Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Wembley Stadium (Old)

16th April 2000

Bristol City 1-2 Stoke City

I wanted to see a game at Wembley before the stadium was demolished to make way for a complete rebuild, so saved up all the pennies from my 40th birthday gifts a few months earlier, and persuaded Wife to let me go down to London for the weekend.

The match at Wembley, a minor Cup Final was not until the Sunday, so I did the tourist thing on the Saturday morning and went for a spin on the London Eye, which had only been open for a month or so.  The realisation that they did not actually stop the thing to let you on and off was a disconcerting one indeed upon first realisation.  

With a Sunday morning to kill prior to this match kicking-off at 3pm, I took the tube to Canary Wharf to watch the runners pounding the streets in The London Marathon.  Then after a whopping vegetable curry in a little place off Wardour Street, it was off to Wem-Ber-Lee.

Up Wembley Way.

A singular tower.

Minor Cup Final or no (this particular one was only open to clubs in the second and third division) it was clear this day was an important one to the supporters of both clubs, and that Wembley was going to be pretty much sold out for the final; an attendance of over 85,000 was expected.  

Even to an occasionally cynical neutral like me, the walk up Wembley Way towards the iconic white-painted twin towers was just a bit special.  Inside the ground, however, it swiftly became apparent why it was time for a change.

I was able to circumnavigate the whole stadium via the concourse beneath the stand and the first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smell of urine.  There were plainly insufficient public toilets to serve the needs of 85,000 beer filled fans, so whole rows of men were just piddling against the walls.  Additionally, once I sat down seat it became obvious the seats had just been bolted onto the old terracing, with no thought given to the resulting inferior sight-lines. 

Situated in the Bristol City area of the ground I was frequently invited to “Stand Up, if you hate The Gas”.  Now, never being much of a joiner-in with anything, this particular invitation held little attraction.  I didn’t really know which gas was being referred to, and I didn’t really feel strongly enough about any of the gases I did know (oxygen, nitrogen?) to show my hatred of it by standing up.  

The Bristol City supporter in the seat next to me in shades and a baseball cap clearly took it as a personal insult, turning to scowl at me when I chose to remain seated each time the mantra arose.  Some time later I did find out “The Gas” was a derogatory name for City’s rivals Bristol Rovers.  Obvious really.    

"Scowl, if you hate The Gas"

Stoke City v Bristol City 2000

Stoke City v Bristol City 2000

But it was Stoke City’s supporters who were standing at the end, acknowledging their team’s victory.  Graham KAVANAGH had given Stoke a deserved lead on 31 minutes, a lead they comfortably held until 16 minutes from time when Bristol City’s Paul HOLLAND headed in.  Stoke suddenly developed a dose of the jitters, and a few minutes later Holland had a great opportunity to put his side ahead, but slipped at the crucial point.  The winner on 82 minutes owed as much to Bristol City’s silliness, as to their opponents’ alertness. 

When the ref awarded Stoke a free-kick just outside the Bristol penalty area, a couple of defenders took the opportunity to berate the ref.  Stoke’s Bjarni Gudjonsson took advantage of the dissent in the ranks to slip a quick free kick to KAVANAGH, who shot past Bristol ‘keeper Billy Mercer to win the Cup.  

The Bristol City players mumped at the referee, and a chant of “Cheats” arose all around me, but the losers really had been the architects of their own demise.  And I think what few neutrals there were in the ground would have agreed with me that the better side had won.  


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