1st May 1976
I sat playing with Steve Austin in his red tracksuit, looking through his bionic eye. The garden in Fareham was so neat and well ordered, I skipped (yes really) back into the greenhouse attached to the back of the house and my nan called me for elevenses.
It was a Saturday and there was a buzz in the house. Incredibly Grandad was at home. We usually went out on a Saturday to visit my great aunts in Southsea. Nanny and Grandad had grown up there, one in Lawson Road, the other in the next road, Holland Road and they had met a t the local church. St Bart’s I think, there is a photo of my grandad in the church football team from 1924 – he’d have been 18. My sister and I laugh about it now because he doesn’t have his glasses on. He was as blind as the proverbial bat without them so how on earth could he play football?! I had inherited Grandad’s myopia and probably his ability on the ball – I loved playing footie but I knew by age 9 that I was not that good…
Dad drew on his cigarette and then stamped it into the garden path. Nanny frowned.
“C’mon in and ‘ave a cuppa” she called to him.
“yes, mater dearest!” he teased her. He had had public school pretensions but had in fact attended PGS, quite a lonely affair as his Fareham mates had all gone to Price’s!
He was on edge as always but dutifully strode into the kitchen through the greenhouse. I was already in the backroom drinking my lemonade and munching on a Club biscuit.
Dad sat reading the paper in the backroom and asked me if I knew what was happening today.
“Isn’t it the F A Cup final today, dad?”
“That’s right, Micky…those ponces from up the road have got to the final. I cannot see ‘em getting past Docherty’s men.”
“Yes dad.” I shrugged. I wasn’t really into football then, too interested in the Six Million Dollar Man and comics and sweets.
Dad and I had had a tough couple of years to be honest and so being at Nanny and Grandad’s was always a treat, maybe even a retreat from the vicissitudes of everyday.
He and my mum had divorced in 1974 and he had been given custody of yours truly. My sister, eight years older than me, had stayed with mum in Exeter. We had lived in Bognor until Dad decided that he wanted to move to Devon and got a job with the careers service down there. It was a seismic shift and soon resulted in Mum walking out. I don’t think Dad ever recovered in spite of remarrying and moving us to Maidenhead. That was in the future at this point. We were still living in the bottom half of our house in Wokingham so we’d come down to see Nanny and Grandad every available Saturday, driving through Hartley Wintney and down the Meon Valley. Beautiful.
Mum and Dad had met and married in Fareham long before I was born so it was lovely to be back. Nanny and grandad’s house was always clean and tidy with Nanny cooking lovely food like steak and kidney pie or baking a Victoria sponge.
Nan and Grandad arrived back from the shops. He’d been to the International stores in West Street and had plastic bags, such a novelty back then. He’d bought extra lemonade and a few tins of Pale Ale for the match on telly that afternoon. Crisps and peanuts too!
“So busy today, love!” he pecked my nan on the cheek and put the bags on the side. “I saw Arthur and ‘e said Dorrie was out of hospital now”
“That’s good to hear, Frank, we must pop over and see them this week?” Nanny fussed with making lunch – she’d got into the habit of making soup from Cup a Soups?! They had only just come out in 1976 so she thought we could try them…in a bowl with bread and butter!
After lunch, Grandad put the telly on. It was a large colour telly in a wooden box, a thing of beauty and he had got it from the Co-Op in Southsea. The Co-Op was so much part of their lives back then, they had stamp books and milk tokens emblazoned with PIMCS – Portsea Island Mutual Cooperative Society. Oh and of course my grandad was a Pompey fan. That never occurred to me on that day to be honest. He and my dad were just looking forward to the match. Southampton were the underdogs but also Southampton were the arch rivals – Dad and Grandad were saying it was a foregone conclusion, Saints didn’t have a chance, they were both supporting the Red Devils, Manchester United, that mythic team of Best, Law and Charlton and now of Gordon Hill, Sammy McIlroy and Steve Coppell. You can’t win anything with kids!
McMeneny was on the telly with his glorious Geordie tones and being modest with his wife Anne all shiny and wearing a cheeky scarf!
“Ahh just wont the lads t’enjoy the day, it’s a great achievement t’get ta Wemblee so they can be immensely proud of what they achieved!” My dad scoffed and reminded us all as we quaffed lemonade and nibbled nuts that Pompey had won the Cup in 1939 and had therefore held the Cup for the longest! Seven years until the 1946 Cup Final!
“Saints are minnows, dad,” my dad announced, “Manchester United have been playing lovely football all season, they remind me of those Pompey team when I was Mick’s age. They’re a class act.”
My grandad smiled, “yes, son, but I’ve just got a feeling that Saints will win this one!”
My dad belly laughed “you are kidding me?! I’m not a betting man but I’d bet my house on Man U winning today! It’s a cert!”
I sat watching the colour telly and the coaches with the players telling their stories. I could feel the excitement even though I didn’t support anyone, well, maybe Chelsea or QPR? My friend Lisa from school in Wokingham, her uncle was Ian Gillard a defender and so he would be there sometimes when I was at Lisa’s mum’s house after school. He was a huge man, made my dad look tiny! Lisa had loads of QPR stuff. I said Chelsea because Dad had taken me to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea play Liverpool. Everyone at school supported Liverpool. I liked Chelsea, I liked their “Blue is the colour” song but I wasn’t that bothered. I was just enjoying the pop and crisps.
Then the strains of the national anthem blared out, my grandad stood up, my dad sat down – I could see my nan bristle because of Dad’s attitude. I just twiddled my hair and felt a bit sick.
I have to be honest I wasn’t into football then. Grandad and Dad oo’ed and ahh’ed and then half time. Nan went to put the kettle on and I got my football and went to the lane at the back of the garage and kicked it against the door.
After afew minutes, Dad called me.
“C’mon, Michaelmas! Second half has started!” He left the ball and ran down the garden path and dad and Grandad were on the edge of their seats. Dad smoking furiously, Nanny opened the window and another “ooh” and “ahh”. However, the mood had changed. Dad appeared to be supporting Southampton. Grandad was so nervous, he was pacing around and Dad carried on puffing and gasping… the tension grew. I gulped down more lemonade and dashed to the outside loo and then back in a matter of seconds.
The weirdest name the commentator was mentioning was McCalliog. It sounded like cornflakes (Kellogg’s (which we always had a Nanny and Grandad’s). This name kept being said, echoing around the hushed front room here in Fareham.
“Man U are tiring. They should’ve wrapped it up by now!” Dad was on the edge of his chair.
Suddenly that name again
“McCalliog plays it forward, lovely ball, and there is Stokes…1-nil”
Pandemonium as my dad and grandad leapt into the air cheering and crying with joy! My dad swore
“F**k, Saints have bloody done it!” he looked so happy, elated
“John, please not in front of the boy!” scolded my nan as she clapped
“It’s exciting isn’t it” she asked.
“What happened?!” I asked.
“Southampton just scored! I can’t believe Stepney didn’t get it!”
“Stokes was so lucky there, that looked offside” said Grandad, recovering his calm but with a beaming smile. He looked so happy, my dad looked so happy -it was such a happy moment but not over yet…
Quiet descended in the front room as the seconds ticked so slowly for the end of the game, five minutes to go…Manchester United, one of England’s greatest clubs, pushed up and pressured Ian Turner’s goal but Mel Blyth and the back four held firm. Gordon Hill dashing about with Martin Buchan trying to get the young team to lift their heads and push on.
Clive Thomas blew his whistle and my dad and grandad whooped with joy! We all hugged and could not believe what we had witnessed. Two Pompey fans sat agog happy as Peter Rodrigues led his team up the Wembley steps to receive the FA Cup from the Queen. I looked at their faces and tears of pride rolled down their cheeks as southerners, to see little Southampton beat mighty Manchester United and win the Cup. Incredible, baffling and yet marvellous too. Nanny went and put the kettle on. Silence descended.
“Crumbs, who’d have thought that!” said my dad after some minutes. My grandad was still overcome and wiped his tears away with his hankie.
“that McMenemy should be bloody well knighted!” my grandad announced. He rarely swore but Nanny was in the kitchen. “Unbelievable! Y’know that Stokes lad, he was a Pompey player!”
My dad laughed, “I know! You couldn’t make it up!”
Pompey were in the fourth division then and, although my dad and I went on occasions, my grandad hadn’t been to Fratton Park for a good few years by then. He’d been a season ticket holder as a younger man and been there when Pompey won the league back in 1949 (they nearly won the double that year, he would tell me) and again in 1950. Football was so important to men back then. Saints winning the Cup was like a huge affirmation of being a southerner, of not being from the North or the Midlands where football was so dominant. Grandad felt that Pompey had never got the respect and recognition they had deserved. Now he hoped that Southampton would.
“Cup of tea?” Nanny came in with a tray of cakes and a pot of tea.
“That’d be lovely, Mum!” Dad declared.
The next day we watched the Saints parade through Southampton on a double decker bus. I’ve since been told that my mum’s sister Sheila took her three young sons to join in the parade, tooting her horn in her red Fiat 500!
My dad married my stepmum two months after that great day. Sadly my grandad died just over a year later at a hospital in Gosport. He was a Pompey fan til the end. My dad gave me Grandad’s rattle and a blue and white knitted scarf. The noise of the rattle was deafening. Nanny came to live with us in Berkshire.
Later that year Dad and I went with my two new stepbrothers to Craven Cottage to see Pompey play Fulham. I was still munching on crisps but I did get to see George Best and Bobby Moore playing in the same team!
I’ve no idea who played for Pompey that day. I’m a Saints fan!