Promises Auctions are fun events used to raise money for schools and the like. They can be fun, and the one I went to way back when my son was around 10 years old was no exception.
One of the items on offer came about, as the father of another pupil at the small village school where Joe went, was the Marketing Director of Endsleigh Insurance, a locally based national insurance company that was doing exceptionally well. The company sponsored the UK football league at the time. The item on offer was two tickets to a top game almost anywhere in the UK, and a “Celebrity Day at the Match”.
I’m a bit of an armchair football supporter and a one time Bolton Wanderers fan. My family lived briefly in Bolton within walking distance of their then ground: Burnden Park. My brother and I used to walk down on some match days and go to the match. So I had an affinity to the club.
I was not going to miss the chance of a ticket to see a match again and thought I’d take Joe. They cost me 40 quid for two tickets. Mark, the donor, said to me: “Just let me know which match you’d like to go to nearer the time”.
Bolton were doing quite well and got a place in the Play Off finals at Wembley against Reading for a chance to get into the Premier League. I asked Mark if I could cash in my promise on this game and he said: “No problem, you’ll get parking and tea after the match with the players if you want”. Yes please!
We drove up to Wembley, the place where England won the World Cup in ’66, and parked between two large Rolls Royce limousines between the front entrance of the old stadium. My modest Golf between these grand cars. We were shown to our seats a couple of rows behind the Royal Box and parked ourselves ready for the game. We were surrounded by blue scarfed Reading supporters, and one quite loud unmistakable Bolton accented bloke behind us.
Bolton, as seems to be their way, were a big physical side, Reading on the other hand seemed like young lads off the park in comparison, but with some quick running and tricky moves. It was like a game between art students and foundry workers.
They scored twice before half time. I just knew that this was not the end of it, but when Reading were awarded a penalty just before half time, I thought “If he saves it, Bolton will win”. Joe did not look convinced.
He saved it. In the second half Bolton scored twice to take the game to extra time. One of Bolton’s star players, a Dutchman called Fabian De Freitas, was starting to make inroads on the Reading defence. Tall and rangy, he seemed able to swerve around the Reading defenders who ran like bees around a nest. ‘Mr Bolton Supporter’ behind us intoned in one of those quiet moments that sometimes descend on a big crowd and when De Freitas had the ball glued to his toes : “That Fabian dunt run…….he lopes” it was the perfect description. He ‘ran’ deceptively leaning forward like a large tree,the ball in the narrow angle at his feet, the defenders buzzing at him at seemingly twice his speed to no great effect.
Bolton’s physical strength and power swept Reading away in the extra time and they scored twice to secure promotion to the Premier Laugue, by 4 goals to 3 after one of the best games I’d ever been to. Joe and I went for tea and sandwiches with some of the players, who literally glowed with pride and fitness, and we were taken down to the pitch, allowed to stand between the posts where Geoff Hurst completed his hat trick in ’66. I was allowed to take a small piece of the turf and put it in a matchbox as a souvenir. We had it for a number of years, until it turned to compost. A photographer took our pictures on the pitch to prove it all, but I never got the pictures, so you’ll just have to believe me.
We didn’t see Fabian De Freitas again, he must have loped off.
Joe’s never been to a football match since. It was so good anything else in the future would have been a disappointment.