Book Review: A Life Well Red – A memoir edged in black – a true story of family, friends & football, of joy and tragedy by Les Jackson

I confess that I dived straight into this without reading any of the back page. I began to read about a time forgotten but well remembered, a written biography of an ordinary fan, in an ordinary life. It’s all about the value of family, growing up and the attraction that football holds for its community. It felt comfortable and comforting, but after a while I had to ask myself why someone would write this, and a publishing house would publish it, so I consulted the chapter headings.

A single chapter with a single date.

As sense of fear and foreboding dwelled. But it was a Liverpool fan and there are two dates which resonate. Neither chimed with the date in the book. And then I read the back page and discovered why it had been written.

Tom Jackson, Les and San’s eldest boy was murdered in Australia. A red through and through from a red family, this is the story of where he came from and how the sport of football gave him and his family memories that have sustained them and helped others to get through a tragedy that is truly heart-breaking.

I have read better written tales and I have abandoned worst misery memoirs, but by the end of this I knew a Tom who was full of life, dedicated to his club and who was passionately remembered and missed by a loving family. As an emotional tribute from a father, this was clearly – job done.

Though the pandemic gave Les an opportunity to write it, and the reason for putting fingers on keys is tragic, it is not without humour. There are many moments of light relief and when I noted the key to a potential trivia question, no spoilers here, I am using it, I realised not that this was someone who had got over their tragedy, but who had found perspective and was now sharing it. So let me, in that spirit pose another. Which footballing legend was present at three of the biggest tragedies in British football and what were their roles at each? Heysel, Ibrox and Hillsborough. (Answer at the end.)

As a Scot, your relationship with English football can be based upon quite arbitrary decisions. I followed Liverpool for a variety of reasons in the eighties. Firstly, as an Ayrshire man, I was made aware of the Glenbuck man who had revolutionized the fortunes of a second division team he then led to league glory. I still pass both the turn off to the village and the new colourful memorial in Muirkirk to Bill Shankly on a regular basis. Secondly, having watched with awe the development of a young lad from Troon who was clearly destined for bigger things, my interest peaked when we sold Stevie Nicol for a then club record of £300,000 to Liverpool. I was also not too keen on Brian Clough at the time so whilst most of my mates liked Nottingham Forest, I couldn’t stand them.

But such an affinity takes you so far. Having begun the book with a curiosity, where it works best for me is the personal story. I became embroiled, not just in the way in which the football team was followed but the effect it had upon Les and his family. I get the walk round the houses rather than sit and listen to the game on the radio – though I still listen, I get the desire not to miss out on the big games, the, often, ridiculous ways in which you try and make sure you can be where you need to be to hear and see what you want to hear and see too.

Les adds colour to the bigger occasions by the peculiar and personal recollections of what a young child will do to an icing set, John Manning, his arch nemesis at chess, Mr. Matson, the teacher who introduced him to the game, the reason Tim would have been a suitable nickname growing up and the closeness of a club where you could end up in a kickabout with a player – even if he was a blue. It is telling the tale of a time long forgotten by some but treasured by a generation and whilst it is pleasing to read of the years attending a uniformed organization – the Boys Brigade – which does not include any scandal, it serves as more than a piece of social history with which to bore the grandkids. It also reminds us of why the game has such and enduring relationship to us – it mattered, because it was what dominated our lives. It seeped into us not just because there were few alternatives, but because it was there – close to us and accessible.

There are times when the story resonates more – his first match saw Leicester City with Peter Shilton in goal – as was mine, questionable fashion choices around a time when the bombshell of Shankly retiring whilst mine was when Ally MacLeod went to take on Scotland, discovering your child – in his case, Tom – had a potentially dangerous ailment, dermatomyositis – different ailment, same trauma for me, and the Orange Lodge Days which for us in the West Coast of Scotland have an altogether more fiery outcome and significance. But you don’t need to be “of a certain age” to understand or enjoy this. People are coloured in, and the issues are widened out for you to understand. In short, you are taken on a journey where all becomes clear as you are travelling and not awaiting a major reveal at the end of it all.

The Hillsborough section caught my attention most. Les was there, and as he acknowledges there are plenty of other legacy tales which cover the pain and tragedies which unfolded. Justice for the 97 is well served but, as someone who follows English football avidly, the chapter on Hillsborough gave vital context. Why the ground was used, what other semi-finals had been there and why it had become a significant chapter in the book of any year was exactly what has been missing for many football fans. I got it.

It underlined why the personal stories were so important. What happened can only be understood in the context of what was lost. Not the memories but the expectations that those memories built. You may always have Istanbul, but you knew there was always the opportunity for another one. With new members of the family arriving, there shall be new memories, different and equally valued. But different.

As the story weaves through finding San, his soulmate and Tom’s mum, jobs in various parts of the country the significance of a central part of your life – Anfield becomes increasingly important. It not only centres your week, it holds your entire focus. If all else fails, you can go and collect cups in May…

It is therefore the success that eluded Liverpool which becomes important as much as the success they had. This is a story which is framed around a club but also informs the narrative. If you are expecting a story that takes you season by season, game by game, this is not it. The totality of the effect of the seasons is measured personally and as Dan arrives and Liverpool progress it allows the Disneyland Paris trip, the Barcelona visit and European excursions become about the core reason for writing this – the family.

That family is constantly extended, not just by the inclusion of new close family members but by colleagues and acquaintances who may be able to barbecue better than Les as well as provide the type of support which you wish never to have to rely on but are immensely grateful when it is there.

And then I arrived at the chapter.

23rd of August 2016.

Tom had gone to experience Australia and when there was staying in a hostel. One night he went to the aid of a young woman being attacked. The attacker turned on Tom and of the three, only one survived. It was neither victim of the attacker.

From the message received that he was in hospital, that supportive cast of characters kicked in. Les went to Australia, and after a period of time, brought Tom home. I cannot do justice to the expression of pain dripping from each page nor to the pride felt when Tom was recognised by friends, governments and former schools. There are too many clichés to be avoided over what a parent should expect regarding their children, but here there is genuine emotion well expressed. That the book, near the end talks of how the attacker has now been released and may be walking free back in his home country of France does not send Les into apoplexy but his understated angst.  Is. Completely. Clear.

The ending of the book manages the positive and when Les is pontificating on the game, the passion has continued but it does not quite work as well. Les is hobby horsing a bit. I can forgive that. You could forgive much, but to do so would be to treat this as a sympathy review of a piece of work that has true meaning. It’s well written and it tells the tale well. I am glad I got to read it in the end. You should make the effort to do so too.

And as for the trivial question – Sir Kenny Dalglish, Rangers supporter at Ibrox, Liverpool player at Heysel and Liverpool manager at Hillsborough. Small world, right enough…

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Independently published. March 2021. Paperback: 296 pages)


Les Jackson is a husband and father who has been a fan of Liverpool Football Club for as long as he can remember. As have his wife Sandra and children Tom, Dan and Liv.

After Tom was murdered in a Queensland hostel in 2016, Les sought catharsis by writing about the incident and his traumatic journey down under – when his son was still clinging to life – to be by his side in what turned out to be his final hours.

The subsequent birth of his beautiful first grandchild Hallie Hope has inspired Les to further record for posterity his recollections of growing up in inner city Liverpool before marrying Sandra, leaving their much loved hometown, and raising a family.

His story weaves between the three pillars of family, friends and football, providing a potted history of Liverpool’s successes and failures over the last 50 years and more, particularly where these intersect with other memories, or themselves are momentous events, such as the Hillsborough disaster and, on a happier note, the Miracle of Istanbul.

Starting with Les’s professed love of football and Liverpool FC in particular, the story ends with his acknowledged realisation that, as important as they undoubtedly are, love of family conquers all. And great friends are irreplaceable.

(Publisher: Independently published. March 2021. Paperback: 296 pages)

2015/16: Capital One Cup Fourth Round – Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal

For my last Capital One Cup game at Fulham talk was of how it felt unlike a match-day with a trek across London during rush-hour to witness a game in a ground less than half full.

This certainly couldn’t be levelled at the fixture I attended tonight as I took my place amongst a full to bursting Hillsborough for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal.

The Owls had reached this stage after a First Round 4-1 win over Mansfield Town, a Second Round 1-0 victory Oxford United and a giant-killing 2-1 win away at Newcastle United. Given their European commitments Arsenal only entered the competition in the Third Round and had beaten North London rivals Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

Sheffield station was buzzing, with fans arriving from London mingling with the Wednesday faithful into the damp South Yorkshire night and as a result the trams making the short journey out to the ground were packed.

Wednesday fans were in a confident mood as their team had made a good start to their Championship campaign and “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday” rang out loudly as the trams rattled their way to the Leppings Lane stop.

There was a hint of fog in the night sky which swirled in the Hillsborough floodlights and added to the feeling that it might be a night to remember. A quick beer was had and then it was into the Kop, with the crowd, noise and anticipation levels building nicely.

The Owls made just two changes from their last outing at Rotherham, with goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith replacing Keiren Westwood and winger Jeremy Helan coming in for the ineligible Fernando Forestieri. Arsenal had some familiar names in their 18 man squad for the evening, but had six players who didn’t appear in the programme team listings – Glen Kamara, Alex Iwobi, Ismael Bennacer, Krystian Bielik, Matt Macey and Ben Sheaf.

By kick-off the crowd was pumped and ready to give the Londoners a loud and intimidating South Yorkshire welcome.

Arsenal had plenty of possession from the off but were forced into a change after five minutes when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted for Theo Walcott. The Gunners were then hit with another injury blow on nineteen minutes when Walcott had to depart, to be replaced by 17 year old Ismael Bennacer.

Despite seeing plenty of the ball, Olivier Giroud was not troubling the Wednesday defence and the home side took heart from this.

Then on twenty seven minutes the ground erupted as The Owls went ahead. Barry Bannan played the ball to Daniel Pudil on the left and the Czech full back squared the ball to Ross Wallace. The Scot running onto the cross struck his shot into the bottom corner with Petr Cech rooted to the spot.

With the crowd behind them Wednesday started to rampage forward and were unlucky not double their advantage when Wallace curled a free-kick just over. However, the home team weren’t to be denied long and five minutes before the break had a second goal.

Lucas Joao ran at the Arsenal left flank before cutting in and forcing a save from Cech. From the resulting corner an unmarked Joao cleanly headed in with Cech once again flat-footed.

008Hillsborough was delirious at the half-time whistle with discussions at the break centring on the fact that surely this was a lead that Wednesday couldn’t throw away.

They needn’t have worried as with six minutes of the restart Wednesday had a third goal. From a free-kick, Bannan fired it to the right where Tom Lees volleyed in a centre which Sam Hutchinson bundled over the line from close range.

The game was up for the Gunners and they should have been 4-0 down when an unmarked Joao headed wide from just eight yards out. As Wednesday eased off, Arsenal for the first time in the evening created a couple of chances. First Per Mertesacker headed against the bar from inside the six yard box and then Joel Campbell volleyed just wide from the right, but it was not to be for the Gunners.

It had indeed been a night to remember for the Wednesday faithful and it was a noisy journey back into the city centre with the jubilant Owl hordes. This had been an evening of atmosphere and passion and even the defeated Arsenal fans must have felt they had been part of something special.

Postscript: It was only after reflecting on the games that I’ve attended so far that a strange link became apparent. The four games so far all have a link to Fulham’s journey to the 1974/75 FA Cup Final.

First Round: Carlisle United v Chesterfield. Carlisle were beaten 1-0 by Fulham in the FA Cup Sixth Round at Brunton Park.

Second Round: Hull City v Rochdale. Fulham played Hull in the Third Round and went through 1-0 in the 2nd Replay at Filbert Street.

Third Round: Fulham v Stoke City. The link is about Fulham and the Cup run.

Fourth Round: Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal. Wednesday’s ground, Hillsborough, was the venue for the Semi-Final game between Fulham and Birmingham City.

2014/15: Sky Bet Championship – Sheffield Wednesday v Fulham

Matt Smith’s second half strike earned a point for Fulham equalising substitute Stevie May’s near post header.

Wednesday welcomed back Chris Maguire for his first start since the Cardiff game whilst Fulham gave a debut to Norwich City loan signing Michael Turner at centre half.

The first half gave little for the supporters of either side to cheer as both teams tried to play football on a difficult surface. Wednesday’s rhythm was disrupted by losing Liam Palmer to a leg injury after 25 minutes following a challenge by Scott Parker, then 13 minutes later Will Keane limped off to be replaced by May. Both sides were having trouble controlling the ball on a poor pitch and clear cut chances were few and far between. The best chance of the half fell to May in the 5th minute of first half injury time but he couldn’t control his shot from 8 yards and Bettinelli fell on the ball to snub out the danger.

The second half started much brighter with Wednesday unusually defending the Kop end. A good move from Wednesday resulted in the opening goal. A long ball from Westwood was well held up by Nuhiu who bought Kieran Lee into the play and May’s shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, the ball came back to Lewis McGugan whose cross was met by May and his header nestled in the bottom right hand corner of the net giving Wednesday a deserved lead.

May’s first goal since his double against Wigan in November kicked the game into life. Wednesday created another good chance for Nuhiu at the back post but he was unable connect with the ball and Maguire tested Bettinelli low to the keepers left.

The game opened up and Fulham started to create chances of their own. Tim Hoogland’s pile driver was blocked by the head of Claude Dielna and the introduction of Seko Fofana by Kit Symons coincided with Fulham’s best period of the game. Ross McCormack dropped deeper into midfield and caused Wednesday some problems.

Fulham’s equaliser was tinged with controversy as the Wednesday defence stopped thinking referee Andy Woolmer was going to give a free kick for simulation but only Matt Smith played to the whistle blasting a fierce shot in off the underside of the bar.

A strong finish from Fulham bought a two great saves from Westwood and a McCormack free kick went just over the bar, but neither side was able to force a winner.

Wednesday manager Stuart Gray: “It wasn’t a game for the purists. It was a poor game, the players seem to have lost confidence in the pitch. The positive is that we’ve reached the 50 point mark. I’m disappointed that the referee didn’t give a free kick for simulation but you’ve got to play to the whistle.”


Ed Williams

Book Review: Fan – A Novel by Danny Rhodes

It is twenty five years since the Hillsborough disaster and this year saw the beginning of fresh inquests after the original hearings were quashed. Of course the 96 victims who died and the hundreds injured in the tragedy, along with their friends and families have been the ones who have suffered the greatest loss and pain as a result of the events of 15 April 1989 in Sheffield. However, there is also another set of people who have had to deal with what they witnessed that day. These include all those who attended the game that day.

In his novel, Fan, Danny Rhodes writes about that group of people through central character John Finch (or Finchy to his footballing mates). The story in set in 2004, with John working as a teacher and living in the South with fiancée Kelly. However, the storyline leaps back and forth in time with the reader being taken back to eighties and various significant moments. There is for instance reference to 1984 and Finchy’s first visit to the City Ground to watch Nottingham Forest against Sturm Graz, as well as the football tragedies in 1985 at Bradford City and Heysel. The book captures the reek and authenticity of the eighties, especially when Finchy is transported back to the 1988/89 season, where as a teenager John worked as a postman in his hometown of Grantham…

…Grantham the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher who in the eighties tried to destroy the Unions and succeeded in dismantling the British Mining Industry, wrecking communities with it and laying the foundations of the greedy, money-obsessed culture we have now. A Prime Minister who tried to kill off football with membership schemes. All that social history lurks in the background of the tight, non-stop prose of Rhodes.

The Cup run towards the fateful Semi-Final is documented with brief match details, but the images and nightmares that Finchy carries from Hillsborough crop up at various parts during the story and tell the reader that this is a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Finchy is trying to cope with so much more and with the death of Brian Clough he decides to face various demons from his past by returning to Grantham, so that he can make sense of his future.

A cracking and compulsive read which drives you relentlessly on – football, the eighties, relationships and growing up – it’s all in there…

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2013/14: Sky Bet League Two: York City v Accrington Stanley

Football is all about routine for fans and this Saturday that seemed to resonant even more than usual as games up and down the country were involved in marking the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

With my son back from University we took the opportunity to get to a game together. So it was great to take the train from Leeds and pass the time catching up on his ‘new’ life as a student and some football talk. The conversation continued as we blended into the background with the tourists in York city centre en-route to Bootham Crescent.

With programmes purchased, we dropped into the ‘Pitchside Bar’ at the ground and enjoyed a couple of pints as QPR v Nottingham Forest played out on the big-screens in the background.  There was a great ‘buzz’ in the bar as home fans mingled with those from visitors Accrington Stanley – York fans hoping for a home win that would keep their play-off hopes alive, whilst Stanley fans were looking for a result which would go towards ensuring their Football League survival.

With kick-off creeping nearer it was time to go into the ground. We opted to stand in the away end and within minutes of entering the terrace were getting something to eat. I’ve watched football for forty two years, but today I enjoyed the best pie at a game – so a special mention to Wrights pies of Crewe – Chicken Balti, absolutely fantastic.

As a mark of respect for the 96 who died at Hillsborough, kick-off here and across the country was delayed to 3.07. The reasoning behind this was that at 3.06 in 1989 the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup Semi-Final was stopped and with a minutes silence observed today, this would take kick-off to 3.07. At Bootham Crescent, the mark of respect was met with an impeccable silence; the only sound to be heard was the chorus of birds in the trees behind the Popular Stand.

Then a blast from the official’s whistle and the normal match-day sounds resumed.

League Two has been a keenly contested division this season and has meant that there hasn’t been much to differentiate between sides chancing a play-off spot and those trying to avoid the relegation spots. So it proved today, York were unbeaten in twelve games (their last loss being in the final week of January), whilst Accrington had won four in their last twelve, but had lost to relegation threatened Northampton last weekend.

Stanley were not overawed by their hosts and in the first-half had chances through Luke Joyce, Piero Mingoia and Kayode Odejayi, in a battling display during the opening forty five minutes. The Minstermen though created their own fair share of opportunities with Ryan Brobbel, John McCombe and Calvin Andrew going close for York. However, it remained 0-0 at the break.

York came out stronger in the second-half and were rewarded just after the hour, when Odejayi was perhaps a little unlucky to be penalised for handball in the area. Michael Coulson converted from the spot and City had the lead. Accrington though didn’t buckle and continued to put York under pressure with good chances falling to Naismith and Odejayi. York though should have killed off the game when Calvin Andrew could not apply a touch to Will Hayhurst’s cross.

With the fourth official signalling four minutes of time added on, fans of both clubs started to drift away. Those that did missed the Stanley equaliser. From Lee Molyneux’s corner, City keeper Pope misjudged the flight of the ball and Shay McCartan had an easy header into the goal. The home fans were silenced and it nearly got worse, when in the last minute Pope saved from Naismith to ensure that the game ended 1-1.  Accrington though deserved their point. It could prove to be a costly result for York, as they dropped out of the play-off spots, with four games remaining.

With the game over it was time to make our way back to the railway station. There was however time for a pint and idle chat about the game and results across the country.

As football fans we perhaps take for granted our own match-day routines – the people we go with, the places we meet, the banter, the beers, the high and lows. And like life itself, we shouldn’t – instead we should stop and consider how lucky we are.

25 years ago, fans set out on a sunny day in April to attend a game at Hillsborough, 96 didn’t return, never again to enjoy another match-day.

2013/14: Sky Bet Championship – Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield Town

Will the real Sheffield Wednesday ‘stand-up’? That was the question Owls boss Dave Jones was facing after a 2-1 home defeat in the Yorkshire ‘derby’ against Huddersfield Town.

In their last game at Hillsborough, Wednesday were rampant winning 5-2 against promotion chasing Reading, but against the Terriers they were outplayed for the majority of the game. Jones stated, “we have a block when we play here, but if you start slaughtering the players you lose them and we need them to be big and brave.”

The Wednesday boss made four changes to his team from their last outing at Derby, but it made little difference.

One of those changes, keeper Damien Martinez was soon picking the ball out the net, when Huddersfield went ahead on eleven minutes. Adam Clayton was given too much time and space by the Owls defence and he picked out an unmarked Martin Paterson who finished coolly for his fiftieth league goal.

Paterson looked offside, but Town boss Mark Robins post-match stated he “hadn’t watched a replay” adding, “I don’t care – it was a good move and good finish”. His opposite number Dave Jones, view was that “the first goal might have been offside, but it doesn’t matter because we didn’t do our jobs properly”.

Jones looked to enliven his beleaguered side by introducing Jermaine Johnson and Giles Coke for Michail Antonio and Stephen McPhail at the start of the second-half.

However, it was the Terriers who should have scored just after the break, as a marauding run and shot from Paul Dixon fell for James Vaughan who somehow sliced his effort wide from twelve yards.

The home fans did have something to cheer though ten minutes into the second half, when Jermaine Johnson had his shot well saved by Town keeper Alex Smithies.

Indeed, after the game Terriers manager Mark Robins praised the Huddersfield stopper saying, “his concentration levels were fantastic. There was a small period of the game when we were peppered with shots and he had an answer for everything”.

Unfortunately for Wednesday, they couldn’t find an equaliser and it was Town who went further ahead on sixty eight minutes.

Following a corner, Oliver Norwood’s strike on goal was not cleared by the Wednesday defence, allowing Clayton to arrow his shot into the corner and put the visitors 2-0 ahead.

Even with twenty minutes remaining that pretty much sealed the points for Huddersfield, with a goal from a Connor Wickham free-kick three minutes into stoppage time, merely a consolation.

Unsurprisingly at the final whistle, Hillsborough echoed to boos from the Wednesday fans as this result left their team in the bottom three and with the unenviable record of being the only club in the country yet to have kept a clean sheet.

Terriers’ boss Mark Robins reflected that his team had been “outstanding for the first hour” but accepted the side was “still a work in progress”.

Dave Jones may not have the luxury of time but stated defiantly, “it’s up to everyone to turn this around, and that starts from the staff and through to all the players. We have all got to stand up and be counted”.

FA Cup Semi-Finals 2010/11: That was then – this is now….

FA Cup Semi-Final 1975

05 April 1975 – just another Saturday for most people, but for a 12 year old boy this was a day that was almost too incredible to believe was happening. It was FA Cup Semi-Final day and his beloved Fulham were within a game of reaching the FA Cup Final for the first time in their history. Second Division Fulham were up against First Division Birmingham City, Trevor Francis et al.

The Cottagers previous attempts in reaching the FA Cup Final had all ended in failure. In their first season in the Football League (1907-08), the team progressed to the Semi-Final after victories over Luton Town (8-3), Norwich City (2-1), Manchester City (3-1 in a replay) and Manchester United (2-1). However, the Semi-Final at Anfield against Newcastle United proved a game too far and Fulham slumped to an FA Cup Semi-Final record 6-0 defeat.

It was 28 years before the men from Craven Cottage reached the Semi-Finals again in 1935-36. The journey which never saw Fulham leave London contained wins over Brighton & Hove Albion (2-1), Blackpool (5-2), Chelsea (3-2 in a replay) and Derby County (3-0). For the first time during the Cup run the Cottagers had to travel away from the capital and they were duly beaten 2-1 by Sheffield United.

In 1957-58 Fulham hoped it was third time lucky in the Semi-Finals after victories against Yeovil Town (4-0), Charlton Athletic (2-0 in a replay), West Ham United (3-2) and Bristol Rovers (3-1). Their opponents were Manchester United, a club still coming to terms with the Munich disaster just 6 weeks after the event. The first game ended 2-2 at Villa Park and in the replay at Highbury, Fulham again failed to reach Wembley after a 5-3 defeat.

Just four years later, Fulham were back in Semi-Final action. Hatlepools United were dispatched in the 3rd Round 3-1 at the Cottage and Walsall were overcome 2-0 in a replay in Round Four. Round Five and Port Vale were beaten 1-0 and in Round Six a replay was required to see off Blackburn Rovers by the same score. Burnley were the opposition at Villa Park and Graham Leggat’s first half goal gave Fulham the lead going into the interval. However the advantage was quickly wiped out as John Connelly levelled for the Clarets. Once again a replay was required and once again Fulham came up short. A brace from Jimmy Robson put the Lancastrians on their way to Wembley as Jim Langley’s 90th minute goal was nothing more than a late consolation.

It was against this backdrop of Semi-Final failure that the Fulham faithful travelled north to Hillsborough in April 1975. My recollection of the day is dominated by a number of things. In my early teens I was not a great passenger when travelling by car as I was prone to travel sickness. So the journey up the M1 had me eating and drinking very little and sat clutching a carrier bag in case of emergencies. I also remember having a new rosette for the game which my mum had bought me. Black and white crinkled ribbon circled a silver foil replica of the most famous Cup in the World and a neatly printed piece of cardboard sat proudly below showing “FULHAM FC” in black block capitals. I remember too us parking near a massive estate of tower blocks and the walk to the ground. It was the biggest crowd I’d been part of, nearly 55,000.

Of the game itself, well the size of the ground, the noise of both sets of fans, the colour, the excitement and the tension of the occasion are all fresh in my memory. Fulham dominated and should have been ahead at the break, but then our reward came early in the second half with a wonder-strike from John Mitchell. We were going to Wembley for the first time and I was going to witness the historic moment. And then Fulham’s Semi-Final hoodoo struck again as Joe Gallagher brought the Blues level. Once again a replay was required. I cut a rather forlorn figure in the back of the car as I clutched my sick bag and we headed away from Sheffield. History shows that four days later Fulham broke their Semi-Final jinx in the last minute of extra time at Maine Road with possibly the luckiest, scrappiest, scruffiest, Semi-Final goal ever. Unfortunately I had to settle for listening to the game on the radio, but we were there and that was enough for me. Wembley beckoned for the FA Cup Final.

Roll forward to this weekend and it’s Semi-Final time again. However, these days things are very different. The games no longer take place on the same day. Both games are shown live on television and both take place at Wembley. I don’t agree with it. Wembley is the reward for the Finalists. That day in 1975 was special because a Semi-Final then had its own unique atmosphere – travelling to a neutral venue was like one foot on the podium. Now the podium has been flattened and in my opinion contributed to the devaluing of the FA Cup. I feel sorry for fans having to travel all the way down to London and all the costs and hassle that will involve to suit the needs of television and the FA’s Wembley debt. I know a Stoke fan who is caught in a quandary like many will be this weekend. He has a family to support, so going to both the Semi-Final and Final is not a financial option. What does he do? Does he gamble on not going this weekend and hope that the Potters get to the Final and then scramble for a ticket? Or does he go to the Semi knowing that if they win he won’t be able to see them in the Final?

For me football is no longer for the fans, it’s about the powers that be in positions of authority, whether that be the FA or the media organisations. Tradition? They have killed it and frankly they don’t care if they do. I’m glad I was able to experience the heritage and romance of the FA Cup back in 1975, because that now belongs to a different era and I’ll always cherish that day in April, 36 years ago.