Once Upon A Time At Wembley: A Wiganer's Fairy Tale

The best fairy tales begin with 'Once upon a time…' and finish with a happy ending; Wigan's is no different...
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The best fairy tales begin with 'Once upon a time…' and finish with a happy ending; Wigan's is no different...

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Once upon a time a young lad and his Dad travelled to the big city to see their team in the third round of the FA Cup. It was a cold and misty day that ended in a narrow defeat for their heroes but nevertheless a day to be proud of. Later that cold January evening the father and son watched their team on Match of the Day in front of the glowing fire, their faces flushed with pride. The date was 3rd of January 1971 and the game was Manchester City v Wigan Athletic…

Time travelled on and the boy became a man with children of his own. His team had grown with him and now stood face to face with the giants of football on a regular basis but major success still eluded them. The boy’s father sadly died but not before he had seen the team he loved reach the heights of the Premier League. It was a league they would struggle in and it needed every last drop of strength and determination just to survive. Darkness surrounded the home stadium, grey clouds gathered, jostling for position to see the teams fall from grace and detractors cackled with glee like gargoyles hung from ancient walls.

Then began a quest, a golden quest that scattered the clouds and stone faces far and wide, teams were slain and the prize was in reach. Only one team stood between Wigan Athletic and immortality, that team was Manchester City

Two vast armies assembled and travelled southwards for the final and the northern clouds followed them there, laden with rain and ready to christen the victors at the culmination of the game. Wembley way was awash with people, two rivers of humanity that flowed to each end of the stadium. Friendships were renewed, strangers were embraced, photos for the family album taken. Flags carried aloft punctured the air like battle ensigns and faces painted with war paint ran with the rain.

At last we entered the great arena, friends once again embraced, what will be will be, enjoy the day, don’t get trounced, mantras to calm the nerves on our special day.

Manchester City the richest club in the land strode upon the lush green turf like they owned it, swaggering, confident and giving barely a second glance to their poor relations warming up in close proximity. The two sides disappeared to the dressing rooms. Players from around the globe sat and listened intently as an Italian and a Spaniard implored them to win England’s most treasured trophy.

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Out in the arena the Cup Final hymn brought back memories of loved ones and tears were shed by many not for the last time on this momentous day.

The game began and the confidence began to drain from the team in light blue as the men in black eagerly hunted them down like wolves amongst a sheep’s pen. Trapped and harried into corners they gave the ball away timidly and Wigan took control.  As the first half drew to a close the nervous mantras began again; Just keep the ball! Get it away! Get in the corners!

Half time, we look good, we look confident, what a save by Robles, should have had a penalty. More smiles, we have got to half time and not been breached, more photos, some of the scoreboard, 0-0, never thought that, keep it for the album alongside you and Bobby Moore’s statue. Memories still good before the probable happens but I still BELIEVE. The flag blowing from the top tier reminds me of this and PEMBERTON BLUES reminds me of home and the thousands watching on television in my town. Meanwhile millions across the globe settle down for the second half.

It carries on in the same vein, City pass, pass, and pass again searching for a chink in our weakened defences armour. We draw them in, and then attack them on the wings, McManaman torments them like a matador until an Argentinian bull loses control and crashes into him. Red card and City down to ten, Wigan smell the blood and the victory. City confused retreat towards their goal as a black tide threatens to engulf them. Last minute passes with a penalty appeal but only a corner results. The clock ticks past 90mins, Maloney swings the corner over, Watson glances it toward goal and Hart is helpless. Four minutes later and the cup is ours…

Hearts burst with joy, the players dance a jig of delight, strangers embrace once more, and friends who have previously only shaken hands now hug and kiss the top of rain sodden heads. Miles and miles of smiles, looks of disbelief, some people sit in shock while others shake them slowly back to their feet, unable to take in what they have just witnessed.

I look sideways down my row of red seats and see a friend in tears, he is overwhelmed by what he has seen, we all are. I see my youngest sister and she comes down to tearfully tell me that my Dad did it for us, now it’s my turn to cry. I’m hugged and told “You’ve won the Cup, you’ve won the Cup!” the lad has tears in his eyes, he supports Bolton and his joy is genuine.

The players go up the steps and a moment I have only seen on television happens before my eyes as the cup is raised to roars of approval. And I know you are watching up there Dad, you and all the other supporters who couldn’t be here, your tears of joy fall from the skies and land upon that famous silver trophy.

And I think back to the start of this Fairy Tale, a boy and his Dad on a cold winter’s afternoon over forty years ago, proud then and proud now. And you who were there on this wet day in May will never ever forget the time you saw Wigan Athletic win the FA Cup.