Football: A big black and white day out

This Geordie had dreamt about Wembley. Nick Donaldson refuses to weep...
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The Independent Online
I have dreamt about this since I was 12. Not for me the glory of winning the Championship or thrashing Milan in the European Cup, I dreamt of seeing Newcastle United actually play at Wembley Stadium.

It's over 20 years since Newcastle last played at Wembley, one of only two appearances since 1955. Both defeats. Even when the number of opportunities to play there grew through play-offs, semi-finals and numerous cups named after lorries or double-glazing firms, Newcastle stubbornly refused to get anywhere near the Twin Towers. Thus for most of us who are under 35 Wembley is a new experience. But now we were there, thanks to Eric Cantona's Cup final goal. Good old Eric, I always liked him.

Determined to make the most of the big day, I decided to make a banner and set about a double bedsheet with some black under-coat. Eventually a huge image of Kevin Keegan emerged, painted in a Rolf Harrisesque fashion, the word "Messiah" scrawled below it. There are no prizes for subtlety in the world of the football banner. He may have carried a slight squint but overall I was pleased with my effort.

"What do you think," I asked my six-year-old. "Brilliant, dad!" he said. "Is it one of the Chuckle brothers?"

Unbowed, the banner, myself and 30 others with whom I have shared more lows than highs over the years headed for Wembley.

The 45,000 who had made the trek from Tyneside turned north London into a scratchy sea of black and white nylon as we sang and taunted those from Salford, Wales and Milton Keynes who proudly wear the red of Manchester United: "Who put the hole in Man U's net? Arthur - Arthur. Who put the hole in Man U's net? Arthur f****** Europe!"

To walk down Wembley Way makes all those 3-0 defeats at Shrewsbury worth while. This is what I dreamt of, the old ground looming before you as you fight your way through the stallholders and people handing out free plastic bowler hats. Inside the ground, the singing, cheering and noise makes the 20 years seem worth the wait.

Someone said that Manchester United had been here 13 times since 1990 and to them it wasn't that big a deal. I pray that we never get that complacent because for all those that support clubs from Southampton to Hartlepool to play at Wembley is something to be cherished.

It has been said that there is a relationship between the number of pre- season friendly games you win and how bad a season you will have. The more you win - the worse your season. By the way, Manchester United won 4-0. Unlucky...

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