Friday, April 30, 2010

Fulham 2 Hamburg 1

Big game. I wanted to get there early.

We were in the River Cafe opposite Putney Bridge station at 6. The guy at the table behind us was saying how nervous he felt, how he'd felt nervous all week.

Kick off not till 8.05.

The boys (my son Andrew and his friend Fred) start asking me about the posters above the counter at the River Cafe. There are four of them. One of the Juventus team that won the 1985 European Cup. One of the Juventus team that won the European Cup early in the 1990's. One of the Italian team that won the 1982 World cup. One of the Italian team that won the 2006 world cup.

Underneath is a more recent addition, a half and half Fulham and Juventus scarf.

Fred asked me whether Fulham would have beaten the 1985 Juventus team.

No I said, and explain about Michel Platini. How he would stand in his own half and play balls over the defence into the path of the Juve striker Boniek, and how he would put back-spin on the ball so that when the ball landed it wouldn't run off into touch, it would sit up and beg to be hit in the back of the net.

He asked if we could I could find a Platini video in You Tube on the iPhone. We did, but it just showed Platini's goals. I said we were probably better off typing 'Boniek' into You Tube because then we would see Platini's passes.

We walked round the corner. Lots of Hamburg fans around in blue T-shirts saying 'Operation Rathausmarkt Mai 13 2010'. I asked one of them what it meant. He said that the day after the Europa League final, they were going to have a massive celebration of their Europa League win in Rathausmarkt in Hamburg.

We get to the ground by 7. Very early for us, we normally get there 10 minutes before kick off.
I go over to chat to Roman and his son, we used to have a season ticket in the row in front of him. Like me he hadn't dared check the internet today to see whether or not Bobby Zamora was fit to play. Roman says we have to believe today, its all about belief. He hadn't made his mind up whether he would fly or drive to the final.

I o back to Fred and Andrew. Andrew tells me Zamora is playing.

Its like the old days at a football match, everyone in their positions half an hour before kick off (in the days when people stood up you had to get their early to get your favourite position on the terrace). Atmosphere building, all the songs coming out.

Four big Hamburg fans are sitting six rows in front of us. In Hamburg shirts and scarves. There were Juve fans and Shaktar fans in our block in previous rounds but they hadn't worn their club colours.

Game kicks off, Zamora has a good chance, massive noise. Even game, very fast tempo, Fulham have a good spell, Hamburg have a good spell. They get a free kick thirty five yards out and their fellow bends a phenomenal free kick into the top corner like a rocket. The Hamburg fans celebrate. Some of the Fulham fans get angry with them. One guy in front of me starts saying ' come on then' to them. Wanting a fight. I lean forward and tap him on the arm, 'its Fulham not Chelsea I say, and there are kids around' Give him his due the fellow stops. The Hamburg fans shrug their shoulders and walk out of the ground.

Rest of the half slides by. Fulham playing well enough, decent passing, but not making their keeper do much.

Half time. TV monitor below the stand shows lots of clips of Bobby Zamora in obvious discomfort from his injury, Andy Townsend speculates whether or not he will play second half.

Andrew asks me, 'are we going to win this dad?' 'well son, we aren't out of it, and we will have a surge kicking towards the Hammersmith End, but Hamburg are probably favourites now, they seem a better side than Wolfsburg and Juventus'. In my heart I don't think that we will do it.

We go back to our seats. The guy who sits at the end of our row says to me and the boys. 'We will do this, trust me, we will get these two goals'

I eat the bit of bread pudding that I bought from the River Cafe for half time. Its proper home made grandma baked bread pudding. Please be magic bread pudding, please get us these two goals.

The game restarts, Zamora chases a ball down the flanks, does well but he is limping afterwards. He is obviously not fit.

I keep looking at the clock, 50 minutes gone, 60 minutes gone. I can't pretend I am enjoying the experience. The game and time seem to be draining away.

A chant starts up. 'Stand up if you still believe' I stand up (even though I didn't believe). Everyone stands up. Everyone sings it. It lifts the players. Now I do believe. The power of self-fulfilling prophecy. Zamora comes off (to a massive ovation). Dempsey comes on. Fresh legs, fit legs.

There is a Fulham surge now, a tide. High tempo passing, intensity.

Murphy gets the ball in his own half. Plays a wonderful pass through their defence, Davies turns the defender one way, then the other and pokes it in. When the delirium had died down Fred asked me 'was that a Platini pass?'

Yes I said, that is exactly what it was!

Murphy gets the ball again in the centre circle. He drifts it diagonally over the full back to Konchesky (or it might have been Davies) running down that flank.

'Was that a Platini pass?'

Two minutes later Murphy takes a corner that leads to a promising situation.
'Was that a Platini corner?'

The ball comes into the box again. It goes into the back of the net. Writing this the morning after I still cannot picture that second goal.

I said to a bloke after the game that the celebrations after the goal must have been so intensive that it punctured something in my brain and I forgot what the goal was like. He said that Dempsey's chip against Juve had fractured a hole in the fabric of the universe and we have been living in an alternative reality ever since. Yes I said, Dr Who will meet Rose at the final.

15 minutes left. I am still looking at the clock all the time but this time to will it on. Not wishing my life away, just the next 14 minutes.

All of the songs come out, the defiant ones and triumphant ones and the encouraging ones. But the one that gets the goosebumps going was the plaintive one, to the sound of Country Roads 'Craven Cottage, by the river, take me home' heard it a hundred times before but just at that moment.....

It gets closer and closer to the end of time. Hamburg resort to hoofing the ball up long. Fulham keep 2 men up front. Everyone in the ground is standing up. Bouncing up and down with 20 thousand other people singing 'Roy, Roy, Roy'' to the tune of '1 bannana 2 bannana 3 bannana 4'.

I don't know how to whistle, so I can't join in the whistling before the final whistle.

The final whistle goes. What do you do? I hug my son and tell him I love him.

The players are cavorting on the pitch. If you look at someone they hug you.

Andrew realises he's lost his watch
'F*** the watch' I say, with a smile
What he said, surprised (I never swear)
Don't worry about the watch I say.

Whenever Fulham win at home, John Pantsil, if he is playing, sprints round the pitch in a lap of honour. He did two laps last night. No-one had left the ground, everyone still in there ten minutes later.

Got the train home. Saw a guy wearing a 'Dempsey's chip' T shirt, with his son. What a great idea for a t-shirt. In ten years time he will wear it and people will try and figure out what it is referring to, was someone remembering the last mouthful of a particularly savouresome portion of fish and chips?

He said the tickets for the final would go on sale at 7 in the morning. Only 12,000 of them. Only to season tickets holders. 'Are you going' I said. 'I will have to pursuade the wife first because I want to take the boy' he replied. 'You'll have to wake her up at 5:30 in the morning with a cup of tea' I said.

When I woke up this morning it felt like I had just walked out of the ground. Ears still ringing from the noise, throat hoarse. Great night.