Wembley Wonder Completes Cup Quest

As I walked out of Wembley after watching Arsenal lift the FA Cup aloft last month, crammed in amid thousands of supporters waiting patiently to get into Wembley Park tube station, I started to recall where my FA Cup Quest actually began.

Readers of my blog will know that my starting club was South Normanton Athletic. But the decision to start with them, a decision which would ultimately plot my journey to the final, actually began on a wet and muggy July evening at a friendly between Heanor Town and Mansfield Town.

You see, the intention was to begin my Quest in Heanor, a small town in Derbyshire, as I was born there 39 years ago. So I thought it would be fitting to start with them. But, as I went for a half time pint at that friendly, I noticed a poster in the club house informing fans that Heanor’s Extra Preliminary Round tie was scheduled for a Friday night. And, with the missus already having plans for that night – meaning I was on child duty – the decision to once again start at Lees Lane, South Normanton, was made. I like to start local, with a Derbyshire team if possible, so Normo was ideal. I will, at a later date, compare the two routes. The route I actually took, and the route I would have taken had I have been able to attend Heanor’s game.

So as I waited amongst gleeful Gooners, I felt a sense of achievement. I’d accomplished something. I’d done what I set out to do 10 months ago. I’m not the only person who’s ever completed this journey of course. In fact there are probably a few who have done it this season (if you have, let me know. I’d be interested to see your journey). But to go to every game – all 16 – from the Extra Preliminarily Round to the Final, for me, at least, was something I can tick off my ‘to do’ list.

That’s not to say this is the end of my Quest. I’ll be back again in August – hopefully with Heanor Town this time – and I’ll start it all over again. But if it goes belly up and I simply cannot get to Carlisle on a Tuesday night, then so be it. Although I shall try my hardest.

The Final, as you will know, was a cracker. Chelsea v Arsenal could’ve been dull. They could have cancelled each other out. But it was end-to-end, and I’m pleased that the team I was officially following won. Not just because they were my Quest team, but because they absolutely deserved it.

Pre-game I’d spent time amongst Chelsea fans in their designated fan zone. I soaked up the atmosphere as the sun shone down and celery was thrown. Yes, celery. For some unknown reason, sticks of celery were flying over people’s heads as the Chelsea fan zone became vegetable warfare. The fan zone idea is great. A DJ whipped up the atmosphere while beers were drank and burgers were scoffed while a big screen showed Chelsea’s former Cup triumphs.

Although can someone explain why this is only made available for one club? Arsenal fans weren’t given the same deal. There’s only one fan zone and that was Chelsea’s. It was the same in the semi-final, with Man City supporters getting the zone. Maybe the deal is that the ‘home’ side get the zone and the ‘away’ side get the pubs. It certainly seemed that way in the semi as every pub around Wembley was Arsenal.

Despite the lack of balance over the fan zones, all around the ground the atmosphere was friendly. The week before, Britain had once again been targeted by terrorists, as a bomb at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester had killed 18 people. With the country’s terror alert maxed up to critical, meaning more terror attacks were imminent, many thought the Cup Final could be targeted. But that did not dampen the atmosphere. In fact, it probably bolstered the air of togetherness; a unity between rival London supporters seldom seen at matches. Fans mingled, selfies were taken with police horses, supporters chatted with cops and people just got on with things. It was heart warming to see a bunch of kids – in both Chelsea and Arsenal replica shirts – happily having a kick about outside the stadium.

It was my first ever FA Cup Final, and what a day it was. Hopefully I shall return next year. Until July, when next season’s Extra Preliminary Round draw is made, that’s all from me.

Pics and videos from cup final day

The obligatory pre-match Wembley Way shot.

Bobby Moore standing proudly outside the stadium.

The Arsenal end fills up…

 …as does the Chelsea end.

The teams are out.

 

My FA Cup Quest is Finalised!

 I’ve done it. I have a ticket for the FA Cup Final which means I will complete my FA Cup Quest on Saturday. The final will be my 16th game in this year’s competition, that’s 16 consecutive games without missing one. That was my plan to begin with; that’s what my ‘Quest’ is all about, jumping from team to team as I weave a way to Wembley.

But in truth I never really expected to be able to do it. I’ve had to attend a game on my wedding anniversary (luckily for me it was in Mansfield, which is only up the road from my house otherwise I might be writing this as a divorcee) and I’ve had to rely on fans to help me out with getting a ticket on three separate occasions. But on Saturday, I will once again be at Wembley, officially supporting Arsenal who are my ‘Quest team’, and I have someone else to thank for that.

I’m fortunate to know a FA-affiliated referee. All FA members can apply for tickets and so he did, just so that I could complete my road to Wembley. Top bloke.

Looking down the list of fixtures below, based just north of Derby, I’ve been quite fortunate with my journeys. Wrexham on a Tuesday night was a sod, but apart from two trips to the north-east, I’ve stayed pretty local. No Tuesday night slogs to Exeter or a 12:30 kick off in Carlisle. But that’s the luck of the draw.

Have a look at my Road to Wembley below and follow my Tweets on Saturday. My ‘Quest’ teams are in bold text.

  1. August 6, 2016: South Normanton Athletic 2 – 0 Aylestone Park, Extra Preliminary Round
  2. August 20, 2016: AFC Mansfield 2 – 0 South Normanton Athletic, Preliminary Round
  3. September 3, 2016: AFC Mansfield 2 – 1 Stratford Town, 1st Qualifying Round
  4. September 17, 2016: Coalville Town 0 – 1 AFC Mansfield, 2nd Qualifying Round
  5. October 1, 2016: AFC Mansfield 1 – 2 Stamford, 3rd Qualifying Round
  6. October 15, 2016: Stamford 1 – 1 Wrexham, 4th Qualifying Round
  7. October 18, 2016: Wrexham 2 – 3 Stamford (a.e.t.), 4th Qualifying Round Reply
  8. November 6, 2016: Hartlepool United 3 – 0 Stamford, 1st Round Proper
  9. December 4, 2016: Port Vale 4 – 0 Hartlepool United, 2nd Round
  10. January 7, 2017: Huddersfield Town 4 – 0 Port Vale, 3rd Round
  11. January 28, 2017: Rochdale 0 – 4 Huddersfield Town, 4th Round
  12. February 18, 2017: Huddersfield Town 0 – 0 Manchester City, 5th Round
  13. March 1, 2017: Manchester City 5 – 1 Huddersfield, 5th Round Reply
  14. March 11, 2017: Middlesbrough 0 – 2 Man City, Quarter Final
  15. April 23, 2017: Arsenal 2 – 1 Manchester City (a.e.t), Semi-Final
  16. May 27, 2017: Arsenal v Chelsea, FA Cup Final

 

Fan Power Once Gain Rescues My Quest

It looked as though history would repeat itself where my FA Cup Quest is concerned. Last year, I got as far as the quarter-finals stage, where my Quest ended at Upton Park, where Man United defeated West Ham in the last ever cup tie at Upton Park. Despite witnessing a piece of football history, it was frustrating that I could not continue my Quest beyond the Boleyn Ground to Wembley for the Man U v Everton semi.

This year, it looked like my Quest was once again going to to be thwarted just shy of the semi-final stage. But fan power once again came to my aid, as it had done in the previous two rounds. It was the Tuesday before the Sunday of the semi-final, in which my Quest team, Man City, were due to host Arsenal. I’d appealed on Twitter, but it seemed like there would be no third time lucky. I’d come close to winning tickets via a #CupStory Twitter poll run by the official Emirates FA Cup Twitter account. My video of Boro fans playing the drums prior to their quarter-final tie with City was nominated as one of four videos worthy of the poll. But despite all my pleas to get people to vote, the winner was a Lincoln City fan who had filmed 8,000 Imps fans singing at The Emirates as their amazing Cup run came to an end.

But when it looked as though I’d have to settle watching the semi on telly, up popped City season ticket holder Ben Bradley on Twitter, who offered to buy me a ticket. You see the thing is, with these big games, you have to be registered with the club, bought a ticket previously and – at this stage – have Cup membership too. Ben had all of this. But he couldn’t get to the game so out of the goodness of his heart he got me a ticket and posted it to me. Top bloke. I paid him, naturally, a Viles always pays his debts.

So it was third time lucky after all. Three times on this year’s Quest fans have lent a hand and offered me tickets, proving to me that real football fans are willing to help out people like me.
And I may yet have to count on the generosity of Arsenal or Chelsea fans to do the same if I’m to complete my Quest and get to the final. If any Gunners or Chelsea fans are reading this and can help me out, please get in touch.

So, with a ticket in my pocket, I set off to Stanmore, the north London terminus for the Jubilee Line, with the motive being to park there and get the Tube to Wembley Park. It’s a ploy I’d done successfully before, when myself and my bezzie mate went to watch his beloved Grimsby play MK Dons in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy 10 years ago. And I’d also used Stanmore to cut out London traffic when I visited Fulham twice on previous quests. But this time, despite my early start, there was no joy. Stanmore was full. Whether it was early bird Arsenal and City fans getting their before me, or traffic for the London Marathon which took place that morning, I had to revert to plan b: drive to Canons Park Tube and hope for a space there. As I arrived at Canons Park, just a 5-minute drive down the road, I noticed a car pulling out of the car park. This made way for the only vacant space in the car park. My luck was in.

Hitting Wembley early meant I had time to kill. ‘I’ll go to the pub’, I thought. But this presented a problem. The nearest pub to Wembley Park Tube seemed to be maxed out with Arsenal fans, and although I had no City emblem on my attire, I had decided to wear a sky blue polo shirt to reflect my support for City for the day. This is not great when you’re amongst a pub full of red! The bouncers really ought to have warned me.

Wandering around it was an all-too-familiar sight: pubs welcoming Arsenal supporters only. Proper Gunner-centric. Eventually, in the distance, I could see a mass of sky blue. A City-friendly pub, I assumed. But alas I was mistaken. It was no pub. Presumably due to the lack of a City-friendly watering hole, City fans had found a bit of greenery in an otherwise concrete jungle and had taken it over, supping from cans of ale they’d purchased from the Tesco Local opposite.
I’ve nothing against lounging in the sun sipping a beer or two, but as I was on my own, that may have looked a little desperate.

So I headed towards the stadium via a shopping complex. Whilst there I spotted the City fan enclosure. At last I could get a beer from a proper bar and not be concerned that my attire would get my head caved in. After soaking up the sun, it was time to soak up the atmosphere inside Wembley. The mood was good, largely because most people were getting well oiled. Ricky Hatton made an appearance, seemingly appearing from nowhere dressed in a suit and enjoying a beer with us ‘normos’.

In the stands, Wembley had provided all fans with silver and blue foil flags. They made for a very eye-catching spectacle when waved, but a bloody nuisance when they were at your feet!

I’m sure I don’t need to waffle on about the match; you will, by now, have seen it and read about it, so I’ll end by saying a huge thank you to Ben Bradley for getting me the ticket. Sorry I couldn’t bring you any luck.

As rules stipulate, I’m now an unofficial Gooner for the final. I just need to get a ticket. Anyone?…

The view from Canons Park Tube station. If you look closely, you can just make out Wembley’s arch.

The view down Olympic Way. Not Wembley Way. When did that change?

City fans find a green patch and turn it blue.

Good shot of the arch.

Ricky Hatton makes an appearance amongst his fellow City fans.

Foil flags

More foil flags.

The ground gradually begins to fill up.

The big badges are out.

The players are out.