A few weeks ago, shortly after the nail-biting tension of our narrow away win at Walsall, I was asked by a young supporter, “How did you cope on that final day in 1995?” and my shorthand (but accurate) response was, “I cried...!”.
In the course of our dialogue it was quite extraordinary how all those feelings of excitement, nerves, tension, fear, despondency and finally utter elation all came flooding back, simultaneously. It was as if I was transported in time back to May 1995. I could feel exactly what I felt all that time ago, my pulse started racing, sweaty brow, gut-wrenching tension; an eerie sensation to be frank.
I didn’t have a ticket for Anfield; for me it was always going to be a long-distance affair. Neither back then did I have Sky. In the week leading up to the game I had pretty much made my mind up that I would go on a walk and ignore it, making sure that I came back home as adjacent to the final whistle as I possibly could, oblivious to the ebbs and flows of the afternoon.
A work colleague heard my dilemma and told me that the gym where he was a member had Sky, had multiple screens and he would sign me in on a guest pass to enable me to watch it. I couldn’t resist, this was I suspected, even back then, a once in a lifetime deal, now or never – for me, but more importantly for Rovers.
The story of how those two games unfolded has been told thousands of times but the remarkable aspect was when I recalled it, the feelings and emotions of the time just flooded back. The joy of Shearer’s opener, the Liverpool equaliser expertly caressed into the corner by John Barnes. The overwhelming sensation was that it was out of our hands now and that a higher power would decide our fate.
There were a number of screens set up around the gym; all but one showing the West Ham Utd v Man Utd match – partly a function of the high number of members claiming to be Man Utd fans, but also a high number of locals claiming to be “ABUs” – “Anyone But United”. The motivation of the latter being that it would be much more satisfying to watch Utd lose it, rather than another team winning it!
It’s never enough to see our own team triumph, we also have to see our rivals falter..!
The competing “oohs”, “aahs” and loud cheers for a goal rang around the room during the afternoon. As the clocked ticked down, it became abundantly clear that our fate was going to be decided not in Merseyside, but in East London. I too started turning around and craning my neck to assess the situation from Upton Park.
I was drawn in fatalistically, unable to take my eyes off Ludek Miklosko in the West Ham goal. Never before had I so wanted a West Ham keeper to turn in the performance of a lifetime and in fairness, never since. I fully expected a Utd winner at any point, almost certainly in the inevitable “Fergie-time”; but I’d made my peace philosophically & so I entered a Zen-like trance. Time is relative apparently, well it certainly slowed down on that afternoon.
When Jamie Redknapp scored, we knew categorically that it was now out of our hands and that somehow lifted the pressure. There was no more we could do except wait...tick, tock…ooh, aah…save, block, parry…over and over again.
The tears came not at full time, but in the car on the way home. I had the radio on as interviews of all the key protagonists were being transmitted and out of nowhere, I just started blubbing. I was sobbing, massive tears rolling down my cheeks but with a grin as wide as a canyon across my face. My little team had just become the best in all England.
Fast forward to this season. A lot of my rekindled joy for football has been watching our youngest fans truly enjoy their matchday experience as did I at the same age. Players that seem to care, a manager that oozes common-sense, pragmatism and ethics and let us not be coy, a significant number in the “W” column of the league table - it all helps.
Last season I was genuinely angry at our Venky’s-inflicted plight and couldn’t quite believe another stint in the third division was in store. I was sceptical as to our powers of recovery, fearing that our new level was that which endured in the early 1970’s.
Credit then to the powers that be for this immediate return. The scenes at full time at Doncaster Rovers will be etched into memory banks of our young fans in much the same way as 1995 still makes my spine tingle. As an 11 year-old back in 1975, I was ecstatic to see the word “Champions” and “Blackburn Rovers” in the same sentence. I was as proud of them as I was of the class of 95.
The moral of the story, if there is one; is that you never know what is round the corner. Enjoy what you can, when you can – big or small, Premier League, League Cup finals, the u23 squad winning their division. Drink it in my friends, life is short, scenes of pure joy at the final whistle at the Keepmoat are stored away.
Thinking about the last 8 or 9 minutes of that game now, the explosion of noise when Charlie’s header nestled in the back of the net, my pulse is already racing, I’m typing and chewing my fingernails consecutively…not recommended.
It’s no 1995 but it’s still special and for a new generation, it’s their first taste of glory and it tastes quite delicious thank you very much.
RED ROSE ROVER