Monday, January 7, 2008

The Dream is Over

(Cambridge fans filled the whole lower side of one stand and part of the stand to the right. Notice the yellow-jacketed police officers on the right separating the United fans and home fans!)

Now I know the misery of an English football fan.

Saturday, KT and I went on our biggest football adventure yet. We were part of the 4000-plus Cambridge United fans who made the 2.5 hour journey to Wolverhampton for the FA Cup clash between United and the mighty Wolves of Wolverhampton. The FA Cup is the annual tournament in which almost every soccer team in England can participate--from the smallest semi-pro squad to the Goliaths of the Premier League. Cambridge had advanced to the key round where the teams from the Premier league, who had byes til now, entered the competition. While it may seem odd since they would have little chance of winning, United had hoped to draw an away game at one of the big teams because it would mean a mammoth payday, perhaps enough to buy some new players or pay a good portion of the year's budget (The teams split the money from the attendance so the possibility of 30,000-60,000 buying tickets at a Premier League stadium is a cash bonanza. Indeed, one team about to go bankrupt may have saved it yesterday with a tie of a premier league team at home, thus earning an away match at their opponents and a lot of extra money).

In any case, United drew the Wolves who play in the Championship league, one step down from the Premiere. Still, the Wolves are a major squad--one of the few automatically known by their nickname--that has been in the Premiere league and they have a historic and beautiful stadium. KT and I decided we couldn't pass up on the trip and with some friends signed up for the buses Cambridge United was offering. So did many others! We ended up with about 25 buses making the trip, which ended with a police escort to the stadium for the convoy if you can believe it. Overall, the police presence was amazing--a sad reminder that English football has a nasty history of violence among its fans. Indeed, United's fans--like most away fans at football matches--had to enter through specific gates and sit in separate parts of the stadium. Silly? Perhaps not. In the second half, police in one part of the stadium had to use their batons to keep the two sides' fans apart.
When KT and I attend United games we usually sit in the quiet main stand, not among the loud and rowdy crowds in other sections. But for the FA Cup we were among the fanatics (including our friends who wore yellow and black wigs). United fans were singing and chanting from the start, putting the home fans to shame. The Wolves only had about 10,000 fans of their own as they all expected an easy win. KT and I finally figured out some of the chants--"If you love Cambridge, Stand up!!" or "Bounce Bounce Amber Army!" (and one must jump up and down of course).
United scores--Goooooooooaaaaal!!!

As for the game itself, it was a heartbreaker. United has been playing poorly and the Wolves were clearly more skilled, but we held then off early and had some great chances to score. Then, right before the half, United scored to go up by one. We all went crazy. The second half started and time seems to slow as the Wolves had chance after to chance and finally tied the game with 20 minutes left. Still, a draw seemed likely which would have meant a money-making rematch at home in Cambridge. Then disaster. The ref made a bad call, giving the Wolves a free kick about 20 yards from goal--a Wolf passed it into the middle and a teammate headed it into the goal to take the lead with just 2 minutes left. The long bus ride home in the dark was quiet. So close.--JT

No comments: