Thursday, May 26, 1983

Wembley way

The highlight of the term will surely be today’s trip up to see the Cup Final Replay at Wembley.

Guy and I had a tutorial with Miriam at eleven and we sat through it feeling totally distracted and uninterested; how could we concentrate when the prospect of Wembley was only hours away? I was in a fever of excitement by the time we got back to Wollstonecraft Hall and we had long hassles getting everyone together, but eventually, at 1.30 or so, Guy, Barry, Pete and I set off.

There were quite a few Seagulls fans on the train to London. There was an alcohol ban on the train and just after we’d set off, a couple of policemen marched through the carriage, glaring round looking for illicit booze. The journey up was fairly quiet, but as soon as we got to Waterloo we were greeted by a station forecourt packed with fans clad either in blue- or red-and-white, along with legions of police.

We ate at a Pizzaland and then joined the noise and chaos outside, where hordes of football fans milled enthusiastically along the pavements. We joined the exodus to the nearby off-licence and bought beer and cider and set off to meet Kamran at Baker Street tube station. The tube trains were packed and the whole Underground seemed to have been overtaken by beery, chanting fans clutching their colours.

As the crowd flooded down the escalators the police loomed at the bottom, one inspector interrupting the flow of people to stop someone and chide him, and then, as he received some comment, “. . . and you can cut the lip, too!’ As we strode past I caught a glimpse of his tight face, thin-lipped, smooth, and humourless.

We boarded the train for Baker Street, met Kamran, and took the next train to Wembley Park. We stood with Manchester Utd. fans all the way to Wembley and there wasn’t any hassle between the two sets of opposing fans, even friendly rivalry with one small group standing virtually nose to nose and chanting madly at one another as the rest of the carriage smiled.

It was quite a long journey but eventually the legendary twin towers of Wembley stadium appeared to our left, framed against a setting sun. Everyone strained to see.

We flooded off the train and along the long Mall-like road toward the ground which was lined with stalls selling programmes, flags, caps and hot-dogs. Barry bought a Man Utd. scarf and Pete a Seagulls cap. We had a hot-dog each and joined the great throng of people heading towards the ground and then milled around aimlessly for a while beneath the walls of Wembley. I was feeling quite pissed.

Everything felt warm and relaxed. Overhead the helicopter taking the Brighton team to Wembley circled as people stood to stare or cheer. We estimated the crowd mainly consisted of Manchester fans and as the ragged chants of “Seagulls” rang out, back came a mocking reply, “Seaweed, Seaweed……”

Our tickets were for section B18 (East), so we pushed through the mass of people and around the leafy perimeter of the ground, the air filled with shouting and singing. I just couldn’t believe it, and in my semi-drunken state the unreality of the whole episode was emphasised. Once through the turnstiles we were in a perimeter area between the inner and outer walls, the entrances to the lower sections of the terraces in front of us, and we had to climb two flights of stairs to reach our places.

We mounted the last step and the dreamed of view opened out before us, the pitch, looking smaller than on TV, surrounded by the track and huddles of cameramen and all around the great sweep of terracing and seats packed with dense crowds, filled with waving flags and colour. We were standing in what seemed to be the main Brighton end. Directly in front of us was the goal, and, in the distance was the massed wall of Manchester fans, a sea of red dotted here & there with banners.

We settled down to wait and soak in the atmosphere. I recollect these details vaguely, because the intense seething mood of the entire occasion so dominated that the peripheral details were pushed from my mind—a thousand views and sights and sounds I longed to capture and hold forever, but now I can only portray the general tone of the event, and that at best as a badly drawn sketch.

We were standing about two-thirds of the way up the terracing, a little to one side of the goal, with the towers of Wembley to our right and over in that direction too we could just make out the Royal Box with its strip of red carpet. The pre-match preliminaries flew by; the inspection of the ground by the teams in their club uniforms, the anonymous figures figures of the managers tiny on the pitch; then “Abide With Me,” the ground swelling to the words and emotion, the National Anthem, and finally a great deafening roar that rose up all around as the teams walked out from directly below, a resounding wall of bellowing—the famed “Wembley Roar.” The air was thick with flags and scarves. It was impossible to describe. I regretted that my senses were blunted a little through booze because I wanted to brand every tiny detail of this on my memory forever. I never want to forget the impact and immensity of it all, for I’ll be lucky to get a chance to go again.

In no time at all it seemed that the game had started, Brighton playing toward the Manchester end. The ‘papers afterwards said that the first 20 minutes had been all Brighton but I didn’t really remember it that way; I recall a few corners, the odd long ball punted up to the lone striker. In Manchester’s first real attack, there was Robson toe-ing the ball into the net past sprawling defenders and hardly had we settled from that it was 2-0, Whiteside’s scruffy header sailing over the heads of the defenders and over the line. The spirits of the Brighton fans were momentarily dampened but the soon the surging chants of “Sea-gulls” and “Brighton, Super Brighton, from the South…” returned. I can’t remember much else of the first half, hardly even the third goal which forced on us the realisation that this just wasn’t to be Brighton’s day.

Just after half-time a small scuffle erupted down to our right. A few Brighton fans had slipped surreptitiously into a Manchester enclave and the whole area suddenly erupted into kicking figures and flailing legs before the police moved quickly in, pushing their way through to form a dark barrier between the rival groups.

In the second half Manchester United mounted more attacks and started to run Brighton ragged. “Stevie Foster, Stevie Foster, what a difference you have made” mocked the distant Manchester voices. A run into the penalty area ended in a foul and a penalty was awarded. Up stepped Muhren and wham!, in it went, as a thousand flash bulbs flared behind the goal. 4-0. The biggest ever Wembley Cup Final win. The fans around us began to sing “We’re Proud of You, We’re Proud of You,” much to the anger of one bloke nearby who swore and shouted that “we’re not in the Third Division now.” Manchester could have had several more goals and it must have been a relief to the Brighton players when the whistle finally went.

Bailey threw his arms into the air and the players shook hands, the managers came onto the pitch and the ground was filled with a continuous barrage of flash-bulb flashes and flag waving. The Cup was presented but we could hardly pick out the staircase or the players, but a cheer went up anyway as the Cup was hoisted into the air. We stayed for the laps of honour, first the jubilant Manchester players surrounded by a posse of yellow-jacketed pressmen and photographers and then the losers, on their own but still receiving applause. I lingered before the rapidly emptying stadium, wondering if I’d ever get to see it again but eventually I tore myself away and followed the others out into the chaos of cars and chanting people below.

The road back to the station was crammed with people and the entrance to Wembley Park underground was jammed solid. A loud-mouthed Manchester fan pinched Pete’s Seagulls cap and then got all obnoxious and aggressive: “Are you pushin’ me, mate?” etc., etc., before punching some bloke next to him in the face, causing the victim to retreat with wide frightened eyes.

At Waterloo, Barry and I were separated from the rest and waited for the others in Watermouth station. A kebab down in town, then we all met up and got back to University in the early hours of the morning.

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