One of the best things about going to your mum’s house is rummaging through all your old crap that she’s been wanting you to get rid of for years. During one recent salvage operation in my Mum’s loft I managed to recover a load of old match tickets, a get well soon card from the 1994 Watford Team, an Italia 1990 Ferrari Testarossa, and a letter from Glenn Roeder. Admittedly, these were not the items taking up the most space, but you have to start somewhere, and what a start it was. I’ll probably write about all of these items at some point, but it was the match tickets in particular that I most enjoyed finding.
Some people buy a match programme at every game as their keep sake. I have a fairly solid collection of 1990′s Watford programmes myself – who doesn’t – but after a while I decided they were too expensive, and the content was often awful. In terms of banking some nostalgia, my old tickets have proved to be a more reliable currency, prompting vivid memories of my travels to watch football. Take this one (left) from a 3rd round cup replay at Hillsborough. This is my equivalent of a grizzled Soldier’s flashback to a particularly brutal tour of duty. It was a midweek fixture in early January; the match went to extra time and penalties, which Watford lost. We were quite late getting out of the stadium and back to the train station, but still had enough time to catch our train.
However, when we got back the station, we learned that the train we were planning to get back did not exist, at least not until the Spring timetable started. The station was about to close until the morning. It was fucking freezing, and I was not dressed appropriately for the weather. It was only then that the true horror of the situation hit home. Me and my mate spent the next five hours huddled in a bus shelter. I’m not sure how we survived, but it was a long night. Probably the longest I have ever known. At our lowest points I think we both contemplated killing each other for food and clothes, I know I did. I suffered for you that night, Watford. I swore to myself I’d never be that cold, or stupid, again.
But, I was. I did the same thing in Blackburn a few years later when I couldn’t get back to Leeds after a midweek game. I had to catch the last train to Manchester instead and kip on my mate’s sofa. Lucky break, really. Sheffield was rough, but a night in Blackburn looked like it would do irreparable damage to my soul. Look at this ticket though, it’s a rare beauty:
The ghostly image of Souness lurking in the background, pointing to an unknown player – “have you got a problem?” – he seems to be asking, and I don’t think he means it in a ‘can I help’ sort of way.
There are matches that take on greater personal significance over time. For example, I’d almost forgotten that I saw Watford play the European Champions at Old Trafford. Obviously we were horrifically beaten, but with hindsight, going down 4-1 to one of the finest midfields in the world at the time wasn’t too bad. And, most importantly, there was that ‘one’ in the scoreline. Despite being reduced to ten men, Watford managed to thump in a consolation goal, and although I was among home fans, I couldn’t contain ‘FUCKING YES!’ from escaping my lips as ball thwacked net. Not that anyone could hear me, three miles up, orbiting the Earth from the top tier of the North Stand.
On a less grand scale, Bradford City v Watford is one of those run of the mill fixtures you look at without a second glance until you read the words ‘FA CARLING PREMIERSHIP’ on the ticket. Great time to be alive, the 1999-2000 season.
England v Albania probably isn’t a fixture that screams ‘night to remember’, unless it happened to be your first trip to Wembley. Some people will try to tell you that the old Wembley was a disgusting, decaying embarrassment of a stadium, with walkways overflowing with piss and seats several hundred metres away from the pitch. Lies, all lies. The old Wembley that I remember from this mid week fixture was magnificent.
I was blown away by the size of the stadium, and sight of the brilliant green pitch under floodlights. The fact that England knocked in five without reply probably helped to sustain my interest too (Gazza scored his first international goal). This was a family outing, we all went, and it was wonderful.
On enemy ground
Scattered among my tickets are some of the more random games I’d almost forgotten I attended, like Spurs v Sheffield Wednesday at the back end of the 1993-94 season. I went to this game with my dad, an Arsenal fan. Now, I generally welcome any opportunity reminisce on memories of going to football with my Dad, but we really must have been desperate for something to do on this particular Saturday. This was early enough in the Premier League era that you could still look at the London fixtures, choose a game, and pay at the gate on the day. And, we weren’t the only ones taking in a match on enemy territory. One of the two things I recall from this game is that the guy in the seat in front of us was a West Ham fan; the other is Ronnie Rosenthal making his Spurs debut. He scored, and Spurs lost.
On a related theme of enemy grounds, I was unlucky enough to be at Kenilworth Road for one of Luton Town’s most famous FA Cup nights, when they defeated Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle 2-0 in a replay (the young John Hartson scored one of them). I went to this game with one of my dad’s mates, a Newcastle fan, thinking we’d be in the away end. I was wrong. Just thinking about the bedlam ensued following both Luton goals makes me shudder. A dark night.
There are plenty of others. Italy v Russia at Anfield during Euro 96 - the only game Sacchi’s team won during the tournament; Sheffield United away in 1994, when the guy in front of me took the full impact of a meat pie on the back of the head, and I was struck in the face by a bit of meat jelly shrapnel; and, a 3rd round cup tie at West Ham, when the home side were sponsored by Dagenham Motors, which is who they should always be sponsored by, really.
Lots of great times, and some bad ones, but even the bad ones were kind of great. And the morale of this post is: don’t throw stuff your old football stuff away, leave it at your mum’s house to be rediscovered many years later. Or: those print at home barcode tickets are rubbish.