For those who don’t know I have pretty much played football (soccer) every year of my life since I was 5. Last year I was still playing at the highest level. When I say highest level I actually mean the team that came dead last in the local over 35’s competition. So you’d think I’d be pretty good. I am pretty good, at watching. My circle of mates has generally revolved around football (soccer). Since the age of 18 we had a tradition of watching the FA Cup together every year. Often we may have passed out by the end of the match but the intention was there.
So when the wife (Kat) of one of my best mates (Bosco) suggested buying him tickets to the iconic game that was the FA Cup final, I was in. In reality the conversation probably went like this:
Kat – I want to by Andrew tickets to a soccer game in England for his 40th birthday. Would you
Me (interrupting) – yes.
We roped in another of our great mates Huddo who lives in Japan and Gigi, a very funny mate of Bosco from Italy. It would definitely have been a trip that our dearly departed mate Furnsy would have made. He was with us in spirit, or as Furnsy probably would have said ‘there in spirits’ (Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Jim Beam etc).
Tickets were bought with a lot of the big names still in the draw -Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City. Not long after we had the tickets the big names started to fall. Oh no, we really would prefer not having a Reading vs Shrewsbury Town final. The draw got down to the semis where it was Everton vs Man United and Crystal Palace vs Watford. Fingers were crossed as we hoped for a Man U (the birthday boy’s team) and Crystal Palace (Mile Jedinak, the Aussie skipper’s team) final. Luck was on our side and we got our dream game.
Fast forward a few weeks and the four of us converged on London the Friday before the game. I had left Ez and the kids in a small town in Italy for my weekend dash across to London, thinking about how many years it would take to pay this one back! We checked into our apartment in Shoreditch and hit the pub. Now I believe Shoreditch used to be dodgy (still is in parts) but it is now hipster central. Our apartment was an ex council estate and looked like a definite meth lab from the street but was tarted up well enough inside to suit our needs. I think a couple of our neighbours had dropped more pills than a 3 fingered pharmacist but they seemed pleasant enough. A few beers that night left us primed and ready to go for match day. Bosco had a business meeting the day prior and had walked away securing us a lunch in the Atrium lounge at Wembley. We had no idea what that meant but it sounded good.
Game day we were as nervous as an ugly girl on Next Top Model. After an English fry up (even the bread was fried) and a walk through the streets, it was time to make our move to Wembley. I suggested we tube it to the game (obviously still in my budget conscious holiday mode) but was quickly overruled and a car was at our door to deliver us to Wembley. We arrived at the largest undercover stadium in the world, which at capacity would hold 90,000. Today it would be at capacity. We strutted nervously, saw people take photos with ex-players (had no idea who they were), had a beer with the Palace fans before it was time to enter the home of football.
On the dot of 2:45pm we entered the stadium and headed for the aforementioned Atrium Lounge. We quickly found out what this was all about, open bar and a pretty fancy looking buffet. Now if it was about 10 years earlier we probably would have boozed in here up until kick off, watched the first 20 minutes before heading back to the bar to keep the drinks flowing, only to be asked to leave the ground at half time and then watch the second half from a pub close by. We were older now so after a nice meal (good to avoid the health food served elsewhere in the ground, see photo on the right below) and a couple beers we took up our seats. Great seats on the middle tier near the Crystal Palace supporters. The stadium quickly filled up, the CP supporters were in fine voice while I’m not sure if the Man U fans knew the words to their own songs!
The game itself was a good one. At 0-0 and heading for extra time we were still happy. Fast forward a little and we had 2 goals in 3 minutes then an extra time featuring a red card and a Manchester United screamer to win the match. I sung all the Palace songs (the kind of singing when you don’t really know the words but just sort of sing out the side of the mouth, a bit like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam). I was golf clapping the Man U winner and cursing under my breath while pretending to be happy for the birthday boy.
We left feeling satisfied. Like you do after telling your wife you need to go to Bunnings to buy a screwdriver and then sink 4 sausage sandwiches before you get home and she never knows a thing, that satisfied. What did we do after the game? Paint the town red? Street fight with rival fans? Actually, we had a solitary beer in a bar close to the stadium until the crowds and traffic died down before getting a car back to Shoreditch for some late night dinner. A traditional English alcohol free Syrian meal. How times have changed.
Well, only changed a little. The next night we ended up finding an excuse to go to the pub before reminiscing about our football glory days (maybe just day singular for me), then having about 10 pints and a late night beigel. I had 3 hours sleep before making my way back to the airport to re-join the family and resume the hard yakka of normal life (tongue inserted firmly in cheek).
A weekend of a lifetime on a trip of a lifetime with mates of a lifetime. What event is in the radar next year?
Masso official game ratings
Atmosphere – 9/10 (an awesome stadium and experience)
Game Quality – 7.5/10 (Contrast in football styles was intense whilst not always brilliant)
Match Food & Drinks – 9/10 (We know what the atrium is all about now)
Police presence 3/10 (Whilst it was segregated it was a long way from Millwall vs Barnsley)
PS- if it’s not abundantly clear, these photos bear no resemblance to my talented wife’s!…just the trusty old iPhone.