If I had recorded last Sunday's Match of the Day on video instead of on Sky Plus I would have worn the tape out by now. As it is, the only thing spoiling my enjoyment, apart from a persistent fear that Palace will actually score a third goal, is a little boy's face. He is a Palace fan filmed just after the final whistle at The Valley. He looks about 12-years-old and there are red-and-blue stripes on his face. He is bewildered and upset but the key thing is that he is not crying: he's close to it but he's fighting it off.
My heart breaks for him. I cannot stop thinking about him. And? I realise this is rather selfish but it is spoiling my memories of West Brom's magical day. Because no sooner do I get to a key moment, like Jonathan Fortune's goal for Charlton or the final whistle at The Hawthorns, and his poor little face appears in my mind's eye. If you know who this lad is, please could you e-mail me? I cannot stretch to a trip to Disneyworld or anything but I am anxious to do something to try to put a smile back on his face.
There were reminders everywhere that football is a zero-sum game: someone, somewhere was using up the joy that that Palace kid had grasped then lost. A couple of friends of mine were doing their best to maintain some level of decorum at the Cannes Film Festival. Garth Pearce and Dave Gritten are both film journalists and avid West Brom fans. At final-whistle time Dave was taking part in a round-table interview with the terribly important film director David Cronenberg. There was much placing of index fingers along the lips, and murmurs of appreciation.
Then, at 5.55pm Cannes time, 4.55pm West Bromwich time, his mobile vibrated in his pocket. Quite unable to resist the temptation to answer it, he ducked under the table, affording himself a magnificent view of many film buffs' legs. It was his son. "Dad," he said, "we've got another season of Premiership misery to look forward to." Dave let out a huge "Whoooooaaaaah" and shot up, firmly banging his head on the underside of the table. Glasses tinkled; the bubbles rising in the Perrier deviated slightly. "Sorry," he muttered, and the congregation's attention shifted back to the famous director.
Across town in the banqueting suite at the Carlton Hotel, Garth Pearce was waiting for Sharon Stone to show up for an interview. She was 50 minutes late but, to be fair, could not have been aware that she had chosen the most important 50 minutes in West Bromwich Albion's history. Garth, not wanting to be distracted during the interview, had switched his phone off but as she still had not arrived he switched it back on. A voicemail from his daughter was waiting for him: "Dad. Boing boing. You've made it. The other three all lost." Garth punched the air and shouted "Yes!" at the precise moment Ms Stone entered the room. Apparently assuming he was merely pleased to see her, she smiled graciously.
Graeme Le Saux, a giant of a man, somehow found it in himself to call me on Sunday evening. He congratulated me, sincerely, but his voice sounded hollow. A lifetime in the game had ended for him in defeat and relegation. What a way to bow out. But all he could talk about was the acclaim the Saints fans afforded the players after the final whistle. "They were incredible," he said simply. "They had every right to tear us apart but they clapped us round the ground."
At Fulham the fragrant Delia managed a smile and kind words for all concerned; at Birmingham City, implausibly, they cheered and clapped when news of West Brom's survival was announced; Wrexham fans everywhere have e-mailed thanking me for covering their troubles in these pages, intimating that Sunday was my just reward from the God of football for my support for them.
Earlier this month Leeds fans showed how indestructible they are by selling out Elland Road for Lucas Radebe's testimonial; all summer Man United fans everywhere will rally round and get the message across that they are bigger than any odd-looking American who comes their way.
Obviously, I am seeing all of football through rose-tinted spectacles, but at the end of this season this much I know: there is a magnificent and unquenchable spirit running through the whole game. That lad at Palace will be back there next season, his ardour undampened.
Funnily enough I demonstrated my love for the beautiful game most graphically 27 years ago on Cup final day. Arsenal versus Ipswich. It was raining. At about midday I got on my bike and went racing down the road to watch the game at my Nan and Granddad's house. As I turned down their short, steep driveway I had a moment to register that my brakes did not work before I smashed into the wall below their lounge window.
I staggered inside, screaming, and lay on the floor. Somehow it became apparent that I had sustained the most appalling injury to a part of my body my Nan could not bring herself to describe. She called my parents: "I'm afraid Adrian's hurt himself in a rather funny place." Five minutes later my parents, their faces white as sheets, were standing over me, horrified.
How can I put this? In going over the handlebars I had somehow managed to half slice off my manhood. Or boyhood as it was then. At 11-years-old you do not fully realise the import of such a thing. In hospital I kept my eye on the clock as a doctor, looking about as worried as my Dad, stitched everything back together. "Are you OK?" asked an amiable Irish nurse. "No," I said mournfully. "I want to see the Cup final."
Miraculously, I was home for kick-off. That was the year Roger Osborne scored for Ipswich then had to be substituted because he felt faint. I have felt a peculiar kind of bond with him since that day but I have mentioned this to him several times and on each occasion he looks more nonplussed.
All I will say, kids, is this: if you are in a rush to watch it all today, check your brakes are working properly. Thanks for staying with me this season. I will be back in August, hopefully.Reuse content