I interviewed some Arsenal and Manchester United fans last week for the BBC's Cup final programme this Saturday. I wondered how they kept themselves motivated, given that they'd all already lived through the greatest moments possible: for Gooners I judge that to have been winning the championship in the last minute at Anfield; for Man Utd obviously winning the Champions' League, and so the treble, in the dying seconds in Barcelona.
It was generally acknowledged that this was a fair point. And a few days later I'm wondering the same thing about my team. How can we Baggies ever replicate the joy we're feeling now? To be honest, I don't want to feel this kind of joy again because this kind of joy is only made possible by the agony that precedes it. And I for one can't take it again.
I was the only person within earshot of me wearing a radio so it fell to me to break the news to everyone that Palace had a penalty at The Valley. Everyone looked at me pleadingly. "He's missed one against Charlton this season," I said, parroting Ian Brown, Radio 5 Live's commentator there. "Scored", I said miserably, a moment later. They looked away. We then scored, to no great acclaim.
Then a rumour flew right round the ground that Charlton had equalised and, absurdly, I found myself joining in the celebrations even though I was listening to Brown tell me no such thing had happened.
"There's only going to be one winner here," said Ian's summariser, Steve Claridge. "There's only going to be one winner there," I said, like a mynah bird about to fall off its perch.
Then Jonathan Fortune scored for Charlton. I leapt into the air and the rest of the East Stand, though now chastened by a string of false alarms, seemed to believe the man from the BBC with the earphones on. The ensuing 10 minutes were the longest of my life. With about five minutes to go the tension became so unbearable I simply cracked up: "No!" I screamed, "I just can't ****ing take any more of this!"
"What's happened?" demanded about 50 people, all at once, the whites of their eyes blazing in the afternoon sun. "Nothing", I shouted back. "I just can't take this, that's all." Hearts breaking with relief, they sank back into their seats - as much as you can sink into your seat with your buttocks clenched so tight your backside's harder than the plastic you're sitting on.
Then, our final whistle blew, closely followed, mercifully, by the final whistle at Charlton. You've seen the scenes that followed. I ran up to the directors' box where our slightly bewildered looking chairman, Jeremy Peace, was looking on. I know him very well but I'd never bear-hugged him before. "My God, you're sweaty," he said. I then made for Denise Robson - I don't know Bryan so I could hardly have kissed him, but I had met his wife at Villa Park last month so she was going to get kissed and no mistake. Smack on the cheek. Then I set about kissing all, and I mean all, the directors' wives. Some of them being of advancing years, as I made way along the line an image of a certain Little Britain character came to mind, but I let it pass.
Finally, the jackpot: Big Cyrille Regis. I hardly know him but I was puckering up as soon as I clapped eyes on him. And as his partner was by now the only man, woman or child in the soft seats who had not had me slavering all over them, she got the full treatment, too. Mwah mwah.
Then I went home.
At 2.30am yesterday morning my oldest girl (born 18 December 1999, on the day we lost 3-0 at Ipswich and had two players sent off) came into our bedroom complaining of nightmares. I tried to reassure her but was suddenly seized with panic that one of the happiest days of my life had just been a dream. I checked with my wife. "No," she said, even more wearily than usual. "You're OK. It all happened."
My little girl went off to sleep again, and so did I.Reuse content