Crystal Palace 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2 (Pearce, Chivers)
Saturday 23rd August 1969
Football League Division One
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
Manchester United v Aberdeen
Martin Buchan Testimonial
17th August 1983
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.
Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 1
Saturday 27th April 1996
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.
Leeds United v Middlesbrough
The English Premiership
11 May 1997
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. Continue reading
Manchester City 3 Wimbledon 1
Football League Division 1
August 23rd 1986
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. Continue reading
Bolton Wanderers vs Torquay United
Sherpa Van Trophy Final
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. Continue reading
England v West Germany
8th June 1991
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.