Happy 100th birthday
To The Valley, my only desire.
The first time I stepped into The Valley was in 1975. I have worshiped it ever since and still now whenever I walk into that vast theatre the hairs on the back of my neck never fail to stand up. I first wrote the below piece in 2012, and although today The Valley in it’s full bouncing glory is something to behold this is what this iconic old football ground means to me.
At The Heights my Dad parks the car, and doubly makes sure it’s locked. He holds my hand, the one with the red and white scarf tied around the wrist and we walk towards the steep Lansdowne Road. I’m talking excitedly, Dad nodding or disagreeing with my team selection as I lay it out to him with some tactics I have been thinking about during school this week.
Lansdowne Road meets Charlton Lane and with it comes other supporters, some strolling, some walking hurriedly, all making their descent to the amphitheatre at the bottom of the hill.
Down below, I catch glimpses of the immaculate playing surface and the vast banks of terraces and that unusual roof above the Main Stand. My steps get quicker and now I get my first scents of fried food and the shouts of programme sellers. “10p a programme.” My Dad buys one, hands it to me and immediately I care for it like the treasure it will become.
I turn to the back page, which lists the teams, not the match-day team, because that is unknown, but the likely team 1 to 11 plus a sub.
We walk now amongst a bit of a throng. Kids with their Dads and a lot of big men, loud, laughing and catching up on the fortnight’s events. A sea of people walking with anticipation and assurance in these familiar surroundings. My Dad tells me to pull the zip up on my coat, it is cold but I don’t want to. I want the coat to be open showing off the proud red shirt I am wearing underneath.
We reach the corner of Lansdowne Mews and we turn left and I feel the first nerves coarse through me. Later in the dark I wonder if the walk back on this road will seem long and funereal or quick and celebratory?
We get to the end of the Mews and reach the turnstiles with Sam Bartram’s name proudly atop. Dad hands me my season ticket slip with not much more than a number printed on it. I hand it to a friendly man and push my way through a rusty turnstile and enter a vast open area. We stop and ponder at what is in front of us. I look down, all the way down to the beautifully manicured pitch. Some dots are warming up at one end. They maybe dots, but I recognise my heroes.
We start the descent down the huge East Terrace edging our way across towards the middle and ‘our’ crash barrier. I’m getting hot in my coat as we get nearer to the bottom. Dad hands me money to get my compulsory roasted peanuts in a bag.
The ‘peanut man’ is patrolling the perimeter of the pitch in his white coat and he recognises me as I get closer to him. I’ll save the peanuts for later and I return back up the steps to find my Dad and his mates stood leaning against or just in front of a silver crash barrier. I never understood why they were spread out like they are.
Dad’s mates rub my hair and ask me what I think of today’s game, but then at that moment the croaky tannoy bursts in to life. It’s the Red, Red Robin and the crowd claps as the teams enter the pitch opposite. Come on you reds!