You really have to go a long way to impress an old hand who has been privileged to attend major sporting events - in all their glorious splendour - all around the globe but I must admit, my experience in attending the 2009 FA Cup at Wembley Stadium in London was something really special and memorable.
It was indeed an honour to be able to accept an “educational” invitation to the FA Cup final on 30th May from the custodians of the Nedbank Cup (The PSL) and really exciting to be able to compare the final with our own that had been staged at a revamped and very impressive Rand Stadium situated in the South of Johannesburg. Having flown Emirates business class via Dubai we arrived, on Friday morning, refreshed at London Gatwick and were immediately whisked away by luxury coach to our hotel in Kensington High Street where we enjoyed a late breakfast and, after a quick shower, decided to take some time to hit out and check some famous spots in London. Despite all our whining in SA, the ever faithful London Underground is still really very disabled unfriendly!
In order to keep up, I opted for my wheelchair (as opposed to crutches) which really proved to the detriment of my colleagues who had to carry me and the chair up and down age old stairs and through dirty corridors, on and off of trains etc. They were happy to assist, though it was clear as to who would be buying the first round at the first convenient pub!
We arrived at Piccadilly Circus and, upon surfacing via my “pall bearers” from the labyrinth of the underground, it quickly became clear that “Lady London” of old, who I had known so well in previous travels with its hustle and bustle, had succumbed to the global economic crisis. The place was relatively empty! Old landmark pubs and stores were no more with only boarding and signage remaining to remind you that they once stood proud - ouch!
Needless to say, we did find a pub, I did buy the first round but we were here for the FA Cup Final and I was not going to slash my wrists over something that I couldn’t change.
Saturday morning was special in that, during Friday evening, the Proteas cricket team had arrived in preparation for the ICC Twenty 20 World Cup. I had breakfast with Protea Coach, Mickey Arthur, whom I have long admired and, during the meal, had the pleasure of speaking to some really pumped up and enthusiastic Proteas. They abound with energy and are clearly a well drilled and determined outfit. To my pleasure, “Scott oats porridge” was an option on the menu so by my insistence, they all indulged!At 10.00hrs, we boarded the other kind of coach and it was off to Wembley to witness the final of the Worlds oldest and most traditional football trophy - the FA Cup. Up until that day it had rained but the weather gods had decided to smile and, with temperatures soaring at around the 32 degree mark, the parks and public places en route to the stadium resembled nudist colonies with the poms bathing their lily white carcasses in abundance in an effort to move a deep shade of brown in seconds!
As a long time Liverpool supporter I had talked myself into staying neutral and just enjoying the day which would feature two sides who had succumbed to Liverpool in the league (meaning they were inferior). On arrival at the glorious Wembley stadium we were met and warmly welcomed by none other then the English FA Chairman - Sir David Richards. “What an impressive man” is all I can say! The corporate hospitality was conducted in a convention centre styled auditorium in the bowels of the giant stadium. The service was superb, cuisine basic but excellent and, once the eating and networking was out of the way, I was escorted by very efficient security staff to our seating which was on the main stand, just a tier below the royal box and of course, right on the halfway line.
The facilities and attention paid to spectators with disabilities was exemplary. The stadium was a sea of blue and the partisan crowds were already shouting the anthems and slogans that they had so eagerly rehearsed to spur on their respective teams. No sooner had the opening whistle shrieked, than I commented that the game would need an early goal in order to spark it into life. Well, Everton striker, Louis Saha, must have heard for he obliged by scoring a searing goal in the 24th second! What a start, I can now lay claim to having seen the fastest goal scored in an FA Cup final - how special is that?
Chelsea were the better side on the day and emerged victors by 2 - 1 with Frank Lampard and Didia Drogba scoring. The presentation was really special as the players congregated right at the point where we were seated, the trophy was 5 metres to my right. Once order was restored, they all went off above us to the Royal box to deal with the formalities.That evening we trundled our way up and down Kensington High Street immersed in memories of such a special day. We found ourselves in Bill Wyman’s “Sticky Fingers” bar. Bill, for the ignorant, was the bass player for the legendary Rolling Stones! The memorabilia on the walls, together with the atmosphere, was stunning and, as a fan since the early sixties, I was mesmerised!
As with anything in life, we need to be brought down off our highs and that happened as we returned to our hotel. A tramp-like figure, armed with a bottle-in-hand and perched in an awkward stance on the stairs was non other than an ailing, former English superstar icon Paul Gascoigne!
How sad to see one who had it all and now has little or nothing. “His presence is a regular occurrence in these parts,” assured the saddened hotel concierge. This really was a bring down and a stark reminder of the highs and lows of life!We are back!
We did learn a lot and I am saying with confidence that next years Nedbank Cup will be one to watch.
How do we change the drone of vuvuzela’s into in-tune singing and chanting is the question.......?
Oh just leave it the way it is, here we go hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!