Thursday, 27 January 2011

Vale of tears


And so, back to the cup.

Fulham away is pretty much the perfect tie. The key, you see, to a successful cup campaign is getting knocked out and almost no one noticing.

Some have questioned this definition of 'successful cup campaign'. Some have talked of 'winning it' being a far more accurate definition. These people are idiots.

Fulham, fourth round, perfect. They're a middling and decidedly uninteresting Premier League team and we're away, so we're perfectly entitled to lose.

It's the fourth round, the dullest of all rounds. It's early enough for the final itself to be looming in anyone's mind, and it's not The Third Round (capitals), which the media keeps insisting is one of the best days of the sporting calendar, etc.

Fulham aren't a lower division club, or even a small club, or a plucky club, or a sleeping fucking giant with a great tradition and a proud history, blah, blah, blah. They're Fulham.

And they're not a big boy glamour club. They're not Man Utd, or Liverpool, who bring the spotlight wherever they go. They're Fulham.

And they're not a proper rival, with bragging rights amongst huge groups of friends/colleagues up for grabs, like Arsenal, Chelsea or West Ham. They're just fucking Fulham.

The one downside is that we're on TV, so people will be watching. But, we can still near as dammit sneak out of this competition and no one will ever remember we were in it.

Our worst FA Cup exits in my time were, of course, the semi final defeats to Arsenal.

(By the way, have we now lost five semi finals in a row? See, in all those cases, if we'd have just slipped out in January...)

The most calamitous, however, was our third round 2-1 defeat against Port Vale in 1988.

It was also just about the most scared I've ever been at a football match. And I've watched Terry Fenwick take a penalty.

We set off for Port Vale bright and early. Well we would have done, if the stupid fucking place existed in the first place.

Pub quiz bores will already know it's the only football team not named after a location. It's in Stoke. So you can see why they'd want to make something up.

Anyway, we got 'there' in time for a few pints. We went into a local pub. All was well.

We were sat at the back, about five of us. The pub was, of course, extremely busy - packed with Port Vale fans.

All of a sudden there was a bit of a ruckus and a fuck of a lot of shouting down by the doors. A group of Spurs hooligans had charged in and were attempting to, as I believe they call it, 'take' the pub.

The locals, of course, were having none of it. The ones at the front went wading in, while the ones further back, the ones standing right in front of us, started grabbing all the empty glasses off the tables, including our table, and hurling them at head height into the advancing (not that effectively by now) Spurs supporters.

We just sat there. It would have been wrong, of course, to actually start passing up glasses, but we also didn't want to do anything to draw attention to the fact that we were sort of 'with' that lot up the front. So we remained neutral - by which I mean frozen with fear.

It's all a bit of a blur, to be honest, but I do remember at one point one of the Spurs contingent stepping forward, spreading his arms in that 'You want some?' type pose and screaming: 'We come by train!'.

Now, strictly speaking, I think he meant 'came', past tense, and he was referring to his journey earlier that day. I don't think he meant to employ the continuous passive useage of the verb and thereby indicate his ongoing travel preferences...

And, ha, goodness me was he miffed when I pointed this out! Just for a second, everyone in the pub stopped what they were doing and pretty much guffawed with laughter. Then they went back to glassing each other.

We got out unscathed, eventually.

Later, during the game, I'm sure I remember a horse being in their end. Some of them seemed to be trying to fight it. Sorry, a police horse, obviously. This is weird, but it's not a Norse myth. Or, get this, an 'orse myth.

And then we lost.

And it was a fuck of a long way home.

Fulham away will do just fine.

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