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West Ham United David Croft

 

Do excuse me for not reliving an F1 story from my years covering the sport or not re-telling a tale or two from the many nights of late night research put in over the course of the Lakeside World Darts Championship. I'd like to go back, if that's okay to Sunday 14th March 1981, when my Dad and Me went to Wem-ber-ley

I was 10 years old, still 3 months away from my 11th birthday and somehow West Ham had got to the final of the League Cup. The season before we'd won the FA Cup which I couldn't go to, so as you'd expect I badgered Dad (who's a lifelong Sheffield United supporter by the way) to get some tickets. Now we all know that Dad's can do anything, well we certainly believe that when we're 10, and lo and behold he came up with the goods. Except the tickets were in the seats, right by the Liverpool end.

A minor issue on what was going to be the greatest day of my life. A trip to Wembley to see my team win a trophy, defeat was not an option.

It wasn't the first time I'd been to Wembley. Somehow my old man had got a couple of tickets to the previous years league cup final as well. But the noise on this day seemed twice as loud as the year before with the Liverpool fans belting out You'll Never Walk Alone and the Hammers supporters trying to drown them out with a chorus of I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles. I joined in and luckily the Liverpool supporters sat around me didn't notice that I wasn't singing their song, but the one from the other end of the stadium.

The match kicked off and remained on a knife edge for the whole of normal time. No goals so 30 mins of extra followed and after 28 of them, it was still 0-0.

And then, disaster. A Terry McDermott free kick was half cleared by the West Ham defence, back came the ball into the penalty area where Sammy Lee jumped to get a head on it but was beaten in the air by Alvin Martin, the ball though fell to Alan Kennedy who shot low from the edge of the box and into the bottom corner. A goal, 1-0 and those around me now going absolutely ballistic. Everyone on their feet celebrating what surely must be the winning goal, a disputed winning goal at that.

When I shut my eyes I can still see Sammy Lee in an offside position, right in front of the West Ham keeper, just about to get up as the ball flies past him on it's way to the back of the net. I can still see Clive Thomas running back to the half way line, whistle in his hand, waving away the protests of the West Ham players. Even Trevor Brooking got booked for complaining and Trevor never got booked, not normally.

Two minutes to go, my team were a goal down and to a goal that should never have stood. It was too much for a young man to take. There were tears but my old man standing beside me, put his arm round me and told me that it was going to be okay and that there was still time for an equaliser.

Last minute of extra time, total West Ham pressure and from a corner Alvin martin's header is touched onto the bar, not by Ray Clemence in the Liverpool goal but by Terry McDermott, a penalty.

The singing all around me suddenly stopped. The Liverpool fans couldn't believe it, neither could my Dad and me. We were on our feet, the rest of the fans around us all slumped back onto their seats.

But the penalty still had to be converted. Fortunately our right back Ray Stewart, even at the age of 21, was one of the best penalty takers of his time and he fired the ball into the bottom right hand corner. 1-1, we were heading for a replay and in a sea of despairing faces wondering how their team had blown it, one boy and his dad went absolutely potty in celebration.

Total joy, the sort of joy that only sport and that magical moment can produce. West Ham lost the replay, inevitable really, that's what happens to West Ham and as fans we know that 'fortunes always hiding' but to share the moment of a last minute equaliser in a cup final, side by side with my Dad who celebrated like it matter more than anything in the world, even though as a Sheffield United fan it probably didn't, is a memory that will never fade.

And one day I hope that I'll be back at Wembley for a cup final, with my sons, who come with me to see The Hammers and have been since just after their 3rd birthday. But March 14th 1981, what a day and my old man was right, it was alright in the end. You see, Dad's never lie.

Crofty


Follow @CroftyF1

 

 

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