Back to Saturday and Wembley… just want to share one last tale.
A few years back, Uncle Chris gave me a gold ring that had belonged to my late Grandfather. There is a tale behind the ring but it’s on my “things I need Mother to clarify for me because nobody else will have a clue” list. It’s got something to do with the Boer War but seriously, that’s all I know…
…anyway, Chris (the eldest male amongst my grandparents’ five children: only my Mum is older) passed it onto me because he has no children and I’m the oldest of the ten cousins of the subsequent generation. It doesn’t fit on my fingers so I wear it on a chain across my neck. It’s an ever-present reminder of where I come from, in terms of geography but, even more so, of values.
(The superstitious amongst you may want to look away now. Or, to be more precise, I want you to look away now. It’s either that or you will seek to lynch me. Ta.)
When Neil Collins broke the barren spell of penalties on Saturday, I instinctively kissed my wedding ring looking to the sky and then lifting my left arm. It’s a gesture you may have seen Italian striking genius Francesco Totti do, but I can honestly say that I am not intentionally copying him or anyone else. It’s something I found myself doing on tennis courts a few years back and which has stuck with me in moments of sporting joy.
(Superstitious? Why are you still here? Seriously, stop reading. Thanks.)
I soon realised that Saturday was not a day for wedding rings (Mrs S, not a Blade, wasn’t too thrilled about my Wembley trip) and I instinctively took off my chain and placed Granddad’s ring around my little finger on my right hand. Because we are called to be there for the Blades on the pitch, but also for the Blades who can’t make the journey. For me being a Blade was a fact of life from the moment I was born: my grandparents were season ticket holders, as were three of my four aunts/uncles. The fourth wasn’t much into sports, but will still proclaim she’s a Blade if pushed. She knows what’s good for her. My aunts and uncles, as well as my eldest little cousin, have all entered into mixed marriages with t’other lot, and don’t ask me why – anyway…
…I had thought about my Grandparents in the build-up to the final, as I do often anyway, but this reaction was totally spontaneous. Now, this is the bit where I’d love to tell you that wearing that ring guided United to victory. We know that’s not how events unfolded, in spite of me clutching Grandad’s ring as hard as I would his loving (if occasionally stern) hand. But, with Cousin Joe already besides me, it did mean that I felt Granddad was there with us – and Grandma, too. Moaning, berating (they were a reight couple!), as they did for years on the South Stand and on the Bramall Lane Stand before that, but nevertheless fully behind the team. And that’s why I had to be there, regardless. Because there are bonds and chains that will be forever unbroken, whatever life and death throw at us.
Football matches are all over after 90' (or 120') (or penalties). Thereafter, no matter how important at the time, they will duly be consigned to the archives. But the feelings, the emotions, the bonds know no final whistle. That’s why football is not just about kicking a ball.