What does going to Wembley mean to you?
Back in the day when jumpers 'really' were used for goalposts and 'lucky' kids played in numbered shirts at St. Mary's Rec. I used to beg my Mum for 50p to go and watch Pompey. In approx 1972/3 you could get into the Fratton End for 25p, buy a programme for 5p and a hot dog & cola for 10p and from that shiny new 50p there was still enough left over to buy 'Goal' or 'Shoot' if Fred the newsagent in New Road hadn't sold out.
It seems odd to say it now but 50p was a lot of money in those days, especially for a young boy who's Mother didn't earn much and had three other mouths to feed. Mum earned her money by looking after other people's kids in our house or taking in 'foster kids' direct from Kingston Nick. It was not an uncommon event for me, my brother & sisters to wake up and find a few extra kids in the house or indeed 'topping and tailing' in our beds !! Sometimes they were not known to us, but most of the time they were familiar faces of kids whose Mum or Dad had got banged up (again) and were therefore deemed homeless and needed somewhere to stay prior to being put into care. 19 New Road East was a real hot bed of activity when I was 6. 7, 8 or 9 I can tell ya.
As kids, we didn't know any different but looking back it was obvious that Mum found it tough but she kept smiling through and somehow managed to make ends meet. My Dad had left years ago (when I was five) and if we got a chocolate bar or a quarter of pear drops out of him on a Friday we were lucky. Mum however was beyond all of this and somehow just kept going. Caring for all and sundry, never uttering a bad word about anybody or anything. She was always willing to sacrifice everything for her children, even if (and I realised now as I didn't then) it was to the detriment of herself.
Things got better over the years, we moved to Hartley Road, North End (posh eh !) and Mum took over my Nan's business (Shadwell Day Nursery) again looking after kids. Except this time there were more of them. Money seemed a little less tight somehow, and although, three or four years on it was 75p to get in at Fratton and I had to catch a bus as well (the hot dog went out of the window) we still couldn't afford too much.
Mum's business had some ups and some downs but with the help of 'Old Bob' who rented our front room Mum started to make a few quid here and there. One season I went on to an away game. Nowhere further than South London (Charlton), we weren't exactly rich! But I can remember being so proud of having been to another ground and even prouder to see my older brother get involved in a punch-up. It was something to brag about in my new school, 'City Boys' playground… Those were the days, my friend. 'He' was the Fratton End!
It was during this time that I promised my Mum, that if Pompey ever reached Wembley I'd pay for her to go out of my pocket money. I was never too sure how much a ticket would cost but I knew, even back then, that it wasn't exactly cheap. It wasn't exactly easy to make ends meet either and attending any football match was somewhat of a luxury, let alone Wembley.
The Eighties came (and went) and somewhere in the middle of them I lost my teenage years and became a man. All of a sudden I was working, I had money to burn and boy did I burn it, an Opel Manta (loved that car) Nero's on a Friday, Grannies on a Saturday, away games with my brother every other week, but inevitably if there was trouble it generally found me … or did I find it? Who knows? But through it all, thanks to Mum, I never lost sight of where I had come from or who I was, and despite a brief spell in Division One and a couple of Detention Centres we came through it alright. I always remembered her stories of how she (and Dad come to that) supported 'The Great Pompey Sides' long before I was born and how she was only three when Pompey won the FA Cup but could remember 'the men' going off to the final in their suits, with their rosettes and rattles.
When the nineties came I was in my late twenties and by that time I had bought my own house. Berkley Road was (still is) only five minutes walk from Fratton Park. Boy was it good to leave home at two o'clock, have two or three in the Newcomb or the Connaught and still make kick off. Unlike these days when I have an hours drive to get to a parking space by one. Still, it gives me time for a few Stella's in the Brewers… or Milton Arms … or the Crook
In 1992, thanks to a first minute goal against Nottingham Forest by 'Our friend on The Quay', Pompey reached the FA Cup Semi Final. Fans throughout the City were jubilant and as most of us did I imagine, I got a little tipsy and didn't get home until the wee hours. Despite this, I rang my Mum.
"Listen darling," I said in some kind of drunken language only mothers and sons seem to understand.
"If wee… wee. Pompey… gets to … Wem-ber-lee, Wem-ber-lee, wez the famous Pompey FC and wheeze goona…. Hic! .. anyway… youiz comin' wiff me ok"
The reply went something like " Ok luv, get some sleep and ring me in the morning!"
Before I left for Highbury on the day of the Semi I rang Mum to remind her of the promise I'd made a few days and a quite a few years ago.
As my Brother and I boarded the coach bound for North London I remember telling him that I was serious.. "If we do it Rob, Mum is coming with us to Wembley, no two bones about it" I said.
As you all know Shaggy's goal was cancelled out by Ronnie Whelan's with only seconds remaining so we had to live through the experience again at Villa Park, and as with Highbury I rang Mum, told her to watch it on SKY and reminded her of my promise.
Sadly it never happened, and sadly until this year we have never been that close again. Ever since 1992 on third round day I reminded my Mum of the promise., until that was, two seasons ago. Out of the blue and for no apparent reason my Mum died suddenly aged just 69. I never got to honour my promise.
At the start of this season I sat around my Father-in-Laws kitchen table to predict where I thought every team in the Premiership would finish and who would win the cups. It's a kind of ritual we've done for years, but this year was different. When it came to 'who would win the FA Cup', for the first time ever I predicted Pompey. There were two omens I could not ignore.
It's been 69 years since Pompey won the cup. My mum died when she was 69. Mum had always claimed that she could remember 'the men' going off Wembley when she was aged three, and although I never really believed a three year old could remember that far back, my eldest daughter has shown me how wrong I can be. Amy is fully aware that Daddy is going to Wembley on Saturday to see 'Play up Pompey' beat West Broom!
Obviously, I can't take my Mum on Saturday (I wish I could) and I'll know she'll be with me every step of the (Wembley) way, but as the Pompey team of 2008 take to field, I will not only see James, Muntari, Diarra and Campbell, but also Guthrie, Worrell, Barlow & Parker and all the other boys of '39 that my Mum used to tell me about. As I let go my ticker-tape and scream 'Play up Pompey, Pompey Play up' as loud as I can, I'll have, tucked neatly and firmly inside my palm a photo of my Mum.
So you see, as much as the boy plays 'the hard man' and as much as the boy 'knows it all', at the ripe of age of 44 the boy still loves his Mum and will honour a promise even though she's dead. All those years ago I made a promise. A promise that during the dark days of PFC I never imagined I'd be able to fulfil, but now I can.
In some respects I don't give a toss if Pompey win, lose or draw on Saturday as long as I keep my promise. In some respects that's all that matters.
In other (and most) ways, I pray Pompey win so I can take Mum to the Final. So I can show her that the son she raised was true to his word and that despite all the ups and downs I and my club have gone through over the years my loyalty to her and to Pompey FC are as true today as they have been since she first gave me 50p back in 1972.
Above all else, I hope Amy (my three year old) and her younger sister (Lily) remember 'the men' going to off to Wembley and in years to come realise what 'Pompey' and 'Nanny in Heaven' means to Daddy …
I'm confident their Mummy will let them know.
Written by Chix.
The views within this article are the views of the individual who wrote and submitted this piece, sometimes solely theirs. They are not necessarily shared by the Vital Pompey Site Journalists.