If you have been living in North Korea recently then you will have missed the launch of 500 Reasons to Love Football back in December. The original brainchild of the genius of David Hartrick to celebrate those moments in the game that make you laugh out loud. He soon convinced the likes of Kenny Legg from Adventures in Tin Pot, Danny Last from European Football Weekends, Damon Threadgold from The Real FA Cup and yours truly to jump on board. The result? Well, a very well known football journalist said that the website was “putting the beauty back into the game we all used to love”.
We have grown the website in the cyber world, without any need for meetings to discuss plans – which is quite handy as we live in all different corners of England. But a meet up was long overdue, so we pencilled in a post Christmas bash. FA Cup 3rd round day to be precise. And with the chance of an upset on the cards, there was really only one potential venue – The American Express Community Stadium for Brighton & Hove Albion versus Wrexham. Of course it was.
Every day I pay £7.00 for the intense pleasure to be squashed into a train to London. The journey time is less than 20 minutes (in theory) and the distance is 8 miles each way. So imagine my surprise when a return to Brighton (57 minutes journey, 61 miles each way) was procured for just £10. But what I hadn’t factor in on my short hop to London Bridge on this fine Saturday morning was the comedy value of two Millwall fans. The Lions were playing at 1pm at Dagenham in the FA Cup so it was an early start for these two. We will call them Lurch (6 foot, as thin as a pin, as thick as a pint of Brains Black) and Stumpy (5 foot as wide as a barn door) who was the brains of the operation.
Their conversation started off with some warnings that “ICF” could jump them at any moment as we passed through the leafy suburbs of Mottingham. Lurch was confused why they were going so early, and had assumed that Dagenham was near Birmingham. “So that is there to do in Dagenham then?” Asked Lurch. “Naafin, but we need to get to the meet early daws”. Stumpy seemed to have digest the whole of Danny Dyer’s International Football Factories, his shifty eyes scanning the train just to make sure West Ham weren’t onboard. “Do you remember when we played Sunderland a few years ago?” Asked Stumpy. “No – who were they?” “They played in red” “Ah yes” the lights came on in Lurch’s head “Faaakin caaants”.
The carriage were treated to a few more pearls of wisdom about it all “going off at Whitechapel at 11am”, and then the arrival of Fingers at New Cross was announced. Now what would this character bring us? He sounded legendary, and the revered tones suggested that he was someone important. Fingers turned out to be about 50, looked like Ronnie Corbett and wore a salmon pink jumper. I could see his hands and counted ten fingers, so I can only assume his nickname came from his love of all things Captain Birdseye. Their final act of lunacy came when they stood up to “salute” the New Den as we passed it on the train. This was a train journey I will never forget. One day someone will make a film of it.
I met up with Damon and we were soon in the pub in Brighton enjoying the first few beers of the day with the rest of the team, and special guest Ian King from Two Hundred Percent as well as Simon, the other half of The Real FA Cup. After a short train ride to Falmer where we ticked off the FA Cup staples of some red curly wigs and a tin foil FA Cup we were downing the Harvey’s on the concourse in the West Stand, well all of us bar one – the token northerner, Hartch, had come to the home of real ale and was drinking Fosters.
Brighton have broken the mould in the design of the little things for a stadium. Fans want food, beer and entertainment when they go to a game. And with plenty of portable stands, home-made pies and screens all along the length of the concourse the fans are well catered for. There is even Brighton-themed art on the walls. Hello fans, we want to be in the stadium for as long as possible. Yours sincerely, BHAFC.
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Wrexham 1 – The Amex – Saturday 7th January 2012
At 4.55pm, the Wrexham players left the perfectly manicured Amex pitch to a standing ovation. Not only from the 3,000 travelling fans from North Wales, but from most of the Seagulls fans who had seen the Welsh team more than match their side despite their being over 50 places between them in the league structure.
Twenty years ago Wrexham pulled off one of the biggest ever shocks in FA Cup history when they beat Arsenal in the third round. This was one of the legendary George Graham Gunners teams who were First Division Champions the season before. However, the good times haven’t really hung around The Racecourse Ground much in the past two decades and their slip into the Non Leagues was almost accompanied by terminal financial ruin. The hardcore Brighton fans could relate to this, remembering the game just a few years later when it was essentially win or bust for them away at Hereford United.
But this was all about the magic of the cup. League form was put aside for 90 minutes as Wrexham gave a fantastic display of themselves, roared on by the constant noise of their travelling fans. There was no animosity on display, there was no play-acting on the pitch from the players just a good fashion cup tie.
As we supped our half time Harveys we heard a cheer. We assumed it was a Wrexham goal based on the muffled noise, but it was actually Jake Forster-Caskey, the youngster who can boast Darren Caskey as his Dad and Nicky Forster as his Step-Dad (or vice versa). However, it was no surprise that Wrexham equalised when Cieslewisz waltzed into the area and his shot took a deflection of an ex-Rook, Grant Hall, and flew into the net.
So a draw was a fair result in the end. Today’s draw saw the prize on offer of a home tie with Newcastle United which should be a huge incentive for both teams. Our night was young though as we boosted the profits of the club’s bars for an hour or so before heading back into town to get the lowdown on Lewes’s defeat to Wealdstone from the returning Deaks and Dave.
The question we are asked all the time is “What happens when you reach 500 reasons?” Well, the answer came to us around 9.30pm in the Nelson. The 500RTLF Beer scarf. It was revolutionise the football experience for millions of fans. Form an orderly queue.