Here is Bazza’s take on Sunday. I’m sorry it is a little late, the response to the Wembley experiences has been great. I’ll posting be another one later. Over to Baz.
At last the day had finally arrived and Wembley beckoned for the first time in 48 years of supporting the Blues. I was unable to make either of the two Wembley visits against Tranmere and Carlisle as I was away serving my country abroad but I was there in spirit and listening on the radio.
I was up early to walk the dog, get some cash from the local hole in the wall and obtain train tickets for my youngest son, Ben and myself at Blackwater Station. I left Ben as long as I could before being forced to wake him up. I felt a bit sorry for him as he had been working most of the night and by the time he got home after his shift he had only managed about two hours sleep but there was no way that he wasn’t going to be at Wembley for this special day. A carton of orange juice and a shower later and my 19 year old boy was hot to trot although he looked like death warmed up and was in no mood for sympathy. He declined breakfast which I told him he would regret but when did teenage sons ever listen to their Dads eh?
So wearing the shirts, hats and scarves of the faithful, Mrs Bazza dropped us back down to the station and there we caught our train which was on time! We met ‘Lager Gary’ and ‘Victor Meldrew’ (real name Richard Wilson and yes he actually looks like him!) local Blues’ fans on the station along with an assortment of Gooners who outnumbered us of course. On the train there were one or two Hammers and Scousers going to their lunchtime kick off at The Boleyn Ground and to be fair they wished us well and appeared definitely on our side rather than Arsenal’s. A couple, wearing the red of Arsenal wandered through the carriage at one stage clutching a glass of champagne each. There was universal agreement from all around that this was premature to say the least and most said they would never do something like that in case it brought ill fortune to their team. Ah well; each to his own, they must have been feeling confident I guess. 😀 We changed at Guildford and made our way fairly uneventfully to Waterloo to meet up with Will and Alex, Will’s local postman, a staunch Gooner.
We decided to go straight up to Wembley Park as we wanted to find a pub and absorb the atmosphere. The day had started out bright with pleasant sunshine and the omens were good with regard to the weather as the forecast was for the odd shower; well that just shows just how wrong you can be doesn’t it? We arrived at the Wembley arch just as the first spots of rain began to fall and we were taking our early pictures in front of the stadium. It was good to see Chris with his wife Gayle and grandson ‘Little Jack’ as Chris had our tickets! Will and Chris’ Uncle Frank and Auntie Joan also came down to Wembley for this occasion and were waiting for us near our entrance to the stadium. Rob and Greg, two other friends also joined us. Uncle Frank had been present in 1956 and remembered the devastation of that disappointment and the fact that most of our fans were in tears at the end. I couldn’t help reflecting that this match probably meant more to him and Auntie Joan than any of the rest of us and that must have been a very great deal as sure as hell I know how much this day meant to me!.
Most of us went off in the direction of the Greene Man pub leaving Uncle Frank and Auntie Joan to enter the stadium as it was too far for them to walk. Ben and I lost the rest of our party in the throng that had gathered at the pub where there were beer tents packed with half the Bluenose nation who were also under an outdoor awning singing loudly. The atmosphere was raucous, primal and electric. The rain was hosing down at this stage and there was virtually no shelter to be had as the tents and buildings were packed tight as sardines. The muddy garden areas around the Greene Man were like a battlefield with people ankle deep in cloying mud and plastic beer mugs strewn around on what was left of the grass. Despite getting under an overhanging shrub our beer mugs were filling up faster than we could drink! Ben looked out at the scene where our fellow fans were singing happily, then at the desolate muddy ground, then at the rain as it plinked in our beer and then at me and said “this is really s**t isn’t it Dad?” At which point we both burst into hysterics of laughter as indeed it was; the whole spectacle was totally absurd. However, Ben followed up his comment by adding with a huge grin “but do you know what? I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now!” Nothing could dampen our spirits or those of the thousands gathered on that little parcel of land that resembled a war zone.
We downed our watery beer and contacted Will who had gone back to the stadium where we met him under the West Stand to collect our tickets. I wished Ben a great match as his seat was in a different place to ours and waited in the cold and wet for Jonny, my eldest son who was travelling up under separate cover with a Gooner mate of his. He arrived at 3 pm and he and I finally went into the ground and grabbed a pie and a pint. We then went off to our respective seats. I joined our main group and drank in the atmosphere. Wembley really is an awesome sight when full and the noise from those of a blue persuasion was something I will never forget.
You don’t need me to describe in detail the action that occurred in the game as those of you that were there will have your own vivid memories and others who were unable for want of a ticket to be present will have been glued to television sets in the pubs and clubs and in thousands of homes everywhere. I can honestly say without fear of contradiction that this was for me one of the greatest days of my life watching sport. Our team was magnificent starting brightly and yes Bowyer was on side when he received a beautifully weighted pass from Zigic with barely two minutes gone and yes it should have been a penalty and a red card for Szczesny but Almunia would have come on and who is to say that he may not have saved it, gone on to have the game of his life and a ten man Arsenal against all odds would have rolled up their sleeves and played a more direct game on the break and beaten us?
Fate has a strange habit of turning up the right card on the river and so it was to prove. Blues did not dwell on the early injustice and took the game to their more illustrious opponents forcing mistakes from the normally unflappable Arsenal midfield with Song and Rosicky particularly culpable. Johnson and Jiranek headed and tackled for their lives and prevented any forward momentum and pressure from Arsenal to build.
On the contrary it was from an error by Bacary Sagna giving away a corner that Blues took the lead. Larsson’s corner found Johnson who Koscielny had failed to track. Johnson’s header towards goal was flicked on by Zigic who got between Djourou and Szczesny to guide his header into the net. Wembley erupted with a wall of sound that few will have experienced before. Whatever happened from here on the day had already surpassed expectations. Although the lead lasted a mere 11 minutes, Blues remained undaunted. The equaliser from Van Persie was an absolute beauty and worth the admission alone. I thought we had got away with it when Jack Wilshere crashed his shot against the bar but the ball was worked out to Arshavin who crossed it back in. The Dutchman then volleyed beautifully around Johnson into the far corner giving even the brilliant man of the match, Ben Foster no chance. In times past this would have heralded an inevitable beginning towards a gallant but disappointing defeat but not this time. In the second half Arsenal came at us and for a period of about 20 minutes were all over us but every Blues player gave every ounce of energy in a ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ performance and when the Gunners did fire rounds at our goal Ben Foster saved, stopping van Persie, Arshavin and Nasri twice from putting them ahead. Into the final ten minutes I heard Chris say “we’re gonna concede in a minute, I know it!” I turned to him and replied “NOT TODAY Chris! NOT TODAY!” He looked at me and smiled as if he understood that on this occasion it wasn’t just bravado. There were 11 Birmingham players and over 31,000 bluenoses who were making damned sure that the usual scenario was not going to happen.
The clock ticked by and it was 89 minutes; extra time beckoned. Auntie Joan was sitting next to me and she remarked “Barrie, a goal now would be nice wouldn’t it?” I replied “Yes Auntie Joan, it would. I tell you what’s going to happen; this free kick is going in to Zigic who will head it down for Obafemi Martins to score.” “Do you think he will?” said Auntie Joan. “Probably not, but we can always hope can’t we?” I said. Ten seconds later there was THAT mix up between Koscielny and Szczesny from Zigic’s header from a ball delivered from Foster from just inside our half and the ball was in the net through Martins! What a prediction; the roar was deafening. We were all leaping about hugging each other. Chris was yelling in my ear “We’re winning, we’re winning!” Will was blathering incoherently unable to formulate the words to express just how he felt and Auntie Joan thought I was God! A quiet, simple smile appeared on Uncle Frank’s face and a penny for his thoughts at that moment would have been worth the investment.
Blues held on for the four minutes of time added on and usually these periods are torture but this time somehow I just knew we were going to claim our just reward. The last blow of Mike Dean’s whistle was a cue for wild celebrations and to watch a Birmingham City captain lift the trophy was beyond description. The rapidity with which the Arsenal end of the stadium emptied was telling; there was not a single Blues player, I believe, that left anything on that pitch in terms of energy, commitment, heart or soul. The team were simply magnificent all afternoon and deserved the win. Everyone, from Ben Foster in goal to big Nikola Zigic up front played their part in an unforgettable victory.
One of the main differences between the sides was something that Kevin Ball said to me this week and that was that Arsenal had no true leader in their team whereas Blues had at least four; Steven Carr who never stopped running all afternoon, Martin Jiranek who cajoled and willed on everyone around him, Lee Bowyer who somehow found energy reserves even he must have thought had been the stuff of more youthful times and the irrepressible Barry Fergusson who just calmly did what Barry Fergusson does and ran midfield making himself available at all times as the go to man.
The contributions from Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell were awesome at the back and Seb Larsson looked up for the battle from the start with great deliveries into Nikola Zigic who dominated the Arsenal rear-guard throwing them off their comfort and rhythm. He scored one and was instrumental for the winner which was taken with aplomb by Obafemi Martins. Keith Fahey and Craig Gardner put big shifts in and Fahey was desperately unlucky to see a shot cannon back off a post with Szczsney well beaten. Beausejour looked the best I have seen him when he came on with the luxury of the extra space to move in afforded by the large Wembley pitch. Jerome got a couple of minutes towards the end and bought time in the corner and with a tackle or two to close the game out. However, the best piece of action for running down the clock by far was when Martins went round the keeper after he had scored and then decided to beat him again rather than put it in the net! 😉
On the way back we met two Gooners at Waterloo Station. Matt who was standing outside the pub and Danny known as ‘Tug Boat’ in the bar who were both gracious enough to congratulate us on our win and to concede that their team was bested on the day by the better side. Thank you lads for your sportsmanship; it was well appreciated and taken in the very best of spirit. Good luck in Arsenal’s quest to catch Manchester United and the away leg in Barcelona.
The Good: Everything about the day! It doesn’t get any better than this!
The Bad: The offside flag against Bowyer but actually it made for a better game and the chance for fate to smile on us later.
The Ugly: The weather before the match; shocking but who cares?
Wojciech Szczesny 5, Bacary Sagna 6, Johann Djourou 6, Laurent Koscielny 5, Gael Clichy 6, Tomas Rosicky 5, Alex Song 5, Samir Nasri 7, Jack Wilshere 7, Andrei Arshavin 7 (Marouane Chamakh 6) Robin van Persie 7 (Nicklas Bendtner 69, 6) Subs not used: Almunia, Denilson, Squillaci, Eboue, Gibbs.
Scorer: van Persie 39.
Booked: Koscielny, Clichy.
Ben Foster 9, Steven Carr 7, Roger Johnson 8, Martin Jiranek 7, Liam Ridgewell 7, Sebastian Larsson 7, Barry Fergusson 7, Craig Gardner 7 (Beausejour 7) Lee Bowyer 8, Keith Fahey 7 (Martins 83, 7) Nikola Zigic 8 (Jerome 90, N/A) Subs not used: Taylor, Phillips, Murphy, Parnaby.
Scorers: Zigic 28, Martins 89.
Booked: Larsson, Fergusson, Jerome.
Referee: Mike Dean 7: Had a good game in my view. The decision in the second minute when Bowyer was fouled was the fault of the Assistant who failed to spot that Bowyer was clearly onside and flagged against him instead. Mr Dean was then correct in giving the original decision and not the subsequent infringement.