It was March 1987, the sun was shining, excitement filled the air, I was 6 years old, I had sweets from the corner shop, I was allowed in the pub with my Grandad and uncles, I had a couple of glasses of coke, I eagerly read my matchday programme and sat patiently. I still remember to this day, the exact moment I entered the terrace and caught the green, green grass of Elm Park, the rusty old stand, the brightly painted blue barriers and the metal fence keeping us in. The players were merely feet away from me. I was hooked, right there. Reading won and a beautiful and often painful relationship was formed.
Roll forward 11 years to May 1998 and crappy old, falling down, rusty Elm Park with the stinky bogs and awful facilities was closing. Would I miss the place, possibly, I was only 18, but this new stadium was shiney, all-seater, had a great view from every seat and the facilities would be ten times better than those at Elm Park.
August 1998, I sit in my new seat and I love the place, this will take some beating. It’s better than they said it would be. The memories there have all been far more happier than they ever were at Elm Park, the team has been very successful in the new home than it ever was where I first saw them play.
Roll forward another 15 years and I’ve now spent more years watching football at the Madejski Stadium than Elm Park, but what I would give to have just one more game in my shitty little stadium I grew up in. Just to experience the thrill of a Stuart Lovell 94th minute equalizer and 97th minute winner v Wolves. To experience Jimmy Quinn smashing in another wonder volley. To see superstars like Gazza and Eric Cantona grace the turf.
My abiding memory of Elm Park. Going back for an open day in the summer of 1998 and just standing on the pitch, taking it all in and then on the way out, just touching the wall and then one last long glance back down the road to the entrance I used to go in every week.
It’s January 1989, 5330 miles away sits a super stadium where a mighty team where red and gold and this team are amazing, it might not sit comfortable with some of you, but at the time, they were my Liverpool of the NFL, full of superstars and successful. “When I’m old enough I’m going to go there”
January 2012 I catch my first glimpse of Candlestick Park as I’m a passenger in a car on the 101. “There she is” Fast forward a couple of days, the sun is shining, excitement filled the air, and I’m in the parking lot making new friends, but I have more than half an eye on getting in. Having my Elm Park moment again. My heroes have ALL played here. After stocking up on Merchandise and a matchday programme, I get on the escalator, enter the concourse and my eyes meet with the green, green grass of the field. I’m suddenly 6 years old again, I smile with the excitement of a 6 year old on Christmas Morning. All that is missing is my granddad, a glass of coke and some sweets!
I find my seat and just gaze at the field, reliving some of the incredible plays I’ve seen on video and on TV. Little did I know I was about to see more history unfold in front of me. It was magical. And this stadium was far from super and far from the glitz and glamour it sometimes portrayed from a far, but like Elm Park, it was MY shitty stadium.
The 49ers won, but my beautiful and often painful relationship was already well formed, but now even more solidly bonded. I lived it, and breathed it.
Roll forward another 17 months, I’m back and I know it’s in all likelihood, barring the impossible lottery win (Which didn’t happen) my last time here. Tinged again with massive excitement and the smile of a 6 year old on Christmas morning, history and the football gods are kind to me, I see a great game, but my abiding memory of that day….. walking out of the parking lot and giving the old stick a fleeting glance over my left shoulder. Might sound soppy, but that gets me a little moist eyed just thinking about that moment.
I’m sure in 15 years we will still hark back to the stinky bogs, rusting stands and crowded concourses. We’ll all want to experience The Catch I, II or III just one more time, but the excitement of the new Levis Stadium is now very, very real. It’s going to be a long time for the team to be more successful in Levis than it ever was in Candlestick, but it will come.
So my urge to anybody and everybody going Monday night. Enjoy it. Savour it. Take it ALL in. Remember it. Live it. Breathe it. And nick whatever you can get your hands on!!