Five years ago today I was stood in the pouring rain. Unprepared barely begins to sum it up.
I left my house shortly before seven o’clock to meet a friend. A t-shirt, a jumper, a pair of tracksuit bottoms thrown on and football trainers designed for the astro turf that were never going to stand the test of the puddles laid out all over the paths on top of the non-stop downpour from the heavens. We skipped breakfast too.
We were in our first year since leaving school and were naive to say the least. There was one priority for the trip and so long as we were in a queue in the St.Andrews car park with our three tickets to hand, we were happy.
With money short to hand with no jobs between the three of us and my obsession with making sure I played football at the weekend resulting in playing for a side in the AFA who kicked off at 2pm, weekend fixtures were rarely an option. Myself and two friends decided that midweek games were the best chance we had of making games, particularly with the cheaper prices available for Carling Cup games.
As it turned out, we ended up doing the entire run. Well, Joe did. I went to every game except for the first against Rochdale as I had lost my ticket. Jack did them all except for the derby victory over that lot in Aston. Poor soul. He would also miss out on the final at Wembley.
Me and Joe wouldn’t. We made it our goal to recall every single ticket we could find during the run in. It was three in the finish, finding Brentford, Villa and West Ham.
So we stood in the pouring rain for over four hours. While others had brought packed lunches, umbrella, thick coats designed to deny the inevitable soaking, we stood freezing cold begging that those in front would get a move on as water dripped from the tips of our hairlines and our feet began to freeze.
Discussions continued in the line. Nobody had an expectation for a result at Wembley in over a week’s time. We simply just wanted to support a club heading to unfamiliar territory, the hope being that we would not be played off the park and humiliated by an Arsenal side that could destroy opponents on their day. Martin Jiranek, Keith Fahey and our ageing central midfield up against Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and companions. My main hope was that Obafemi Martins would grab a goal just so that we could see that celebration. Thoughts of winning the competition were barely considered by those around us in the queue. Given my opportunism that a jumper would be fine for what I thought would be a short queue in the rain, expecting victory would have left some questioning the sanity of this 17 year-old.
Ah yes, 17 years-old. After four long hours we finally made the ticket office. I told them I was 17 and it cost me an extra £35. What an absolute plank. Worth it, but still. £70!
Then panic set in. They asked us for who had bought each of the tickets. Now the tickets were normally bought by Joe and Jack, the names were obvious. Then we hit a snag. Jack had bought some of the tickets under his brothers name due to the age difference. Cheaper tickets, a great plan at the time. It almost cost us the reference of keeping hold of the Brentford tickets. West Ham was fine. The Aston Villa one’s were bought last minute when a lad on Facebook admitted that he had two spare tickets after he and a friend both bought each other tickets. A great thing at the time, only as we stood at the ticket office, I had to recall his name and hope that he give me the tickets bought by him and not his friend. Adam Farrell, thank you my friend!
It seems quite bizarre that I am recounting this five years on. The world seemed wonderful at the time. We had signed David Bentley and Obafemi Martins on loan in a bid to support with our survival attempts. Carson Yeung seemed like a decent chap at the time as Alex McLeish continued to spend money improving the team and despite the loss of Scott Dann, we remained a side hard to beat.
We seem to have gone through everything in the last few years. We have been relegated, almost won promotion straight back under Hughton, were faced with continual rumours that the club was heading for administration, we were one Paul Caddis header away from relegation to the third tier and have since completely revived ourselves to a point of hope once more.
And of course, we won the Carling Cup. Those four hours were painful at the time. An overreacting teenager, I was not sure I would make it to the ticket office as we bounced up and down trying to keep warm.
Yet like every supporter who stood outside the ground queueing for tickets in the days leading up to the final, it was worth every second.