INCREDIBLY it was 25 years ago today that 34,000 emotional Teessiders made the long-awaited first ever pilgrimage to Wembley. And it was fantastic.
Boro were second Division relegation strugglers with the boss booted out just a fortnight before, and we were about to take the football world by storm.
March 25, 1990 was the delirious day a collective schoolboy dream came true.
It was a brilliant weekend that, back then, was the pinnacle of the club’s achievement and a landmark moment in the cultural history of Boro fans. It may well have been a tournament mainly identified with one of Walt Disney’s most popular cartoon rodents, and one that today even fans of the clubs who won it can barely remember, and hey, it wasn’t any Anglo-Scottish Cup, but at the time Boro fans didn’t care.
We were going to Wembley. It was our first ever sniff of the national stadium and we made sure we extracted every last fluid possibility of glamour. It was the stuff of dreams. It was something that generations of fans who had watched Camsell, Mainnion, Clough, and Charlton’s Champions had never experienced. It was a playground dream come true. It was fantastic. An boy, did we make the most of it. Medical experts were flown in from big clubs to deal with outbreaks of ‘cup final fever’, a previously unknown debilitating mental condition that caused wild-eyed zealotry and foaming at the mouth.
There were cup final mugs, souvenir fanzines and even a hastily knocked-up special cup final shirt that looked like it had been designed by the YTS lad at Jack Hatfield’s on the back of a betting slip. I’ve still got one in the loft. Shops were decorated in red and white and cups made out of cardboard and Bacofoil started to appear although as NO-ONE knew what the ZDS Cup actually looked like they were all a bit vague.
To go you had to go to Wembley the West Ham league game and keep your ticket stub. And those tickets were first come, first served – no three years season card with bonus plaque, red book/white book caste system, no Pride Cards, not even the old vouchers cut out from the programme … there weren’t even that many season ticket holders then. What a scrum. Thousands who hadn’t been to a match for years seized the moment.
The system ensured chaotic dual queues that snaked from Ayresome Park up Kensington Road and along Linthorpe Road as far as the Village from the East End ticket booths and along Ayresome Street and back along Roman Road past the General Hospital gates from the Warwick Street ticket office. It quickly evolved into a shift system with people nipping back home for bacon sarnies and flasks of tea then having to negotiate their way back into the queue without causing a riot.
The dreary Sunday morning queue started in the early hours as ‘the lads’ – the working class hardcore from the estates who used to dominate the Holgate demographic – headed to the ground after chucking out time at the Maddison and Claggy Mat.
They were soon joined by early bird ra-ras (I got there at sparrow fart and joined at the Acklam Road junction) then other die-hards, and those who had frantically flown in from London and Dubai and offshore, part-timers, former fans determined not to miss out, then kids and nanas and those who had never been to a game but were whipped up in the rising hysteria. And barely a replica shirt to be seen.
By seven, two hours before the tickets went on sale, the bobbies arrived to control crowds and prevent pushing in and fisticuffs. It was a a long slog but somehow, with a mopping up operation and the ripple down of word of mouth mates’ mate spares, everyone got a ticket and Teesside descended on London en masse for the first time amid some confusion – the clocks had gone forward that morning – and coaches and cars and trains were in disarray as people raced around the town bleary-eyed and unwashed.
A beery vanguard had already set up base camp in the capital. Thousands of Teessiders took over the West End, sat drinking cans on the lions in Trafalagar Square and chanting at bemused tourists on their way back from Les Mis, or any of the big shows.
Que Sera Sera: Boro “take” Trafalgar Square
And then, for the first time, through bleary eyes the Twin Towers emerged from a mist of sentiment and hope. We streamed up Wembley Way gazing in awe at that mythical Venue of Legends, a trip denied to our ancestors. One lot had walked from Teesside for charity and arrived triumphantly behind a big banner to join the army massing to march towards our destiny. The optimistic sea of red surging towards this famous old ground was fantastic. Brilliant. A dream come true.
Then we found out it was a crumbling hole with cracked bench seats, poor sight lines, rusty metalwork and streams of wee running through the crumbling concourses and back down the steps. Still, that’s the glamour of the cup!
Injured Mogga led out the team – cruelly denied his chance to play – and we gave it a decent shot. Decent but no-where near good enough. The team, like the crowd, were over-awed by the occasion and seemed happy just to be there. We sang our hearts out for the lads and poured out our pride while Boro battled bravely and had the lion’s share of the game but very few real chances only to go down to a free-kick by Tony Dorigo.
Bernie Slaven: no hint of fence climbing on Boro’s big day.
Yet it felt like we had won. If not won, then certainly the happier, We were the jubilant ones doing all the singing and dancing while the bored Chelsea fans who begrudged even being there for such a mundane event ambled off moaning about hassle on the tube.
There was some pushing, jeering and routine posturing outside from rival groups of meatheads but then, that was routine then and it wasn’t going to spoil the fun.
“Just because some bloke in blue scored a goal it doesn’t mean we lost” proclaimed Monday’s Gazette. A bit daft but they were naive days. Now we would be demanding blood at the big chance squandered. And fans would be complaining about prices, conditions and tube station chaos. Back then we accepted it . What did we know about cup finals?
At the time – with cash strapped Boro only four years out of liquidation and still battling bravely against a return to Division Three – only the insane would have predicted cup final queues becoming a regular feature in our club culture.
After waiting 114 years for the first national final, the next big day out in London was comparatively short – and then cup finals came like buses. In 1997 there were two finals in six weeks with another outing less than a year later. Since then we have also queued for
Cardiif, for a string of semi-finals and for Eindhoven, often with the same chaotic scenes but with localised added hurt as season ticket priority has not always delivered on its promise for all. It may be a while before we have to worry about that again.
But we should not forget the humdrum non-event of the ZDS Cup final. You never forget your first time.
Here’s the only footage I can find. I have got a tape of the full three hours on the then new fangled Sky Sports. Maybe I’ll transfer it to YouTube in the long summer months.
This is the original Tyne Tees report. Clearly it wasn’t though worth sending a camera crew down to Wembley. And here’s the fans gallery from the Gazette. And here’s another one from the night before and outside Wembley.