• Albion 2 - 2 Manchester United, 21.05.1983

    “Get off to bed” they said, “Big day tomorrow. Try to get some sleep”.

    Who are they kidding? Sleep? I‘ve not slept for a week. Teeth done, in the bedroom sink with the Albion crest mirror, then stretched out on the bed, under the gaze of the 1982/83 squad, looking down from the wall opposite. Half asleep, half awake, replaying all that brought us to this – to the cusp of eternal glory – to the prospect of triangular corner flags at the Goldstone.

    A scrap against Newcastle in the 3rd round – the adventure almost over before it began. A draw secured, then crestfallen at the response that ‘No, we wouldn’t’ be attending the replay – I had no concept of the distances involved. The lads came through it without my help, then came the romp past Manchester City, that cost John Bond his job. Fifth round. Big time.

    Monday lunchtime, and Mr Lawrence has brought in a radio – hushed excitement as Bert Millichip and company proceed with suitable gravitas. The balls clunk into the velvet bag. Serious BBC voices. Serious business this. Liverpool! Liverpool away. Bloody hell. Current first division champions, and well on their way to winning it again. Already in the final of the League Cup. Recent champions of Europe. All outside to get this tie on. ‘You’re Liverpool’. ‘Am I ****.’

    Something’s changed. The town’s woken up to what’s going on. There’s a pull-out feature in the Argus every couple of days. There’s rosettes in shop window displays. Posters in the windows of houses. From somewhere, cardboard placards appear of the logo of a tractor company, called CASE – these are great, and they’re soon everywhere, in homage to the stone-deaf hard man in the Albion midfield – our bay window included.

    The game at Anfield is seared in my memory – and we didn’t even go. A sweet-run to the Maid Marian, then settled – as settled a nerves would allow – in the lounge, glued to the radio commentary, crackling out from Dad’s beloved sound system – specially imported to do full justice to an extensive collection of Santana and Pink Floyd. It’s the size of a table football get-up, and lights up like a bloody Christmas tree. As the commentator runs through the sides, childish optimism takes a knock – Dalgliesh. Rush. Souness. There’s a reason they’ve rattled off 40 plus unbeaten Anfield cup ties. Unbeaten. Unbeatable?

    Nobody told the Albion. Gerry Ryan gives us a surprise lead, which we hold for a good while, before Reds’ substitute Craig Johnston equalises, 60 seconds after coming on. The Kop celebrating like this is only going one way now – but, their former idol Case having none of it – shrugging off challenges, to crash home from distance. Glory so close – then disaster – the ref’s given them a penalty. Bollocks is it. Looks a poor decision, from 240 miles away. Phil Neal steps up, in front of The Kop –and he’s only gone and missed it! It’s done. The biggest of FA Cup shocks. Wow.

    The shit got real now – actually, shit didn’t ‘get real’ until at least the 90s – but you get the idea –this is now a bona fide big deal. Huge excitement in schools. In shops. In offices. The town turning blue. Mr Lawrence’s crackly transistor radio confirms a home Quarter-final against Norwich. That’ll do nicely.

    I’ve turned twelve since the last round, so now deemed old enough to go on my own. My mate and I obviously ignore our strict East Terrace instructions, and head straight for the North, pumped full of bravado. As the stand fills up, well beyond any modern sense of comfort, or safety, we bottle it, and melt to the North-West corner, where perched on the low wall at the footings of the floodlight, we crane our necks to witness Case brushing aside the Canaries’ last man, before firing the Albion to an historic semi-final.

    The FA Blazers do us an almighty favour – drawing Manchester United and Arsenal together, leaving the Albion to face Sheffield Wednesday, fighting for promotion from the Second Division. How hard can that be – a team from the lower leagues? The tie is to be played at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium – well known to me and my mates, from Match of the Day, and the pages of Shoot. Armed with the 1983 version of loyalty points – ticket stubs from various first team and reserve matches – we join the excitable queue on Newtown Road, to secure our precious tickets from the Goldstone ticket office / shop / reception. I think it’s the first football match I’ve ever had, or needed, an actual ticket for – and it sits on the mantelpiece drawing all eyes to it – a magical thing indeed.

    Highbury feels massive. There’s blue and white stripes everywhere – you’d think everyone was supporting the Albion, if half of them didn’t talk funny. We pile into the clock end, and head for the front. “Meet you behind the goal, after the game”. The terrace is a heaving mass of flesh, nylon shirts, scarves and cigarette smoke, which explodes in a maelstrom, as Case – who else – unleashes a rasping free kick, in off the bar. Absolute scenes – ‘limbs’ as it would be known, 30 years later.

    Half-time babble punctured soon after – the Owls scuffing one in – but then delirium, as Michael Robinson nets the winner up the far end. Not that I could see it – not that I cared. We’ve only gone and done it – we are officially ‘thegreatestbrightnovalbyun’ and we’re ‘go-na-wem-ber-ley’. We’re going to play Manchester United, at actual bloody Wem Ber Ley!

    Back to Newtown Road, crack of dawn. Not ****ing this up. Rumours like wildfires, up and down the queue – “We’re only getting this many” – “We’re getting that many” – “There’s not enough” – “They’ve nearly all gone”. Tension. Success. Get in. Wem Ber Ley! The Albion are as good as relegated by now, but that seems entirely unimportant. We’ll soon be back up – it’s all about the FA Cup now.

    All pretence of schooling is basically abandoned at this stage. Every lesson just excited babble. Are you going? Of course I’m bloody going. How are you getting there? Who are you going with? Do you know anyone with a spare? Not just in schools either – Brighton is now FA Cup Town. Every shop window displaying their (previously well hidden) love of the Albion. The Argus covers nothing else. There’s features on the news – not just the local gubbins – the actual proper news. Interviews on the pier, with various players, and with manager Jimmy Melia. Jimmy has a pair of white shoes – that alone the basis of half a dozen FA Cup stories. Balding little gnome Jimmy has a ‘glamour girl’, in Val Lloyd, on his arm – half a dozen more. The squad are flying to Wembley in a bloody helicopter, courtesy of shirt sponsors British Caledonian – more glamour. The Albion squad get involved in the ‘grand’ tradition of the FA Cup final single – “The Boys in the old Brighton blue” appear on Top of the Pops, no less. Amazing times.

    And so to now – here we all are, up with the lark, my brothers and I bundled into the brown (why Dad? just why?) Ford Sierra, for the journey to actual bloody Wem-ber-ley. Climbing Snakey Hill there’s a car in front of us, with blue and white scarves trailing from both rear windows. We’re having some of that – windows down, scarves out, windows up. Onto the A23, there’s another car, more scarves. Then another, and another. And a coach, and a bus, and what seems like a hundred more buses – all full of blue and white, flags and scarves trailing from every window. There’s flags and good luck banners strung from the bridges over the road, as the glorious cavalcade flows by. And we’re part of it – smiles and waves, and car horns blaring – and it’s bloody brilliant.

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. AmexRuislip's Avatar
      AmexRuislip -
      Brilliant, as always
    1. Mackenzie's Avatar
      Mackenzie -
      This time.

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