“At 13, I was already set in my ways”.
The book opens in 1968, when Dave Roberts is following his recently established ritual of watching his team, Bromley FC, play at home. Part of this is to queue up for tea (and Battenberg cake) as soon as the half-time whistle blows. As he slowly shuffles towards he counter, he passes a series of framed black and white photographs on the tea room wall. His heart rate quickens as he sees them – a reminder of the day in 1949 that Bromley played at Wembley in the FA Amateur Cup final, in front of 95,000 spectators.
As the current team are a lot less successful – they rarely get past the first round and crowds of around 200 are considered good, he can only dream of a time when his team once again walk out onto the turf of the national stadium. It becomes a lifelong fixation and this book covers the false dawns, disasters and near misses that he goes through over the next 50 years, until, finally, in 2018, his life’s ambition is realised and Bromley once again reach Wembley.
The book covers half a century of change, both in Dave’s life and with Dave’s team. There are key moments, like when the heavily-insured stand burns down and Bromley have to play their Amateur Cup games away. And the time Bromley are so broke they use plastic footballs in the pre-match warm up. And the season that Dave is convinced is going to end at Wembley, before a 9-0 loss in the qualifying round.
There is plenty going on off the field as well. Like when Dave goes out of his way to befriend a Bromley fan whose cousins are huge pop stars. And when he buys a white suit convinced it will become a lucky omen. And when he starts smoking French cigarettes to give him an air of previously-missing sophistication.
The only constant in those 50 years is his love for Bromley FC. A love that starts at the beginning of the book and is finally rewarded at the very end.
I was feeling increasingly confident that reaching Wembley wasn’t an impossible dream. The Amateur Cup was usually won by a team from the Isthmian League. Last season it was Leytonstone, before that Enfield, and before that Wealdstone. Plus, I knew I had time on my side for my ambition to be realised. I was only thirteen and, according to a science documentary someone at school had told me about, people of our age would live to around 130. Technology was so advanced that someone in South Africa had recently had a heart transplant operation.
The realisation that I would have 117 years to see Bromley at Wembley filled me with confidence. The chances were good. And this wasn’t the only reason I was excited about the future. As was the case with so many people, the forthcoming Apollo 8 mission circling the moon had captured my imagination. And In anticipation of further space exploration I’d introduced a Martian Subbuteo team, by painting the players green - all eight of them. The rest had either been broken through being trodden on or accidentally thrown away.
I got around this discrepancy by creating a scenario in which FIFA chairman, Sir Stanley Rous, decreed that because of their superior physical attributes and ability to never get out of breath at high altitude (the next World Cup was being played in the rarified air of Mexico), Martians had to play with eight players. It turned out to be a calamitous error in judgement, as the green men lost every game heavily, usually to England with Bromley’s Alan Stonebridge contributing 15-20 goals every time. The World Cup was now the Intergalactic Cup, with the final played at Wembley, obviously. Most of my fantasies seem to revolve around Wembley.
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