And another thing… 25/04/2016Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
1. I hate Wembley. The new one, that is. The old one was fine; it had faults but everything’s got faults, although it’s true that not everything’s faults smell quite so pungently of wee.
2. Anyway. I hate Wembley. I hate everything about Wembley. If you take away the stadium, you’re left with a bleak, remorselessly grey corner of north London devoted to concrete and car parks; you’d no more come here for a day trip than you’d wear a “Kiss Me Quick” hat to South Bermondsey. But someone did put the stadium back, and decorated it with a big arch because, y’know, there used to be towers so, um, now there’s a big arch, and you have to come for a day trip because there’s a football match that you want to see, somewhere over there, somewhere underneath the big arch, somewhere behind all the people taking selfies. No, I don’t want my face painted.
3. For fifty quid, you get a ticket so large that it can’t possibly fit into any of your pockets and that threatens at any second to blow away and be lost forever on one of the many gusts that swirl around this desolate hellhole. As always with football, money and size are everything; presumably the tickets for the final are A3 and laminated in frozen unicorn tears. As always with football, what might once have had some romance – walking down “Wembley Way” and all that – has been turned into commercial circus. I’ve got a thunderous headache. I feel as if I may not be getting into the spirit of it all.
4. You buy a bottle of water on your way up to London. On entry to the ground, you’re forced to empty that bottle of water into a plastic pint glass. You place that pint glass under your seat, propping it carefully so that it doesn’t spill. The teams come out, yellow, red and black confetti everywhere. Several bits of crepe paper land in your pint glass. They slowly disintegrate, turning your water pink or grey. Or, if you’re particularly unlucky, yellow.
5. Oh, you miserable sod. Yes, I know. But here’s the thing: I’ve got all of my joy and tears and disbelief stored up for the moment when we win, for the moment when we’re going to a Cup Final again. I just want that bit, only that bit. And then I want to win that too. Give me that and I’ll be drunk on it until the day I die. If not, bollocks to it all.
6. This vast, plastic, airless stadium renders you powerless. It’s like watching a dream unfold: you know what’s going to happen but you can do nothing to intervene. Your voice is muffled, suffocated, silenced. As in 2013, you’re watching ninety minutes of football that you’ve spent weeks thinking about, chewing over, preparing for…and it’s drifting by in the exhausted, dulled haze of a Sunday morning hangover. People fidget listlessly like they’re at the back of a Bryan Adams concert; chit-chat and popcorn and spilled drinks and slowly deflating balloons.
7. One of the most important football matches of your entire life is about to end. You spend its last ten minutes trying to work out how best to get back to civilisation. You wish it away and it meekly obeys.
8. I don’t often hate my football club. Not actively, not really. But here, the level of satisfaction at the season’s undoubted achievements makes me furious, the sense of turning up for the occasion but not for the match makes me despair. Right now, I don’t care what expectations were in August; I know, I understand and I don’t bloody care. All that matters is the opportunity spurned. Palace, below us in the league, demanded that the day bend to their will; we mumbled something about how it’d be quite nice but, you know, all a bit of a bonus and so on and so forth. Who knows when we’ll have a chance like that again…
9. You delete the highlights, unwatched. You make other plans for the 21st. You vent your frustration to anyone who’ll listen and eventually get most of it out of your system. But something’s changed, irreversibly changed. A distance that wasn’t there before. A sense of difference, of separation.
10. There’ll be people who make lots and lots of money out of Premier League survival. They should be careful it doesn’t blind them to the importance of making history too.