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Saturday
Dec032011

This Will Never Happen Again

BY ALICE BOWYER / @elcapitancooks

“Come on, just hold my hand,” said my dad as we walked together up Wembley Way for my first ever football match. It was April, 1991, The FA Cup semi-final against Spurs. I was 11.

I still can't believe that it was my first football match, what was my dad thinking?

He took me, along with my two Arsenal mad cousins, and as I held his hand tightly, I was open mouthed in awe at the size of it all. So many people, such a massive building. I had no idea what was to come over the next couple of hours.

I already had a fairly detailed Arsenal knowledge by this point. My absolute favourite player was Anders Limpar and I used to gaze up at my dad while he told me tales about men called Frank McLintock and Liam Brady. I also new all about his trip to Anfield in 1989, albeit the edited version (I’ve since heard the real story which involved driving like a maniac back to London so he could drink until 10am). Nothing had prepared me for being at a real football match though, I was nervous, but excited to finally see The Arsenal. (I learnt early on, always THE Arsenal).

I don't remember much of the match to be honest, maybe over time I have learned to block it out. I only really remember when Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith scored and how my cousins jumped all over me. I can also picture the veins protruding from my Dad’s head when he lifted me up in celebration. There was so much swearing all around me, and testosterone, I was scared stiff. It wasn't a happy cheer of our goal, it was a tense, foul-mouthed, fist pumping sort of cheer such was the hatred of the other team!

After the full-time whistle [Arsenal had lost 3-1], we walked home in silence. As we left Wembley like thousands of sheep I saw grown men crying and sobbing. “Why are they crying Daddy?” I asked. “They're very sad and disappointed sweetheart. This was a massive game. Spurs in The FA Cup semi-final? This will never happen again. We needed to win this one.”

For all that happened that day, I had become hooked on the game and in particular with The Arsenal. I think it somehow helped that we lost, it made me warm to them even more. I was so young and got over this defeat quickly and in a small way I think my enthusiasm helped my Dad feel better!

What Dad and I didn't know was that we would both (minus my cousins) be back at Wembley for a second FA Cup semi-final with Spurs, just two years later. By then I was totally obsessed, I was swapping stickers at school, had Seaman, Limpar, Adams, Wrighy posters on my wall and a lot of games at Highbury under my belt.

I was a different kind of nervous before the game, but my Dad was completely calm, he kind of knew we would win. Of course, that changed straight after kick-off when he resorted to being a tense, Vein-popping swearer. Dreams came true when a Merson free-kick was headed home by our glorious captain Tony Adams. Joy, joy, joy!

We went to three more wembley games that year, and I had a new love in my life.

I will never forget either day at the old Wembley; the pain and the ecstasy in those big games were terrific examples of what it is like being an arsenal supporter. 

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