Monday, 18 May 2009

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Cambridge United 0-2 Torquay United (17:05:09)

- click on photos to enlarge -

I'm not sure who was more surprised to be sitting at Wembley on this breezy, overcast Sunday afternoon. The 20,000 Cambridge United fans of whom even the most optimistic must have thought they'd blown their chances of promotion into the Football League after goosing up their Play Off Semi Final 1st leg (losing 3-1 to Stevenage) or myself. To my great delight, I'd managed to trouser a press pass two days prior to the match. Three cheers to Assistant General Manager of the Football Conference Keirina for sorting all that out. Hip hip...

Logic dictates this match shouldn't really take place at Wembley. The crowd of 35,089 could have shoehorned into pretty much any of London's many other football stadiums rather than filling just over a third of the new Wembley. Many actual Cambridge fans would like to have seen it played elsewhere but the thousands of day trippers with their jester hats and horns would beg to differ.

So Wembley it was to be. The home of football and the home of legends but moreover (surely) there was going to be a splendid array of biscuits on offer for the assembled media types backstage? It was built at a cost of £798 million making it comfortably the most expensive stadium in the world. I was hoping that a a slice of that budget had been set aside for the all important BB (Biscuit Budget).

So for Freeman and Mcnulty read Cambridge and Torquay for this was going down to the Wire. A match to decide who was to take the last available vacancy in the Football League proper. Fasten your seatbelts for the ride, cabin crew, doors to manual and cross check.

First things first though. With my appearance in the press box assured, I'd decided that my usual pre-match meal of five bevingtons should be sacrificed. My companion for the day; Mr Stuart Fuller of The Ball is Round and The Budget Airline Guide to Football fame suggested a trip to Lords, the home of cricket for a couple of hours. Middlesex were playing Somerset in the Friends Provident Trophy and Stuart being the good chap he is had negotiated us both a press pass for their space age media centre.

Aside from football, cricket is my other sporting obsession. I really had to pinch myself to believe that I was sitting in the best media facilities (it really is top draw) in the most famous cricket ground in the world chatting to amongst others my old mate; ex-England cricketer and current managing director of Middlesex Angus Fraser. It was that sort of day.

Not a bad little view.

Cheers Gus! (Liverpool fan by the way).

After watching left handed Australian Philip Hughes - set to be the backbone of the Aussies bid to retain the Ashes this Summer - nonchalantly notch a half century (whilst helping myself to complimentary sandwiches and drinks), it was time to head on. Thirty minutes later, Stuart and I were signing our names in at Wembley, handed a free programme and presented with a press pass the size of a bus to wear over our necks. To be honest, I don't think I could have been any happier had the security chap placed an Olympic Gold medal over my - increasing in size - head.

Most of the national press in the media area seemed a bit miffed to be there. To them it was probably a pain in the arse to have to cover this match. To me though - in a season where EFW has been promoting the game at grass roots level - it felt fitting to be there. It was quite hard to maintain a cool persona. I let this slip a little bit when upon entering into the area, I spotted some free pastrami rolls and sprinted Linford Christiesque (justifying my gold medal) to lay my hands on one. No sign of biscuits though. Half time maybe!?

As for the toilets! Well, ladies and gentlemen I give you.....drumroll......LUXURY hand soap AND (!) moisturiser!! Couple that with a hand drier that actually worked and you can see where the 800 million quid went. Fantastic.

So clean as a whistle and fully moisturised I made for my seat in the Media Block 1 - West - Row 2, Seat P37. I only had my own flat vision screen, a swivel chair (quite hard to negotiate yourself in and out of these incidentally) and a desk. I was sat next to Stuart on one side and Andrea from the official Cambridge United website on the other.

That'll do nicely.

The pre-match was marred by some opera singing from that chap Martin Toal who Wembley insist on wheeling out for every game. Aside from that though we had a 'keepie uppies' competition to enjoy in which Jack from Basingstoke bagged 10 grand plus the two respective club DJs whipping up each set of fans into a frenzy. The Cambridge fans actually were a credit to their club, bouncy bouncying their way through the afternoon, making a helluva noise in the process.

Amusingly, the aforementioned Cambridge fans welcomed their team onto the pitch with a very impressive ticker-tape reception. I say amusing because due to an over enthusiastic PA announcement, they went a bit early. Thousands of yellow pages were thrust into the air just as no teams took to the pitch.

So to the match (finally - Ed). Even early on in the game it was clear Tim Sills was going to be the centre of attention. Arguably, the striker should have been sent off after 7 minutes when he - the man in the iron mask for the afternoon - clearly elbowed Cambridge defender Wayne Hatswell in the boat race. I know because I saw it - as clear as day - a minute after the incident on my flat vision monitor. Hatswell returned the compliment ten minutes later with a splendid bone crunching tackle on Sills which earned him 1 x yellow card.

Around the perimeter of the ground, Wembley has those annoying advertising hoardings that change every two minutes. Annoying in the sense that once you notice them, you become obsessed and can't keep your eyes off them. I see Brut (for real men) are back in business. Slap it all on 'enry.

After 31 minutes (I was surrounded by clocks) Gulls keeper Michael Poke produced a splendid one handed (one handed!) save to deny Cambridge No.18 *checks teamsheet* Robbie Willmott from his moment of glory.

The Torquay end - they had just over 10,000 fans.

No need for the third tier.

20,000 Cambridge fans in fine voice.

Man of the Match Tim Sills. For you he will be 'The Man in the Iron Mask'.

Three minutes later Torquay skipper, hairy Chris Hargreaves opened the scoring with an absolute screamer into the top corner, just like he must have done in his dreams the previous evening. 1-0 to Torquay who then - after being outplayed in the early exchanges - began to beam with confidence and even had the audacity to start playing to ball around in 'triangles'. Nice.

Half time duly arrived. It has a habit of doing so after around 45 minutes of each game. After applying another layer of luxury moisturiser, I made my way to the table in the press room that I had earmarked out earlier in the day for being the favourite to house our biscuit selection box. I wasn't to be disappointed. Deep breathes now everybody. They had jammy dodgers, bourbons, custard creams the lot. You name it, they had it. Biscuit heaven.

Oh my God!

On entering the media section at half time I was stopped by security. They asked to see my press pass. Not a problem old boy. In fact if that chap wants to see my pass he can - every day for the next two years because I'll still be wearing it!

After 69 minutes (fnar fnar) of the second half, any chance Cambridge had of turning things around went out the window when Philip Bolland pulled down Elliot Benyon. His second bookable offence earning him 1 x marching orders and 1 x early bath from the referee.

Tim Sills sealed (I'm contractually obliged to say that) victory for Torquay six minutes later. He got his nut on the end of a cross thus heading his 21st goal of a memorable season for him. Cambridge had lost their second play off final in a row and Torquay were on their way back to the Football League.

Danny Last in total heaven.

Danzel anyone!?

Goal! The scoreboard stating the bleeding obvious.

After a quick boogie to Rocking All Over The World by The Quo with the Torquay fans I headed off for the press conference. Firstly we were all ushered off to the Mixed Zone. I thought this might be an after show party with Fatboy Slim spinning the wheels of steel but it turned out to be an area where hacks could choose and interview whoever they liked.

A fixer came round and set the order. First dibs went to the BBC, then local radio and tv, *ahem* European Football Weekends, Sky Sports and then the fabulous Non League Paper. I chatted to Cambridge boss Gary Brabin who seemed quite chipper considering they'd lost. He thought they were "the better side, could have easily won, played good football even with 10 men, was proud of the team and thought they had a lot to build on". What he didn't tell me was that he was leaving the club. This emerged the next day after Chairman George Rolls told the world he'd given Brabin permission to talk to another club, higher up the league ladder.

After a quick stroll through the players lounge and generally feeling quite at home it was off back to Brighton. If you are reading this Miss K Rowland, Assistant General Manager of the Football Conference, can you pencil me in for next year please!? Many thanks.

Cambridge United boss Gary Brabin fielding questions in the Mixed Zone.

Well, you'd all do the same!

The press conference room.

See you next year!?


Unknown said...


Sandy said...

I'm impressed with the selection of biscuits! Shame about the result, but the report was interesting, and a bit more eccentric (and enjoyable) than the usual.

Sal said...

Hi from a girlie blog...that is a girlie who is a footy supporter!
It was a great day out!
Here's my report:

Sal ;-)

Anonymous said...

love that blog.. hilarious style.. *thumbs up*

BackInTheFootballLeague said...

Torquay fan here. As a Lewes fan I would have thought you'd show a bit more common sense when it came to discussing the relative numbers of supporters each team bought.

Yes Cambridge bought over 20,000 as opposed to 11,000 Torquay fans, but Torquay is more than 200 miles from Wembley whereas Cambridge is just over an hours drive from Wembley (about 65 miles). That's a pretty big factor for a game being played on a Sunday at 4pm.

Did the thought not occur to you, or did you omit mention of these factors on purpose?

Danny Last said...


Can you point me in the direction of any comments that are derogatory about the numbers of Torquay fans because I certainly can't find one!?

Sandy - Thanks very much

Sal - Nice report!

Kristina - Thumbs up to you back!

BackInTheFootballLeague said...

Where did I say there were any derogatory comments? It just would have been nice the if the disparity in levels of support could’ve been put into some sort of context.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’ll take having our place back in the League any day!

Danny Last said...

Well, you've put it all into context now old chap ;-)

I guess I just presumed that most people reading the article would have known that Torquay was umpty thrumpty miles from London whereas Cambridge is just up the road in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Back in the Football League,

First congratulations on your team's promotion old chap. Secondly you will hear no comments about the size of Torquay's support from me because you are clearly a teensy bit sensitive about any suggestion that your team is anything less than the Man United of the English Riviera.

Thricely I'll let you into a little secret about my long standing friend Mr Last. He's actually more of a Brighton fan. BHA fans are feeling as chuffed as the proverbial dog with two dicks at the moment by the way because a very nice man just threw 90 million English pounds at our once proud club. We all do a good job of pretending that it's cool to be a small club but secretly we'd all like to be at the top of tree really wouldn't we?

Fraternal greetings from North Florida to all true football fans.
everywhere (except PFC fans as they are the very worst kind of rotters)

Tjapp said...

Great report.