I was probably the only Stoke City fan who wasn’t still on Cloud Giddy on the morning of Sunday 25th March 2012, the day after Peter Crouch’s wonder strike against Mancini’s chokers. I had other things to think about.
Thankfully on that sunny Sabbath day, none of the national media had described Crouch’s volley with the unfortunately-apt (as you’ll see why later) PHEW, WHAT A SCORCHER!
Some things in life are so perfect that they don’t need dissecting, as Crouch’s goal was time and time again on MOTD and MOTD2, which for me, slightly diluted the spontaneous beauty of the strike and subsequent unbridled celebration in the stands.
These things, when they happen, just need to happen and be left alone.
You can add the gangly forward’s strike to the likes of –
That first date with that rocket fit girl who you’ve spent months of spade work in getting to like you; rooting through the racks in TK Maxx and finding a Maharishi wax parka for less than twenty notes; seeing Education Minister Michael Gove slip over for no apparent reason on YouTube; driving over Biddulph Moor as dawn breaks, and the mist enshrouds Mow Cop; cradling that first pint at the Ty Coch Inn at Porth Dinllaen as the kids play merrily on the beach in front of you; listening to the radio in the car as the opening strains of Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished sympathy’ streams through the airwaves; walking out of Wembley after winning five-nil; getting a pair of jeans to fit you perfectly; the look of undivided and unbreakable love your baby fixes you with; rooting through your drawers (stop tittering at the back) stumbling on a ticket that says FA Cup Final on it; the neighbours cutting your lawn as it’s “not really any extra trouble” for them....
You get the picture.
The above don’t need action replays. They don’t need ‘experts’ and camera angles. They don’t even need a commentary. They simply happen, they simply exist and we simply give thanks that we were there to witness, experience or live them. Crouch’s goal was one of those moments. Time really did stand still, clichéd though that may sound. God, I wish it had that night.
It was roughly 6.50pm when Crouch struck. Unfortunately, it was about the same time as my family’s house was on fire.
And so it goes that from a moment of utter exhilarating bliss and perfection, that mine and my family’s life changed to a feeling of despondency and despair.
7.26pm in a Fiat Punto, 400 yards from the Britannia Stadium. My mobile rings: “I don’t want to alarm you duck, but when you get back from Stoke there will be a fire engine parked outside our house”.
About as welcome a statement on a Saturday night as “In a moment it’s the new series of Britain’s Got Talent and that’s followed by Take me out.....”. A bit more surreal though.
She was wrong though. There were two fire engines there. And lots of firemen. And a crowd of neighbours, too. “I go to the match and when I get back you’re in the house with twelve men in uniform”, I would have said if I wasn’t choking back tears and various fumes.
The drive back from the ground took forty five long minutes, sat in silence with my dad, mate Brad, his daughter and George in the car with intermittent updates from my wife.
A short while earlier, my eight year old lad George and I were part of a 25,000 Poznan mickey-take that simply made buying your season ticket worthwhile. We were also part of an atmosphere that simply reaffirms why you sometimes drag yourself around the country watching your club at various Second Division outposts. I know of a couple of lads in the press box from the national media that found the second half atmosphere against Man City to be simply as good as it gets, and probably more pertinently and importantly, as one journalist I know to confirm, “the clarity of noise and the total unbridled joy was something I‘d never seen at a UK football ground in a long time”.
I just wish the goal and the resultant giddiness hadn’t happened and wasn’t so special.
My lad has struggled to embrace the essence of what football supporting is all about. After all, he’s only had a season ticket for almost two seasons and he’s seen The Potters at Wembley twice and in Europe – and I don’t mean Wrexham away. You have to witness at first hand the feeling of ‘where do we go from here?’ to truly appreciate the good times.
I looked across at George. He couldn’t have been happier as he stood on his seat in Block 32 going mad, and that’s what has made the resulting ten days so surreal. From elation to devastation in such a short space of time.
If it had been a boring 1-0 win against similar mid-table fodder, with a tap-in winner, would I feel the same now? No, I wouldn’t. “If I hadn’t seen such riches.......”
I won’t go into detail about the fire, but it’s extensive enough to have caused a lot of damage, bewilderment and heartbreak. But I will now forever associate Crouch’s goal not with beauty, but with destruction.
But when almost everything is lost then you are left with the few things that truly matter in life: family and friends. And that is why football is more important than virtually everything else in life apart from health and loved ones.
After all, I still have what I went the match with: my son; a rather smart old AC Milan trackie top, half-decent jeans and a pair of Gazelles. Oh, plus the season tickets in my backside pocket, of course. Plus, my flesh and blood were unharmed, hence the reason I can still smile and still laugh at myself and the world.
Life goes on. And that’s why amongst the hard days ahead, who Stoke City buy in the summer will still matter; where Stoke City finish in the league will still matter; and can I get my 3 year old lad another ticket to join us in the Family Stand will still matter.
Football, and your own club above all, matters massively as it’s a huge part of our personal DNA. But not to the extent that Bill Shankly stated. But matter it truly does. It’s our escape from the treadmill of the working week, a glistening shard of escapist ladism in a hen-pecked, “have you put the bins out yet?” world. And by God, am I going to enjoy visiting The Britannia even more than I currently do. Because if I don’t, then perhaps football really doesn’t matter, and that’s just as stupid and twee a statement as you can get.
Those who know me will know that they needn’t worry about treading on any eggshells about the fire. I’ve already witnessed any number of hand-over-mouth responses to phrases such as “I bet you’re gutted, eh?”, and the estate agents telling me they have a number of “red-hot properties!”. Er, arf.
I simply refuse to lower the needle on my banter-o-meter, even when we were referred to, quite rightly, as “homeless” in the local newspaper.
So, thanks a bloody lot, Peter Crouch! Why couldn’t you have scuffed it wide?
Thanks for ensuring that Saturday 24th March 2012 ensured that it was a unique day in the emotional rollercoaster of this Stokie’s life. As Manic Street Preachers stated, “From despair to where?”
Actually, I know full well where. I’m still here, my family are still here, my mates are still here, thankfully alcohol is still here, and Stoke City are still here.
Do I really need any more than that?
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