So having witnessed the end of a miserable ‘Celtic Cup’ competition for Northern Ireland, I was left looking for others to bring me footballing happiness. I was relying on F.C. Barcelona and Swansea City A.F.C. to bring me that happiness.
I was pinning my hopes on Barcelona as they were playing in the UEFA Champions League Final at Wembley, London, against Manchester United F.C. – and if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m definitely in the ‘Anyone But United’ club (well, perhaps the only exception to that is Glentoran F.C., but they’re not there so they don’t count this weekend!).
This year, for only the second time, the Champions League final was happening on a Saturday and unfortunately, happened to coincide with my cousin Jenna’s engagement party. I was going to attempt to combine both!
Dina & I hired a car and headed down to my parents’ house in Fermanagh for dinner, where Mark & Nicola joined us. We caught up with the family before Dina & I headed over to my Uncle Teddy and Auntie Joy’s place in Enniskillen. We chatted for a while & caught up before Teddy announced that he hated United and was watching the game… we decided to stay (well, I decided to stay & as Dina isn’t able to drive in the UK yet, she was staying too).
At half time, with the game tied at one each, we decided to make a break for the engagement party. We weren’t the last to get there, but we were the last of the family to get there, so poor us, yet we were only four or five minutes into the second half of the Champions League Final, so it was OK.
This was also the first time Dina had met most of my Aunts, Uncles & Cousins on my mother’s side, so we made a number of introductions. I’m hoping that she understood most of what was said… we can tend to talk quickly and very colloquially in Fermanagh!
What she did understand though was that Barcelona won the Champions League Final – three goals to one, in the end – due to the amount of cheering and clapping that my brother & I were doing. Some happiness at last. The truth is they played fantastically well and fully deserved it!
With the engagement party over, we headed back to Belfast for the night and travelled to London on the Sunday afternoon. On the Monday I was off to Wembley with Kelvin – a friend who I met in Mumbai during my time there – to watch his favourite team Swansea City, play in the N-Power Championship Play Off Final. Awaiting the winner was a place in the Barclays Premier League and the financial rewards that come with it, an estimated £90,000,000!
Swansea City haven’t been in the English top flight for quite a long time in truth, whereas their opponents on the day, Reading were there just a few years ago. Both clubs had sold their allocation of tickets and Swansea City even requested more!
And it showed. The atmosphere inside the ground was rocking. I had been to the new Wembley once before when the NFL was in town for the first time. My memory of that evening was that the seats were uncomfortable, it was cold, the crowd were expectant rather than giving and it was cold! This time, having paid good money for the middle deck, we were in comfortable seats, the crowd were boisterous and it was nice & mild.
The first half saw Swansea City take a 3-0 lead, without really playing that well. Their defence looked ropey at best to be frank, but it’s goals that wins prizes in this sport & somehow Swansea City has three of them! It’s fair to say, at half time that everyone in the Swans’ end believed that it was job done. Swansea were on their way up.
Yet within 15 minutes of the restart, the Swansea City support looked something like this:
Reading had scored twice and hit the post by this point and Swansea City’s dream of returning to the top division in England looked like a sinking ship.
And yet, they didn’t sink. Over the next 15 minutes or so, they steadied themselves, before winning a penalty. Scott Sinclair stepped up and scored… with the game close to ending, Swansea City were 4-2 up and this time they were on their way.
The Celebrations after were enjoyable. The Swans’ support were in even better voice than before as the players did their lap of honour. Then then went up the famous Wembley steps to collect the silverware, however the real prize is yet to come. A season of mixing it with the big boys (at least, though they’ll need to reconstruct that defence if you ask me!).
So a big thank you to Barcelona and to Swansea City for saving football for me for the summer! And now that it’s all on the back burner until August, it’s time to settle down and watch some Cricket.