Happy second Play Off Final victory anniversary, everyone! unless you’re John Terry. Yes, two years ago under Wembley’s iconic arch, Fulham denied Aston Villa’s persistence to clinch promotion to the Premier League and many a tear was shed.
We all know what the corresponding season in the top-flight spelt out for us. Obscurity, mediocrity, shame, but nothing can erase the unparalleled sense of pure elation we, the White Wall, felt as Anthony Taylor brought proceedings to a close on our return to the Home of Football.
Precious memories, albeit blurry, rose-tinted ones, live long in us all and Cam Ramsey – accompanied by master of the mics Ben Jarman – have delved deep into their rich recollections in order to share their own versions of the day’s jubilant events with those that care to read from this point onward. Viva El Fulham!
Let me set the scene: it’s 8am, or around that time in the early hours, and I’ve just rocked into Coronation Hall in Surbiton with my mate, Chris. Fizzing with anticipation, we blend into the bygone furnishings and order the first pint of many ahead. You know that dull, tingling sensation you get in the pit of your stomach before, I don’t know, a job interview? That lasted from the first sip right until the early hours of the next morning.
Scanning across the bar, trying not to make direct contact with the already pissed regulars, I spot a familiar face in one of the booths, perched precariously over a jar of ’64. For those that know him, it was Dan Clements and he was steaming. Still tanking it back from the night before, I believe, Dan truly began as he intended to go on. Win or lose, he was bang on the sauce and it was a delight to behold!
I couldn’t bear the thought of struggling through a Spoons breakfast, so we summoned a couple more cold ones, saw them off, and headed to the offy to grab all the necessary supplies for the journey ahead. Jumping off the train at Putney overground, we were due to meet the Fulhamish lads at the Old Suffolk Punch. Underestimating just how far we were from the pub, I suggested we walked as it was blinder of a morning, after all.
Not a bad idea, if you’re not nearing breaking the seal and sweating cobs. To cut this part short, it took us at least an hour to amble down Fulham Palace Road and I’ll never be so stupid again. Catching the bus somehow didn’t cross our minds. Welcomed by swathes of black and white jerseys, we tried to disguise sweaty palms with ice cold G&Ts (as you do) and soaked in the moment. Greeting the usual lot, Sammy, JC, Farrell (I think), we finally felt at ease and at one with our own.
As I recall, a big screen displayed motivational montages of our illustrious 23 game unbeaten streak and that characteristic belief that all Fulham fans thrive on flooded into the room. It was infectious. Chatting transformed into chanting and spirits soared. Kick-off was well over 6 hours away, but we couldn’t wait to see our boys in the flesh. Before I knew it, we were in the back of an Uber and on the way to Waterloo Station.
We arranged to met some old friends in a pub near the station and nerves were jangling. Swapping lager for more artisan G&Ts, we rolled out of the boozer in a group of 8 and set about finding our way to the national stadium. At this point I was pretty gone to put it lightly, so I’ve no idea how we got to Wembley Way but I remember snippets of the tube ride just before we arrived. Villa fans piped up and pockets of Fulham clamoured back. Oddly, it was all in good nature and that surprised me, because all in claret and blue were painfully cocksure and conceited.
It was one hell of a sight, once we’d weaved through hoards of expectant supporters. Wembley towered upon the horizon with droves flocking to the turnstiles. Like nothing I’d never experienced, I was part of a major cup final, the most expensive game in football. Drinking in the atmosphere, our prestigious surroundings, we scaled the escalators to our specific concourse, up in the Gods. The queues for the beer taps were enormous, so by the time we reached the front, we bought three each and sidled towards the fringes. Down the hatch, gassed up, we climbed into the terraces and I was struck by vertigo. Views for days.
Those 15 minutes before kick-off were the most anxious I’ve encountered. Fulham’s numbers, like Villa’s, were vast and whilst an ocean of claret shirts confronted us at the other end of the stadium, the “White Wall” was imposing, regal and in fine voice throughout. Drenched in early summer sunshine, the teams paraded Wembley’s snooker table surface and the game was well and truly on.
Matching Villa’s fandom, Fulham’s faithful contributed marvellously to a frantic showdown and in the 23rd minute, supplied by a sumptuous slip from Ryan Sessegnon, Tom Cairney lifted the roof like a can of John West’s as he caressed the ball under an outspread Sam Johnstone. Euphoric. 50,000+ rapturous shrieks, an estimated 100,000 limbs punching the air, you’d rather be in it than not. Half-time came and more beer followed and as much as I was engrossed by the second-half, I can only pinpoint Denis Odoi’s unceremonious dismissal for poleaxing Jack Grealish and Oliver Norwood heroic block in the latter stages.
I couldn’t catch my breath, my forehead was pounding due to lack of oxygen and frenzied screaming, it was simply horrendous, although my eyes remained fixed on the action, mesmerised by end-to-end conflict. Then, seconds before I basically passed out, the game was over. We’d done it with 10-men and pandemonium charged through the masses. Embracing strangers, a grown man drunkenly blubbering, we were in dreamland. Gazing upon Aleksandar Mitrovic’s post-match antics, Marcus Bettinelli brandishing flares, the trophy ceremony injected pride into veins and expelled teardrops of anguish from Terry’s bloodshot, swollen eyeballs. That was more than enough for me.
Camped in the stadium for a good while after the celebrations vacated the pitch, I took the time to recognise what we’d achieved, brimming with adrenaline, and danced off into the evening. Smug smiles were met by salty snarls from Villa’s dejected following. “F*ck off, southern fairy” and “fight me, posh boy” was all I heard as I held the shirt aloft and to this day, Brummies are still rattled. It was our big day out and nothing would spoil that. I’m not a poor loser or a bad winner, but that was the day we were champions in our own right and we were going to party like kings. Straying to Baker Street, Wimbledon, Kingston, I was feeling very sorry for myself the next day, especially as I had a 10:30 kick-off in Raynes Park. That, however, is the price you pay when you’re a certified winner for the day.
Well this was it wasn’t it? The big day, the main event. Waking up bleary eyed, after about 4 hours sleep a bag of complete nerves and jumping in the car to trek to the outskirts of London. Greater Anglia once again covering themselves in glory. The morning was bleak; foggy and chilly. We all hoped that it wasn’t an omen for the day ahead.
A couple of hours journey across London later and the Old Suffolk Punch was the destination. A huge congregation of Fulhamish lads, as well as some of our friends, family and listeners. Bacon sarnies across the board accompanied by delicious pints. That combination does a lot of things, but boy it does not settle nerves. A few chats had and some old faces seen in front of a compilation of Fulham’s best moment from that dream-like 23 match unbeaten run. It felt great to chat through our best moments of that season, but one thing that was never spoken about was that game.
We couldn’t talk about it, none of us. We didn’t want to. Was it tempting fate to dream too early in the day? Surely speaking about what could be would only count against us in the eyes of God. Well, either that was it or we were all shitting ourselves.
A quick leak and an even quicker walk to Hammersmith and we were on our way to Wembley. This was it, the butterflies started to kick in, that point where your brain can’t focus so anything that comes in to your head is immediately spurted out of your mouth in a nonsensical mixture of randomness. It wasn’t until hitting Baker Street that the day actually began to feel real, up until then we knew this was the biggest day in the life of the club, but hadn’t accepted the grand scale of the occasion.
It was at that point that the first Villa fans started to appear, that Brummie accent that cuts through the air like a sharp knife. Cries of “Viva John Terry” quickly countered by “John Terry, your mum’s a thief” back and forth the whole way on the tube. Those minutes between Baker Street and Wembley Park felt like a lifetime. Baking hot and desperate for the loo surrounded by claret and blue. That was tough.
You never really realise how many pubs there are in Wembley until you walk to every single one of them before being able to get in one. Couldn’t tell you what one it was, or it’s name. But we were ushered in down a back alley, you felt the heat smash you in the face as soon as the back gate opened. Packed full of Fulham fans, old and new. People you’d seen on Twitter but finally got to meet in the flesh. Yeah lads, we might as well double up on the pints when we get them in. So that’s 8 1664’s? Clock rolls round to 4pm and it’s time to take that magical walk up Wembley Way.
Oh shit. I’m meant to be doing the BBC Videprinter for the day. Send in my rather rambled nervous internal monologue to the chap running the page. “Thanks Ben, good luck for today – send stuff when you can” is the reply. He must think I’m mental. Why on earth is he banging on about Steve Bruce and 1975?
“What you think we’re going to steal your phone or something?” say the Villa fans when they ask us if we want our photo taken in return. Weird thing to say. There are people everywhere. Generations of fans standing together side by side on what they hoped would be the happiest day of their life. We’re in the stadium concourse now. Its packed and there’s that smell of wafting onions. Pints? Yeah, pints. Delicious cold pints in the roasting hot concourse.
“Hot isn’t it?”… “yeah, might be too hot”. Classic. We settle in to our seats, initially thinking this is a great spot, under the covers not in the middle of the blazing hot sun. How wrong this was, coming up to kick off and the White shirts have gone see-through, the heat of that beautiful day being trapped under the aluminium above. Bloody hell I feel like a Rustlers burger being cooked from the outside in.
And then, it began from being a fast-food burger to a quivering wreck in 0.6 seconds. Top Gear would be proud of those speeds. The first few minutes flew by, if I’m honest I don’t remember anything other than feel like we were in complete control and that, sooner or later, we were going to make a break through. Oh actually, I remember Mile Jedinak being a complete prick.
And then that was it. Stefan Johansen picked up the ball in the midfield and fired the ball to Ryan Sessegnon. Immediately I’m thinking why on earth has he blasted that at shin height, he’s got no chance. Until the boy wonder touches the ball down with excellent finesse, skips past a rogue challenge and nudges a beautiful slide rule pass in to the path of Thomas Cairney. My brain couldn’t comprehend this in real time, and must have switched in to iPhone11 mode because everything was slow motion. The bobbling ball falling in to place so neatly on the turf, Cairney opening his body like a Nottingham-born Thierry Henry and slipping the ball in to the far corner.
I’ve never felt elation like it and I doubt I will again. The jump upwards, the scream, hugging my friends with all my might. Hugging the random bloke next to me, the people in the row in front of us hugging us. Thousands of people acting as one, the limbs. We had scored at Wembley. What?! We’ve scored at Wembley? Fucking hell we have. Don’t cry Ben. Ben. Ben! Oh for fuck sake Ben stop it will you. Hang on where are my glasses?!
An emotional message makes it’s way on to the videprinter of the BBC, Dad texts me “Get in!”. Thanks Dad. The rest of the half is a blur, I couldn’t tell you what happened other than being utterly convinced that Jack Grealish was going to score from that well worked free kick. Being a Fulham fan convinces you that something mad is going to happen.
And it did, Jack Grealish snaps Tom Cairney from behind and I’m snapped out of the haze of elation and the red mist descends. How the fuck is that only a yellow? Everyone turns round and asks the same thing. An outrage. Jedinak vs. Mitrovic is a fight I’d like to see at this point though. More madness, Denis Odoi decides to assault Grealish. Oh no Denis what have you done?! We’re down to 10 and there’s a lot of time left.
It’s at this point my brain seems to be incapable of holding on to any detail or memory other than standing up and sitting down precisely every 15 seconds as the tension sets in. I can hear my friends directing words at me but I can’t make them out, everything is a blur of white noise. Suddenly my glasses reappear from 5 rows in front of me, clarity restored!! Wave after wave of attacks repelled, Tom Cairney’s famous run with added nutmegs. Abou Kamara chasing everything. THE Ollie Norwood block. Oh come on, REF!
And then delirium, pandemonium. Passion and outpouring of unmatched emotion. We’ve done it! WE HAVE DONE IT. Cairney sprinting, Jokanovic smiling, Betts with the flare and Denis on the crossbar. We are Premier League!!! An hour later and we’re still in the stadium, bathing in the sunshine. Just us four on a row, looking at the aftermath of where the players had been. They’re in the changing room eating pizza now, but I’m in the national stadium with my friends bursting with pride. Some tears, some more beers.
Back to Baker Street for the Champions League Final, we were welcomed in like we’d won the game ourselves. What a feeling, absolutely unmatched.