It’s eleven o’clock on a gorgeous Saturday morning. Dozens of Evertonians are hovering around a double decker coach outside the Empire Theatre on Lime Street.
This is where our Wembley adventure starts. The one we’d waited 14 years for. The one we’d been itching to go on since the final whistle blew against Middlesbrough a month earlier. It was finally here, and we had everything required to begin our journey down south for the biggest match in Everton’s recent history.
After a lot of faffing about on the driver’s part, and a minor air conditioning incident, we were eventually on our way. I had booked a coach-and-hotel package, which involved staying in a hotel on the Saturday night and being taken to Wembley on the Sunday. I had assumed the hotel would be somewhere in North London. I found out post-booking that it was actually in Stevenage.
The people were more than courteous to the coach load of scousers that had invaded their town for the night. Although they were just as confused as we were as to why we were spending the night in Stevenage.
An early start on Sunday morning, mostly because I was like a kid at Christmas and couldn’t sleep. Free breakfast in the hotel, meeting up with our fellow coach passengers in the bar, then at noon, we were off to Wembley.
You could literally feel the excitement building as we got closer to the stadium. The first glimpses of the Wembley Arch on the horizon were joyous. Just before one o’clock, we got off the coach... and we were finally there. Wembley.
The sun was shining. The atmosphere was electric. There were blues as far as the eye could see. I even spotted David Nugent on Wembley Way! Although the highlight of my footballer-spotting was yet to come. As if walking past Dave Hickson and Nigel Martyn smiling at me wasn’t enough, as I approached the turnstile, I saw a small bald man being mobbed by dozens of Evertonians... Andy Johnson!
I made it into the stadium just after three o’clock. It was a good hour to kick-off, but the Everton end was already pretty full. Songs were already being sung, and nails were already being bitten. This was actually happening. Everton were actually playing a semi-final at Wembley against Manchester United. The match kicked off, and the time for talking was over.
I’ll be honest; my recollection of the match itself is pretty sparse. I was too overawed by the enormity of the occasion to focus properly on the football. I do know that goal scoring opportunities, for either side, were few and far between.
Half time in the concourse, I got talking to one of the stewards who was an Arsenal fan. He’d been at Wembley the day before to watch the Gunners lose to Chelsea, and now he was working there. He was wonderfully friendly (which makes a change for a steward) and he “suggested” a way for me to take my pint back to my seat. But I am well aware that taking alcohol to your seat is not allowed, and I do not advocate breaking the law so I will not disclose the method here.
It didn’t work anyway.
So, second half. Pretty much the same as the first. Apart from one small incident involving Phil Jagielka and Danny Wellbeck.
It was a penalty. It was. We knew it, Jagielka knew it, and Ferguson’s epic tantrum on the sidelines suggested that he had a slight idea about it also. Everyone knew it. Everyone, it seems, except for Mike Riley. Whether Moyes’ pre-match comments influenced his decision, or he’s just a bit thick, we’ll never know. But the penalty wasn’t given, and 32 000 people drew a collective sigh of relief.
The rest of the match passed by in a blur, and before I knew it, extra time was over. And no-one had scored. Oh good lord, it’s gone to penalties.
I hate penalties. Well, that’s a lie, I quite love them... when Everton aren’t involved in them. Because Everton never win them. Ever. And when Tim Cahill blasted his pen over the bar, I could only see one outcome. I say “see”, I didn’t actually watch any of the pens. I turned my back to the pitch with my head in my hands. I relied on the crowd noise to tell me how the shoot-out was going. A roar went up... Berbatov had missed! I now know that it was The Worst Penalty Ever Taken. Excellent!
Baines scores for us, then Ferdinand sc- hang on. Surely he hasn’t missed as well? He has! Suddenly, Everton are on top. This can’t be happening.
Neville scores. Vidic scores. Vaughan, a man who’s barely played for four months, scores. Anderson scores. Then Jagielka walks up... my heart is in my mouth. I’m looking at the Everton fans; I know I’m not the only one. I’m also not the only one who can’t look.
Everyone has his missed penalty against Fiorentina last season on their minds. I bet Jagielka does as well. He runs up to the ball and I think I’m about to be sick...
For a split second, everyone’s silent. As if they’re digesting what they’ve just seen. Then, chaos. Jags had only gone and done it, hadn’t he. He wheels away in celebration, the players dive all over Tim Howard, and there’s absolute bedlam in the stands.
The PA states that the FA Cup Final on 30th May will be contested by Chelsea, and Everton. It sounds too good to be true. Then Z Cars kicks in. This is definitely too good to be true! But it is true. Everton had done it.
The 15 minutes that followed, the 15 minutes of singing and dancing with 32 000 other blues in Wembley were probably the happiest, most amazing 15 minutes of my young life. No matter what happens against Chelsea, the memory of that day will stay with me forever.
I made it back to Liverpool in the early hours of Monday morning. My Wembley adventure was over. It was long, tiring and expensive. But I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Which is good, because I am doing it all again at the end of May. Bring it on! •
By Kirsty McHale, Chief Sports Reporter
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