Ground Nº 40 Wembley

02/06/91      Notts County   3   Brighton   1   Division 2(Tier 2) Play Off Final                    

The day we’d been waiting for finally arrived – Brighton’s first trip to Wembley since the 1983 cup final. It was a lot sooner than anyone would have imagined, actually. With the introduction of the play-offs Wembley was no longer such an unreachable goal for 75% of clubs. As Andy (my brother) and I hadn’t gone to the Cup final 8 years previously, (and were both still haunted by the question why not?) we didn’t want to miss out on a second of the day’s atmosphere. It was as if today could be the day we exorcise the why not? ghost and can move forward in our football support without the mention of Wembley causing twinges of angst.         

 We woke up early. We had a plan that involved soaking up as much atmosphere as possible. Even though we were travelling by train Andy drove us down to the Goldstone Ground in
Hove, to where the 30 or so supporters’ coaches were parked and ready, at about 10.00 in the morning. Old Shoreham Road was awash with blue and white. Fans were milling about everywhere as if there was a match on at the Goldstone.  Even though we were playing in
London there were more stalls opened selling scarves, t-shirts, badges etc than on a home match day.
The mood was amazing – it was a carnival atmosphere.

 I got carried away by it all as usual and started buying souvenirs in earnest. It was as if I had to have as many keepsakes of the day as possible before I could relax so I came away with a special play-off scarf, 2 play-off flags and 2 play off t-shirts – one for each of us, amongst other memorablilia. We were a marketer’s dream that morning – when the euphoria had waned and the adrenaline levels returned to normal we would be looking at the alarming array of cheap T-Shirts and assorted other crap with disbelief. We drove back home with a car full of cheap souvenirs, having spent £20 before we’d even left for the game – today was going to be expensive; I could tell! Andy, who didn’t normally wear club regalia of any description – be it top, scarf, hat, low-key pullover with small seagull on one breast, tie with subtle blue and white stripes or even badge pinned to a garment underneath a coat – went for it today. For someone who’s a bit self-conscious when it comes to clothing he couldn’t have gone for a more conspicuous and garish item – our away kit 1990-91. This was a kit that was voted worst kit of the year; it was also mentioned recently in an article about the worst kits of all time! It consisted of thin wavy red stripes that swirled all over the top, back and front, but seen at a distance of more than about 10 feet looked just plain pink. Descriptions can’t really convey its repulsiveness and its pink hue did nothing to dispel the myth that all Brighton men are gay.So off we went on the train, my ordinarily conservatively dressed brother in his lurid pink gay top-5-worst-kit-of-all-time shirt and me in my relatively normal looking Tesco carrier bag home shirt. The tension we felt was unbearable but brilliant at the same time. After all, this was arguably
Brighton biggest game of all time (even including the ’83 Cup Final.) Promotion back to the First Division was resting on this one result. It seemed unfair to me – to decide two teams’ futures on one match – it still does. A single dodgy performance costs dear – both in status and money. Nowadays the monetary gain of promotion is vast – something like 20 million to teams playing for the Premiership: not to mention being resigned to another season of trips to the less auspicious venues (though my thoughts on that are very different nowadays).
The enormity of this game was making me feel ill with nerves but I still had a feeling we’d win. We usually raise our game for big occasions and the way we brushed past Millwall in the semis boded well.    
   The twin towers of Wembley could be seen from the train as we approached the station. The season long pilgrimage was almost at a close, just a few more steps to go before reaching the final and deciding venue – the football Mecca.The vibe was amazing in the vast area around Wembley. We were there very early in our ongoing hunt for atmosphere. We weren’t disappointed – you could wander round for hours just taking in and basking in the tension, expectation, apprehension and camaraderie. I bought a burger which must have been the most expensive burger-van burger in the world at the time. It was £3. When the vendor handed me the burger and said £3 Andy couldn’t contain his laughter at the combination of the price and my face. The bun did have 5 smallish burgers in it making it colossal but it still wasn’t worth it. Everything to do with Wembley seemed to be over-priced and over-large.It finally came time to enter the ground, well probably still an hour before kick-off but there was pre-match singing to enjoy yet. The inside of Wembley didn’t impress me anywhere near as much as the outside. Outside it has an imposing stately air, like a modern-day coliseum. Inside the seats were just too far from the pitch. We were sat in one corner, only about halfway up but it felt like we were miles away from the action. The acoustics weren’t great either and with the Notts County fans being at the opposite side there was no parrying of banter back and forth.The best pre-match atmosphere occurred in a most unlikely place – the gents! While I was stood relieving myself an enormous round of ‘Albion, Albion,Albion’ went round the urinals. The porcelain gave a great resonance to the chanting. It was quite surreal actually – 20 blokes standing in 2 lines back to back with their penises in their hands singing at the tops of their voices! It was excellent! I retook my seat next to Andy and said to him – ‘I strongly recommend you go to the toilet’. After a quizzical look from him as if to say – ‘What … do I stink?’  I replied – ‘The atmosphere is amazing’. He went off smirking but came back disappointed; apparently the singing had stopped when he got there and despite taking his time didn’t resume.The bests parts of the day were nearly over as when 3 o’clock came it all went downhill – fast. Despite playing well it was one of those games you know is not going to go your way.  We hit bar, we hit post: but we were going to lose. The flame haired Tommy Johnson headed County into the lead with a soft goal shortly before the break. Shortly after half time he made it 2 with a shot that shouldn’t have gone in. He was 25 yards out and at an angle but, as with about a dozen goals that season, seemed to pass right through Perry Digweed’s midriff. It was a feature of ‘Diggers’. It was as if his torso were hour-glass shaped, leaving gaps either side of his stomach, so that when he was stretched on the floor balls just went straight through him. He was a fantastic reflex goalie, a great shot stopper; but when it came to shots from the side he had no chance.Then it was 3-0: 48 games of hard toil, 9 months of sweat, skill and hard labour( and that was just the fans!) – and it ends like this, the biggest anticlimax ever.I fucking hate Wembley – my two experiences of it were shit, one because I didn’t go; the other because I did. I’m glad they knocked the fucking thing down. 


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