My first game – Pavl Williams

Bolton Wanderers vs Torquay United
Sherpa Van Trophy Final
Wembley Stadium
28th May 1989

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.

Pavl Williams

Twitter.com/betterfootball.com

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