This Sunday I’m off to the rebuilt Wembley for the cup semi final v Watford. Jafer and Kenan are
also going on what will be their first trip to the national stadium. We did visit the Millennium Stadium in my adopted country when we beat West Ham in the Play Off’s in 2005. If we win it will be only our second appearance in the FA Cup Final. Our first was in 1990 which was the first year I started regularly going to football matches after a break of many years. And what a season, newly promoted we got stuffed 9 nil by Liverpool in September. In the days before TV screens our strike-force of Mark Bright and Ian Wright remember looking at each other as another goal went in and saying ‘is that number 7, or is it 8 nil? The result was a travesty, it should have been 9 v 1 but we missed the soft penalty given to us by a generous ref. By January we were starting to improve our league form, even beating Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Autumn.
The 3rd round of the FA Cup saw us drawn against Portsmouth, a home tie against a team in the division below us. We despatched them 2 v 1 without too much trouble.
We then played a home league game against Liverpool which we again lost, this time only by two goals. More costly though was the broken leg Ian Wright sustained putting him out of action till March.
In the fourth round we had another home draw against another team in a lower division, Huddersfield Town and I went with my friend Paul Gilbert and we watched from different terraces. There was no post match pint though as he wasn’t in the mood after we beat them 4 v 0. The fifth round saw us yet again drawn against a team in a lower division. This time Rochdale, and a heroic performance by their keeper nearly saw them earn a replay before we got a goal to get us into the quarter final. Guess what, another draw against a team in a lower division. This time Cambridge United, then managed by John Beck who made Wimbledon look like Barcelona. A tough game saw us go through one nil with a scuffed shot that went in through a crowd of players after a corner was taken.
Ian Wright returned to the team in a home match against Derby County and our hearts sank as he got stretchered off with another broken leg injury.
Our luck in the draw was about to desert us as we were drawn against Liverpool in the semi final. They’re a big team now, but then they were the biggest team in English football. That year I was fasting and it was the month of Ramadan when the semi-final was scheduled and I got the train up to Villa Park for a lunchtime kick off which was on the day after my birthday. I stood in the Holte End which was divided into two sections, with the scousers on the other side.
We played out the first half and went in one down. In the second half we kicked off, and played the ball out to John Pemberton on the right wing who went through the Liverpool defence, crossed the ball and it ping ponged back and forth until Mark Bright connected with it and sent it into the net. We SCORED! Against Liverpool!!! Then from a free kick our defender Gary O’Reilly scored. Bloody hell, WE’RE WINNING!
Then normal service resumed. Liverpool equalised with a well worked goal scored by Steve McMahon from a free kick.
Then a dodgy penalty when Steve Staunton ran into John Pemberton was put away by John Barnes to put us three two behind.
But it wasn’t over yet. Another Palace free kick from near the half way caused panic in the Liverpool defence and their keeper Grobbelaar came out and punched thin air as the ball fell to Andy Gray who headed it in to equalise. He ran towards the Holte End to celebrate with us. The attached pictures show this moment and myself in the centre wearing a cap. The Liverpool fans who were making rude gestures from their side of the Holte End had to endure us jumping up and down like monkeys as we took the game into extra time.
The game was settled by another Palace goal from a set piece (a corner) put away by
‘Al, Super Al
Al, Super Al
Super Alan Pardew’
He wasn’t the most gifted of players but his work ethic couldn’t be faulted and 26 years later he is managing us as we hope to get to our second ever cup final.
It was pretty tough going through the whole experience without food or drink and I had shouted myself hoarse through the 120 minutes. As I’d travelled alone I didn’t have to chat much on the way home from what still remains the best ever football match I’ve ever attended.
We were the heroes of English football that weekend, and the whole country watched in what was the first time the semis were broadcast live. Our next game was away to Chelsea and I went with my cousin Ahmet, who is a fan of the blues, and their team and the whole of the stadium gave us a standing ovation as we entered the pitch. We lost the match so their generosity of spirits had its limits.