Magic Wembley Moments: 1988


In the run up to our Checkatrade Trophy Final, we have invited our crack (not crap) team of ALS writers to recount their favourite Magic Wembley Moments, or should that be tragic? Here's Francis Todd Malome's take on the 1998 Mercantile Centenary Classic. A random one you may have forgotten about...

Wembley. Scene of so many memorable days in our club's rich history. So, let me tell you about a visit hardly anyone remembers, or cares about, the Mercantile Centenary Classic.

The Football League decided to mark its 100-year anniversary by pulling together the cream of the crop for a 'by invitation only' weekend in 1988. And we were part of it. By having a cracking couple of months under Denis Smith in Division Three (where we are now), we qualified to join the big guns at the crumbling old khazi. Yippee...

Credit to the concept, getting 16 sets of fans into one ground in that era, without major bother, was a fair achievement - even if they did bill it as a friendly celebration-type thing. Loons worth their salt should know better than get involved at this one, although I knew all about navigating my way across the capital in those days and it could be a right old gamble, even with plenty of pals in a 500-strong London branch.

Anyway, to the tournament itself. Major rivals were located at opposite ends to each other for the 20-minute a side knockout. The best came back the next day to play in front of crowds the Vaux Wearside League turned its nose up at. As a result, it became very much an "our end v the other end" thing on the Saturday.

Memories of the day are sketchy, but I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the Mags had gone out, halfway up Wembley Way. A kindred spirit heard me cheer the result and we cavorted around like fools for a couple of minutes, while randoms got their Polaroids out. He was in dungarees. People appeared in court for less in those days...

Fast forward a couple of hours and we were in our section behind the goal at the east end, Tranmere to the left, Burnley to the right. Songs and banter flew about and a fair few hats and scarves were swapped. My mind went back a couple of years to the League Cup final, when I had a Norwich hat apologetically plonked on my head as I left the League Cup defeat, ankles still damp with the rivers of piss which had cascaded down the terraces at the same end.

Finally, after a few meaningless matches we didn't care about, on we came, resplendent in yellow Hummel. And who did we play? Wigan, who'd taken a point off us a few weeks earlier on National Mudslide Day. We thought the draw was kind to us, the plan being to brush off a team in our league and then cop for a decent side - and prove our worth against. The whole country, my old chum Jimmy Hill excepted, would be chuffed for us.

If only. The two 20-minute halves whizzed by at an almost empty ground, despite us and a few impressionable Tranmere and Burnley fans getting behind us. God knows if anyone was helping out the Wigan supporters at the other end (I'd imagine there was a black and white element behind them and I think Blackburn might have got involved too) but, for most, the whole tournament was like being at a funeral for someone you didn't really care about.

No goals, obviously, so pens. It came as no surprise when they were taken up the other end and I remember thinking we'd been carved up. Toss? It certainly felt like it, I don't think there was one. I remember gravitating to the back of our section to watch them and realising very quickly that even though there was plenty of room up there and we didn't sell out, that we'd brought far more than most.

A few minutes later and we'd lost the shoot-out, Pascoe sadly missing the biggie when he was in great form - I think. And with that I was flying out of the crumbling old cesspit quicker than I had two years previously.

When I got back to the boozer and people asked me what it was all like I gave a Partridge-type shrug. As for who won, the burger sellers maybe? Don't ask me, cos I don't know, in the words of PiL. We had bigger fish to fry.

There was a happy ending. A few weeks later, we were crowned champions and I was to discover I had been accepted for my first-choice college. Portsmouth...

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