Another piece from the Filbert Street Memories series, this one from The FOX No 108 October 2001 by Jackie Guaccomole…
Duck, Simmo, Larry and Me (The Day I Nearly Died)…
I was in my early teens and my Grandad and Dad were taking me to a lot of the matches. I loved going to footy with me Grandad.
“Always use you initiative son, always use your initiative.” he’d say.
I was never really sure what this meant until I found out that it meant me sneaking down to the front of the long queue and striking up a conversation with someone so we didn’t have to wait so long….
”Excuse me, what time is it, do you reckon we will win today?”
Eventually my Grandad would sidle down the line to join me in the friendly banter with the bloke at the front of the queue. Everyone else thought we were all together and made space for us. My Grandad never queued for nowt as along as I was around.
I remember this day well because it was Duck’s first ever footy match. He was a couple of years younger than me. Grandad and I had invited him along with us and my other mate Simmo, who was the village gang leader. He was a bit older than me but I considered myself the oldest and wisest where football was concerned.
It was Chelsea at home, Saturday 5th April 1980. A promotion battle on a sunny afternoon and we were all really looking forward to it. Simmo and me were really winding Duck up in the car on the way to the ground. Telling him all about the trouble and the fighting at footy matches and how frightening it was. The poor lad was cacking it by the time we got to Filbert Street. My Grandad lead us in and we took up our positions at the front of the white wall near the Kop end of the old Main Stand Enclosure. The atmosphere was intense and we’d only been in there five minutes when it became clear that there was major trouble kicking off in the Kop pens.
Of course, Simmo and me acted all hard, telling Duck that we would have gone in that end if it wasn’t for having Grandad with us. The poor lad was shaking by now and I offered him an Embassy to calm his nerves. I don’t think it helped much!
As the roves of the burger bars in Pens 3 and 4 were ripped off and thrown down on to the crowd in the Kop I realised that this was going to be a new experience in my short footballing life. Never before had I seen trouble like this at Filbert Street. It seemed to be ongoing and looking back I don’t recall many police being involved. It was more just the two sets of fans marauding through the Kop like whirling dervishes. Once the game had started I don’t remember a lot else happening. Perhaps it had quietened down, or perhaps I’d adjusted to the hostile atmosphere. I know Duck was struggling to get into the experience.
Anyway… ONE-NIL! As Larry May’s header crashed into the back of the net the whole of Filbert Street erupted into celebration. It was pure elation initially, but that soon changed to sheer panic as a group of Chelsea supporters stormed our section of the crowd from the rear.
At some point in the next few minutes I remember looking for my granddad and seeing bloke with his face slashed all down one side.
The surge forward became stronger and stronger, and we were becoming crushed against the wall. I remember waves of fear and excitement shooting through my body, the screaming of adults behind me getting louder and louder and more dreamlike, and then everything went quiet.
I needed to concentrate because we were in trouble. I managed to grab Duck and shove him over the wall but Simmo and I were stuck fast. Kids were being pulled out of the crush and people were screaming for the crowd to go back, but it wasn’t. If anything the pressure on my legs and hips was becoming even greater. Simmo was next to be dragged out and he and Duck tried to pull me free but there was no chance.l I was stuck fast and getting more and more worried about where the f*** Grandad was. There was something ripping into my leg stopping me from sliding out to safety and the pain in my leg was getting worse with every crush. I don’t know how long it took to get out and I don’t really know what I felt at that point. I knew I was wedged on some kind of bolt sticking out of the wall and if I couldn’t get clear of it then I was in serious trouble, perhaps even dead. F***ing dead? Me? F*** that! I don’t know what did it. I think the crowd eased just a bit for a second and as they did I wrenched my leg free and my mates pulled me out and I slid down on to the Filbert Street turf. Within a split second my whole world changed. I remember the difference between feeling completely on my own, slowly being crushed, not really aware of anything else around me, then as I was pulled free, this cacophony of sound and blue and white exploded all around me. I went from one extreme to another in that short pull to safety. One of the clearest memories I have is of being on the pitch for the first time ever and the pride I felt. I was on the Filbert Street pitch… on a Saturday afternoon… With all the players!… I grabbed a handful of hallowed grass and rejoiced. It was at that point that Jock Wallace came and bundled us all back into the enclosure saying that we needed to win this game and if we didn’t clear the pitch it would be called off. Of course we did what Jock said. I mean, at least the man was pushing us back in himself, he hadn’t sent any Tom, Dick or Harry to do it. We managed to find Grandad again and he was okay to our relief.
There were a couple more points in the match were we spilled out onto the pitch again, but that was more down to nerves and the fact that as soon as we felt a surge starting again we’d all hop over the wall to safety. No way were we getting crushed again.
That was, and still is, a massive day in my footballing life. I don’t think Duck ever went to another game and also it was the first game we ever left early… as we walked out of the ground and down the empty streets to the car part of me was saddened that we hadn’t stayed to see the end.
From that moment on I knew I was hooked for life.