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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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.
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.