By Adam Bate
Childhood memories are a powerful thing. Until the age of nine I kept a scrapbook outlining the events of each game I attended. I can remember every one of those early matches and I recently wrote a detailed account of my first ever game for The Ball Is Round.
But both the beauty and the problem of being a football fan is that – unless you’re David Mellor or Tim Lovejoy – it means regularly returning to the same venue. Again. And again. And again. The action becomes blurred, seasons blend into one and before you know it you’ve spent a decade watching Dele Adebola ripping your perennially feeble defence to shreds.
Perhaps this is why my earliest recollections of falling in love with this game centre on the FA Cup Final. I sense I’ve already lost the teenagers among you but you’ll have to trust me – it was a big deal. What’s more, I can tell you where I was for every final of my formative years as a fan.
There was 1987. I was on an aeroplane about to embark on an embarrassingly stereotypical 80s package holiday with my parents to the Costa Brava when I heard the score: Coventry 3 Tottenham 2. I remember little of the holiday itself but, curiously, the audible gasps of the passengers on that flight somehow stay with me. And yes, the pilot did read out the Cup Final score mid-flight. Does that still happen?
For 1988 I was at home. I recall rushing into the garden to tell my dad that Liverpool had won a penalty. By the time we returned, John Aldridge had missed and Wimbledon were on their way to an astonishing victory.
In 1989 I retained my uncanny knack of nearly missing most of the action. Dragged away during the first half of the all-Merseyside final and forced to visit my cousins, I was the definitive sulking child as my loved ones chattered away interminably. I persuaded my uncle to put the game on television just in time to catch Stuart McCall’s last minute equaliser before being whisked off by my parents and arriving home in the nick of time to see yet another McCall equaliser in extra-time before Ian Rush finally delivered the killer blow.
1990 was a tale of two games for the players and two venues for me. The Wembley final was spent at my aunt’s house before watching Manchester United edge the replay from the comfort of my own home – as my mother and sister openly wondered why on earth there was a football match being shown on television on a week night.
Then there was 1991 and memories of sitting down with my dad as we – along with most of the country – watched Gazza unravel in a matter of minutes. It’s perhaps fitting that this is the last FA Cup Final I vividly associate with my childhood. The following year marked the arrival of the Premier League and the reinvention of football. The money men had taken over and football – like me – had grown up.
Adam is a journalist who has written for – the now dormant – Calcio Italia, When Saturday Comes and ITV Football. He also maintains his own wonderful blog called Ghost Goal, and you can follow him on twitter (@ghostgoal).