The build-up to Wembley started on the previous Thursday with Ant upsetting Pedro the Mackem on their five-a-side night with his answer to the question, ‘What are your plans for Wembley?’ Ant’s reply was, ‘The usual’ which was deemed a little presumptuous by someone who rarely gets to go. Then again, as this was to be our fourth trip in just over a year , was completely understandable.
Our routine involved an overnight stop at Beaconsfield and subsequent train into Wembley Stadium overground. So we set off at our ‘usual’ time of 8.45 in the car from Nottingham, aiming to get to Beaconsfield in time for a swift beer at the Wetherspoons alongside our budget hotel, before trekking off to get the bus into Beaconsfield town centre to catch the train. On the car journey we received a message from one of my godsons who’d drawn an Arsenal badge to get us in the right mood. Beautiful!
So we arrived at the hotel car park, as was tradition, in plenty of time to sneak an aforementioned swift blonde real ale at the ‘Spoons. The first photo of Ant in his Cup Final beret was duly posted on Facebook and proceeded to get over 20 ‘likes’, largely down to Ant’s uncanny resemblance to Benny Hill.
Our next photo message received showed the Vines Gooners from South London proudly displaying their yellow colours, including our littlest Gooner, Charlie. We also saw that my attempts at a homemade rosette had been well and truly trumped by older brother Jon with his spectacular red and white creation.
Meanwhile Ant and I had disembarked at Wembley and had eventually found Watkin’s Folly, our potential first stop. A fiver on the door which was to include cheeseburger and chips put off the younger Vineses as we knew that a packed lunch of humungous proportions to come negated the need for early sustenance. The Sports Bar across the road had no such door charge and with Ant in desperate need of some bladder relief proved a convenient first stop in the Wembley environs.
The said bar was festooned with shirts from many top teams and also one from Totteringham Hotspurs. Ant’s attention was grabbed by a peculiar signed photo of Tony Adams cut from a newspaper which made our Tone look huge. Judge for yourselves.
And so it was on to The Torch, our intended substitute for The Green Man which had been the venue for the Semi and both Semi and Final trips at the end of the 2013/4 season. The South London contingent arrived and we were provided with an FA Cup-themed packed lunch menu. So pleased we refused the cheeseburger!
Jon strung his Santi banner up on the pub car park fence much to the consternation of the next door neighbour who’d had his fence pulled over in previous football supporters’ shenanigans. After some reassurance that we would be extra careful not to do any damage, photos were taken and the usual disarray ensued.
The back bar of The Torch used for drink replenishment, was ideal with small queues which allowed several refill runs with virtually no hassle, to be purchased. Double rounds the order of the day. Jon bought a free Captain Morgan hat for a fiver from a happy fellow Arsenal fan who cheekily tried to get us to buy another only a few minutes later.
Having quaffed a gallon we set off toward the stadium, but as we were Eastsiders for the day, the route took us along Wembley Way for a change allowing time for more photos which demonstrated how we’d managed to stay pretty sober!
Taking our seats, the atmosphere was electric. The Villa fans contributing a great amount to the atmosphere, while the Arsenal fans, complete with complimentary yellow and very dark blue scarves, turned Wembley East side to a cacophony of buzzing bees.
The match was a sublimely joyous celebration of Wengerball with almost zero stress, some magnificent goals and a Villa team completely outclassed on the day. What a Final for us Gooners to savour!
Post match saw more photo opportunities at our designated meeting point, the Bobby Moore statue.
Next on the agenda was beer. We eventually found Las Iguanas restaurant in the Wembley retail complex and jugs of beer and some organic cider for older bro were ordered to be quaffed at a perfect table outside. We spoke to many supporters on their way past. The Villa fans were graciously magnanimous in defeat. In a way they were just pleased to have avoided relegation thanks to Tim the Gooner and were revelling simply in the chance to be part of the day. All credit to them. Our favourite encounter was with a Villa fan who had teamed up with an Arsenal fan only an hour previously but who’d suddenly become best buddies. The Villa fan reminisced about players from previous generations including ‘Sideways’ Mortimer which involved a crab-like mime which was priceless. The mention of the venerable Jimmy Rimmer of Arsenal and Villa fame stimulated a favourite Arsenal keeper discussion of which Almunia was the clear winner. Superb.
Having turned down an overpriced burger restaurant, we headed back to our usual curry house on Wembley High Road. We were welcomed by the owner as if she recognised us. It was another excellent decision and raucously enlivened by some Villa fans playing Roman numeral beer games at the adjacent table. Their forfeits involved the belting out of old Villa songs involving ex players such as Nigel Reo-Coker and garden sheds. We joined in their rendition of ‘ Where’s your European Cup?’ much to the consternation of a particular Arsenal fan on the table the other side of us.
All that was left for the day were train journeys back to our respective billets, so the four of us made our joyous way to the train station and eventually into the land of nod.
Ant had managed to procure an extra scarf and some discarded flags which I’ve since given to my godsons in Nottingham. Their Mum would like them to be Notts County supporters but she agreed that there’s no harm in them supporting another team ‘that wins things occasionally’. Haha.
What an amazing trip, on a par with some of our Cardiff experiences of the early 2000s.
Up The Gunners, roll on next season.
Written by chas