’t get a goal.
I remember having a pie. It was nicely steaming in my hands, heating my frosty fingers and promising to warm my stomach. But it was cold on the inside. Not cooked enough. That pissed me off. I remember that clearly. Poor me. I was only 10.
No goals. Freezing cold night. Crap pie. Crap ground. Crap match.
EXTRACT FROM 92 PIES – AVAILABLE NOW THROUGH BLACKLINE PRESS
Newcastle United 0 Coventry City 1
St. James’ Park
April 17th 1985
I had just turned nine years old, it was a sunny, end-of-season Wednesday evening, and Newcastle United were playing at home to Coventry City. It was the day that Manchester United beat Liverpool to reach the final of the FA Cup, exactly a week before Everton made the Cup Winners Cup Final, and just under a month until Heysel and the Bradford Fire. Not that I knew any of this at the time. Besides, I had enough to think about just trying to stay upright on a concrete crash-barrier.
We arrived before kick-off, climbing the zig-zag steps up from outside The Strawberry Pub, the doors of which men would famously topple out of five minutes before the game began. There was the smell of cooking hops and barley from the brewery next door, mixed in with open-air urinals, cigarette smoke, watery onions, eggy farts and beer breath. We found a place under the Gallowgate scoreboard, halfway up the open terrace, a little to the left of the goal.
My Dad lifted me up on to the barrier, grabbing under my arms as the people in front shifted slightly to accommodate my dangling legs. I perched, precariously, reading the programme from cover to cover. “You’re here to watch the match, not read that,” my dad said, as my younger brother tried to peer round my elbow. Just then the crowd surged forward from the back and I clung on to the concrete, fearfully eyeing the edge of a stone step that was strewn with cigarette ends, gripping so tightly that for the rest of the half my fingers were spotted with pebbledash marks.
Newcastle, safely charting their first top-flight season since 1978, had Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, Glenn Roeder and Gary Megson in their starting line-up. A young kid called Paul Gascoigne, FA Youth Cup winning skipper, had made his debut as a substitute four days earlier against QPR. But Coventry, scrapping for their First Division lives, took an early lead which they never looked like relinquishing (they would go into their final three games eight points behind Norwich and win them all to send the Canaries down instead alongside Sunderland and Stoke).
“Howay, let’s go,” my Dad said out of nowhere. I looked around, confused because the scoreboard clock said there were still nine minutes to play. “Why?” I asked. “Beat the traffic,” he replied, not for the last time (I never saw the end of a game until I was old enough to go to one by myself). The next day at school I kicked a battered caser around the playground, mimicking Waddle’s shoulder feints, the Roeder Shuffle and Peter Beardsley’s hunched, slalom-like runs towards goal. The Liverpool supporters looked on, unimpressed, waiting for the ball like they were Ian Rush.
First, a confession. This wasn’t my first game – that was Chelsea 1 Nottingham Forest 1 in August 1968. But my only memory of that is of some lads trying to get a bonfire going on the North Terrace, and I’d also have to confess to being a Chelsea fan at that age. And indeed, when I went to my second football game, the first of what turned out to be countless Palace games.
It was my 11th birthday treat, but Chelsea were away, so my brother Graham and myself were to meet up with his brother-in-law George and his mates, who were all die hard Fornton Eefite Palace fans, to watch this game as neutrals. It was Palace’s 3rd ever home game in Division One, and none of us were expecting them to get anything from it. Spurs had Greaves, Chivers, Gilzean, Mullery, Jennings, ‘Nice one Cyril’ Knowles. Palace had John Jackson and Steve Kember, and nobody else those outside SE25 had heard of.
To be honest, I remember very little of the game. In fact, until I researched this, I remembered it as 0-3, and as being on my actual birthday, the 25th. I do remember the size and buzz of the crowd, the scarf sellers and the huge sign saying Crystal Palace Football Club on Whitehorse Road, the smell of fried onions, the huge piece of ground leading up to the turnstiles, the sight of a packed Holmesdale, the crowd surges (with the odd visible ruck), the peanuts (in their shells, natch), and of course ‘Glad All Over’ being played, with the advertising hoardings being bashed in rhythm. But most of all the Pawson’s Arms / Supporters’ Club beer-fuelled banter of George and his mates. They expected to lose, but were going to have a laugh and several drinks and support their Palace anyway. This looked like fun.
By halfway through that season, I was a home regular with my Dad (I have no idea where he was for that Spurs game, as HE was the lapsed Palace fan). Nearly 42 years later, there have been changes in the ground (though probably not enough), and so many relegations and promotions, but it’s still about passionate support and having a laugh, with no great expectations of events on the pitch. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
A quick scout on Wikipedia tells me that it was the 17th August 1983, which would make me 4, when my Dad took me to Old Trafford for the first time to begin a life-long love affair with the red half of Manchester, to see United take on Aberdeen in Martin Buchan’s testimonial match. Three things stick out in my memory from that night. Firstly the walk to the ground, Dad’s hand tightly grasping mine as we joined the throng heading for the bright red neon sign over the main stand “MANCHESTER UNITED”, like a lighthouse beckoning on the masses. Secondly, my amazement at the brightness of the floodlit pitch as we climbed the stairs out into the open and I got my first glimpse of the hallowed turf. I still get the same swooping feeling in my stomach today at 31. And thirdly, the childish decadence of chips on the way home, already up way past my bedtime, to provide chips on top of this must have made going to the football seem the most amazing thing ever.
I suppose there was some football played too. History says Frank Stapleton scored twice for United in a 2-2 draw and that Aberdeen was managed by a certain Alex Ferguson on his first trip to Old Trafford, and also that this was when Gordon Strachan first came to the attention of then manager Ron Atkinson. Perhaps it’s fitting as a four year old that I remembered none of this. Feelings and emotions are surely what football is supposed to inspire in people if moments are to be remembered, more than names and statistics.
Only a few weak imprints of my first game are now carved on the back wall of my memory, and they are fading. A seven-year-old’s recollection of the final match of the 1996/97 Premier League is hardly one to be trusted, and so substantial newspaper archiving has been required for me to contextualise a baking hot day at Elland Road.
Leeds had dismissed their title-winning manager Howard Wilkinson earlier in the season, and seemed destined for years of mid-table obscurity. This was, however, a situation far favourable to Middlesbrough’s. With a sudden three-point reduction for failing to ‘fulfil a fixture’ against Blackburn, Boro were deep in the relegation pot. They needed to win.
Of course, I had no idea of this at the time. I remember Brian Deane scoring in front of me, and looking up to the upper tier of the East stand as “Deano, Deano, Deano!” rang out across the turf. I didn’t know who had scored; I hardly knew what had happened. I thought they were shouting about a dinosaur: the Flintstones was a Saturday morning hit at the time.
There was a streaker – apparently. I know this because my cousin and I talked of nothing else on the way home. At the end of the game I remember my mother pointing and laughing at Juninho: “Look, he’s crying. Ha ha ha.” The winger, who had clawed an equaliser back for his side, was in a ball of tears on the pitch.
My young, blinkered mind assumed the little Brazilian was upset at not winning. I had no idea what relegation was; I hadn’t heard of Middlesbrough until that morning. I laughed along with my mum. It wasn’t until years later I realised two things: simply how brilliant Juninho was, and the heartbreak of relegation.
Confession: This wasn’t actually my first game, that was a local derby between Stalybridge Celtic and Mossley (I think, certainly one of the other Tameside clubs) but I count it as such and it does have, more historic and personal significance.
Being six-years-old at the time there’s not a great deal I can remember about it in all honesty. One of the things was standing (or being sat on a railing) on the Kippax, the huge Platt Lane stand to my left looked empty. It often did. 8,000 seats was quite a large number to designate away supports when the average crowd across the league that season was just below 20,000.
We won the game 3-1 after falling 1-0 behind but the significance was in City’s opponents. This was the first game Wimbledon played in the top flight in English football and amazingly they bounced back from the Maine Road defeat with a succession of wins that put them top of the table for a short spell a few weeks later while we ended up getting relegated.
What has happened to Wimbledon since has rightly been well-documented as it’s one of the most shameful episodes in the English games history. I’m quite a live and let live kind of feller and was pretty moderate in my views towards MK Dons compared to most. However, the prospect of a cup game between them and AFC Wimbledon, and reading the thoughts of some of AFC fans on it, some of whom may have been at my first game, really brought home the situation.
I’ve been to around 700 City games since and I’ve naturally built-up an encyclopedia of memories from them but whenever the ‘first game’ conversation comes up, it’s in the context of the opposition that I always end up talking about.
The Wembley crowd – the old, the proper, the terraced and packed with hooligans – Wembley crowd roared again as the ball was hoofed first into and then, with equal vigour, out of the penalty box.
Pressed up against the fences, sat on his young father’s shoulders, with hands over his ears and intermittently teary eyes wide, a three-year old child was absorbed and abhorred by the excitement all around him.
This was my introduction to football.
I think it’s fair to say that the 1989 Sherpa Van Trophy Final isn’t many football fans most memorable Wembley moment. But this was the game that forged the link in my nascent mind between football, fatherhood and the fanaticism which drives 10,000 erstwhile polite people on a 400 mile round trip to a shouting contest with blokes from Torquay.
I can’t provide much of a match report because, well, because I was three, but I know Bolton won. I know this because it’s written on the match programme in a drawer downstairs somewhere (the great appeal of souvenirs, like all memories, being that they can lie forgotten for years and still carry their full emotional force upon rediscovery).
By the age of 16 I’d attended, always with my dad, 500 Wanderers games as they rose (then fell, rose again, fell again and finally re-won promotion) to the top division. Whilst my friends idolised Cantona, Giggs and Hughes I told tales of (Super John) McGinlay, Richard Sneekes and Per Frandsen.
Memories of lower-league football are so often tinted by romanticism. But confronted by the complacent oft-subdued atmosphere at the established Premier League sides Reebok stadium, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the mob excitement that gripped Bolton as their tiny team – the one with a supermarket tagged onto their century-old ground – visited Wembley four times in the 90s.
Growing up, I’m not sure I’d have retained interest in a team guaranteed top-flight mediocrity. Football is, necessarily, a game of highs and lows. I hope when one day my three-year old son joins me, we can share a series of small glories.
It was surely the best place to start? Wembley Stadium: The home of English football’s finest hour, the twin towers and the stadium that Pele described upon its closure as the ‘cathedral of football’. It was Saturday 8th June 1991and I was part of the Larks Hill Junior School FC’s beano down to the capital for the Smith’s Crisps International Shield clash between England School boys and West Germany Schoolboys.
After a pop, crisp & Gameboy fuelled coach journey down south and a walk around the national stadium, I was given the proposition by my old man: ‘a flag or programme?’…stupidly I went for the flag, a decision that would cause extra disappointment 15 years later.
The match was very uneventful and finished goalless, the nearest I got to witnessing a goal was West Germany shooting into the side netting but I left Wembley thinking that I’d seen the future class of two great footballing nations and did so for years…it was the age of Robbie Fowler, Scholes, Beckham & at a push my future hero Noel Whelan.
Years of tracking down the programme ended in 2006 when I managed to land a copy via ebay but after excitingly opening the packaging, reading some of the names that played that day was met with a face of disappointment: Christopher Beech, David Faulkner, Nathan Murray & Richard Irving (now a commercial pilot according to Wikipedia), hardly the names of England’s ‘golden generation‘.
The most successful player to have featured for England that day was QPR’s Kevin Gallen, closely followed by Gavin McGowan (7 appearances for Arsenal) but the total number of senior caps won by the squad was zilch. There was one youngster who did go onto have a glittering career including scoring in the Champions League Final 16 seconds after coming onto the field as a substitute: Borussia Dortmund’s Lars Ricken. I suppose witnessing Lars’ first steps into international football will just have to do.
West Ham United had always been a big thing for my family, but going to games was not a frequent occurrence for financial reasons. My dad had taken us to see the Boleyn Ground a few times as at the time the family was still based in the general Green Street area, we would just stand outside it and stare in awe.
So in the summer of 2000 when I was 12, my brother 10, Dad decided to take us to a pre season friendly at Leyton Orient, this is a game that most West Ham fans will have experienced. We met a couple of my Dads friends and played football in a park just round the corner from the ground and then walked down to Brisbane Road. We were in the standing area right behind the goal, which I’m not sure is there anymore?
There are a few things I remember really clearly; firstly, I was a 12 year old girl, so I thought I was in love with Joe Cole, secondly, Dad bought me a hot dog, the ketchup of which I proceeded to spill down my white doc martins away kit (the stain is still there) thirdly, Kanoute managed to clear the cross bar thus kicking the ball straight at us about 5 times, one of which I managed to block from hitting my Dad’s friend Brian’s glasses right off his face.
I also remember that we didn’t play terribly well and when we left I think the score was 2-2. Having been 2-0 up at half time, we had subbed the first team and stuck the kids and reserves on the the second. We left quite early, I think my Dad was worried my brother and I would panic in the crowd, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise; as we left, the first team coach was also leaving, someone was shouting “OI CHRISTIAN HURRY UP OR YOUR TRAVELLING BACK WITH THE RESERVES!” someone came out
“Nah he’s still in the shower, lets go”. Which they did, not without saying hello and waving at me and my brother as we stood there completely speechless. I always remember Freddie Kanoute sticking his thumb up at us as they drove off and how quickly it made me forget how rubbish I had thought he was half an hour ago.
Of all the football trophies the Gloucestershire Senior Professional Cup doesn’t really rank along side the FA cup or even the JP Trophy, but on that night in May it seemed magical.
My father took me to the game as he was Rovers fan, but little did he know that I was hooked, with Ashton Gate and the team in red. He can’t complain as he didn’t follow his father either, he was welsh and supported Cardiff City, then following work on the railways ended up in Bristol. The game kicked off in front of just over 13,000, which at the time was, more people in the same place than I had ever seen before.
Like most small lads I watched the crowds reaction as much as the game for the first half. In the second half City went ahead with a goal from city great John Emanuel. Rovers equalised through a headed goal from prolific goal scorer Sandy Allan, despite both sides best efforts the score remained the same until the end. Extra Time it was then, which was not as exciting as I thought it would be. No further score brought us to a penalty shootout this was more like it, and at our end. City missed a early one and never caught up, eventually losing 4-2.
It might not have been Champions League, but how many first games do you get 90mins, Extra Time, Pens, see a trophy presented, & all on school night Fantastic.
Dagenham & Redbridge 3 Macclesfield Town 0
27th April 1996
Most of my friends growing up all had pretty awesome first football matches. Glamour ties like Spurs vs Man Utd, and West Ham vs Liverpool were common place. However, my Dad wasn’t really into football (in fact I took him to his first match in about 40 years Grays Athletic vs West Ham XI in 2009), so I kind of missed out on the “Nick Hornby sitting on your Dad’s shoulders at Highbury” experience, not that I’m complaining as he took me out shooting air-rifles and stuff instead.
No, instead my first match was with a couple of school friends, and was a Conference relegation battle between Dagenham & Redbridge and Macclesfield Town in about 1995/6. I think Dagenham won yet still got relegated. We were about 15 and to be honest it was probably the first time any of us had been to a match without a grown up. We sat in the stand rather than go on the terrace. We didn’t know any better.
Anyway, the game seemed amazing. I mean three goals amazing. THREE GOALS. I imagined every game would be like that if you went to see it. However, I subsequently went to almost all the home matches the following season (on the terrace, I was always a fast learner), and there weren’t that many goals then (although we went to Wembley in the FA Umbro Trophy).
The majority of matches I’ve been to have been non-league or very low league matches, and I think I’m always trying to recapture the magic of that first match.
It is difficult to write an account of my first game without it feeling like a substandard Nick Hornby pastiche. Whether I like it or not, sentimental clichés and sepia images are all my mind has left of that May day in 1987. Fortunately, I do quite like it.
The match was Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Lincoln City in the old fourth division and the setting was Molineux. Not the post-Taylor report all-seater Molineux that exists today. This was old dilapidated Molineux with just one and three quarter stands open – the rest closed for safety reasons. Remarkably, it could still hold over 20,000 people thanks to the South Bank terrace.
Ah, the South Bank. At one time, of all the ‘Kops’ in England, only Villa’s Holte End accommodated more people. Not this day against Lincoln. The crowd was sparse – just 7,285 to be precise. But these were dark days for Wolves and a distinct lack of turnstile operators meant there was still frenzied queuing outside to get in the ground. I vividly remember my dad lifting me on his shoulders as he nervously alerted the drunken fans around us that a child (me!) was being caught in the crush.
The next thing I remember, we were inside. This was my first look at a football ground in the flesh and, despite Molineux’s tragic appearance, I thought she was magnificent. Wolves were already 1-0 up – not something that was to become a habit although it did explain the pushing and shoving outside.
Inside that vast South Bank my dad actually had to wander over to the nearest fan – a good ten yards away – and ask who had scored. The answer came back: Steve Bull. Unluckily for me, I had just missed his 13th goal for the club. No matter. I was lucky enough to see his second of the game moments later and most of the 102 that followed in the back-to-back title seasons that followed.
In all honesty of course, there have been plenty of lows to go with those heady childhood days. And my mum even insisted I sit in the family enclosure seats for the next ten years! But I’ll always remember my first and last game on that South Bank terrace with my dad. Perfect.
In the mid to late nineteen-sixties when United were at the beginning of what was to be a lengthy reign as one of the top teams in the country, they found West Ham’s home ground to be a quite productive venue for them. In the 1965-66 season, their first back in the top flight, they were beaten 3-1 at Upton Park and lost again the following season, this time 2-1. After those two set-backs, however, United won twice and drew three times in their next five league visits. The last of those games was a 3-2 victory in 1970-71 and it was a game that produced a collector’s item, a cracking goal from Norman Hunter scored with his right foot. It was always said, with some justification, that Norman used his right leg merely to stand on while he delivered the goods with his trusted left leg. But Upton Park witnessed the rarity in January 1971 when United were locked in a battle with Arsenal for the League Championship.
United took a well-deserved lead after thirty-three minutes when Johnny Giles, a star performer, was their worthy goal-scorer. He took a corner on the right with Peter Lorimer and then placed an ice-cool left foot shot inside the far post. The score-line remained at 1-0 until the sixty-sixth minute when Norman Hunter took centre stage. Johnny Giles rolled him a lovely pass twenty yards out and Hunter hit it in spectacular style and at top speed with his right-foot. A slight deflection made it impossible for Peter Grotier to save.
The game looked won and lost at that stage and the 35,000 crowd became quiet. West Ham, however, rallied and Peter Eustace on eighty minutes and Trevor Brooking, eighty-three minutes, punished rare slack moments in the United defence to head goals from close range to level matters.
Upton Park fans were now roaring their side on in full voice and even the ambulance men were trying to cheer the Hammers home. But substitute Rod Belfittrestored United’s lead five minutes from the end. Giles deservedly took the match honours.
First up is David Brooks, and his first and one of his only ever football matches.
A chilly November evening in 1965 witnessed a much anticipated fixture in north London as the exotic Samba skills of world champions Brazil headed to Highbury to take on Billy Wright’s Arsenal. Brazil were on a European Tour which acted as a useful fact finding mission with the World Cup, hosted in England of course, just eight months away.
For the Gunners faithful, the prospect of seeing undoubtedly the world’s best player in his prime was a major incentive and the matchday programmes leading up to the fixture included a full page picture of the man in question emblazoned with “The Great Pele is here on November 16″.
Unfortunately Pele’s club Santos withdrew their players in the lead up to the game, which denied the fans a glimpse of the already legendary striker, who was also supposed to be presenting a gold medallion to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh on the day the fixture also marked a celebration of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme which was in its tenth year.
David Brooks – January 2011