Thursday, 19 May 2016


At the start of this year I said that I would write a blog once a month, to explain the reasoning behind moving a mile at each of my chosen locations. I shouldn’t really need to explain why I’m walking to our national stadium; it is what it is. I really didn’t know where to start with writing this, but luckily I have been speaking to my pal, Jon Howe. Jon is an author (‘The Only Place For Us’), Leeds United writer and friend, and it was easy to break the ice talking about Wembley, which then made it slightly easier to start writing this.

On July 30th, fifty years ago, England won the World Cup at Wembley, which is reason enough for me to include it among the places I wanted to walk to, but in the team that day was one of the most famous Leeds United players; Jack Charlton. Jack was a one-club player, which is a very rare thing nowadays, with 773 appearances for Leeds. He was a champion at club and international level and his solidarity and dedication to my beloved Leeds United is something that impresses and inspires me, and makes me proud to talk about him. 

So what about Leeds United as a club and its relationship with Wembley? Jon and I spoke about it and he summarised that “it’s been a largely fractious relationship” with the sort of playful glint in his eye and the hint of resignation that is a staple characteristic of all Leeds fans. 

Jon supplied me with a list of Leeds’s ten Wembley appearances: 

1965 - FA Cup Final v Liverpool, lost 2-1 after extra time 

1968 - League Cup Final v Arsenal, won 1-0

1970 - FA Cup Final v Chelsea, drew 2-2 after extra time, lost replay at Old Trafford

1972 - FA Cup Final v Arsenal, won 1-0 

1973 - FA Cup Final v Sunderland, lost 1-0 

1974 - Charity Shield v Liverpool, 1-1, lost on penalties 

1988 - Mercantile Credit Football Festival v Nottingham Forest, lost 3-0

1992 - Charity Shield v Liverpool, won 4-3 

1996 - League Cup Final v Aston Villa, lost 3-0 

2008 - League One Play-Off Final v Doncaster Rovers, lost 1-0 

So a record of played 10, won three, drawn one and ultimately lost six (i.e. one on pens) 

“Obviously, only the last one (2008) was at the re-built Wembley,” Jon adds “but there are some notable points which make some of Leeds’s Wembley appearances quite significant.” 

Jon then reels them off: 

- the 1970 draw was the first FA Cup Final to ever go to a replay 

- the 1972 Final was the 'Centenary Cup Final' ie. 100 years since the first one in 1872, it wasn't the 100th actual final because there weren't any during the two world wars.

- the 1974 Charity Shield game was the first held at Wembley (all previous were held at the ground of one of the competing clubs) 

- also in 1974, Leeds's Billy Bremner and Liverpool's Kevin Keegan were both sent off, the first British players to ever be sent off at Wembley. 

- the 1988 Mercantile Credit game was an invitation tournament to celebrate 100 years of the Football League. Jon adds: “The Football League invited loads of teams to play over a weekend, and because of this each game lasted only 40 minutes, which makes Leeds’s achievement of still managing to lose 3-0 particularly impressive……” 

With the facts laid out above I must say the stand out memory for me was losing to Doncaster Rovers in 2008; similar to the Play-Off final we played against Watford in Cardiff in 2006. I was absolutely heart broken, Leeds simply didn’t turn up and I don’t think I spoke to anyone about football for about a month; I really was stunned and hurt by it. 

Jon also recalls some other Wembley memories: “I only went to the old Wembley twice, and both within a few months of each other in 1996. I went to the League Cup Final that we lost 3-0 to Villa and then in June I went to England’s 4-1 win over Holland in Euro 96. You couldn’t possibly dream up two more contrasting experiences.” 

This Euro 96 memory brings to mind one of my favourite ever Wembley goals; Gazza’s turn and volley against Scotland and the famous ‘Dentist Chair’ celebration during that famous summer that seemed to go on forever. 

Luckily Wembley stadium has given me more memories than just football. I have been more times than I can remember to see bands play gigs there. I once got back stage passes to see The Doves, Happy Mondays and Oasis play there and it was all because of a total blag. It’s a long story but a florist I used to do a lot of business with said to me “Go to a caravan in the car park at Wembley, take ID, and say your name and they will give you tickets”. Yeah, alright mate, I thought. Turns out he was right; myself and my wife got given a very big envelope full of “access all areas” passes. This led to a very far out conversation with Bez from the Happy Mondays, an eye witness account of a Gallagher brothers fall out and lots and lots of free alcohol; all in all, a very good day! 

Wembley also hosted Live Aid in 1985 and it is only since researching Wembley and contemplating writing this that I realise I should be grateful for that. It wasn’t until now that I realised how much this has inspired me, especially as I go through this year asking people and venues for help in trying to achieve what I want for the greater good. 

In the autumn of last year I had this idea to walk to iconic arenas and sporting events in England due to it being an Olympic year and also 50 years since England won the World Cup, and some people said I wouldn’t be able to do it and I wouldn’t get the co-operation that I needed. I have, I did and I still am doing all that I set out to do and more, because people before me made a stand for something that was important to them and I have learnt from that. 

On Sunday I’ll walk up Wembley Way with friends, thinking about Jack, Norman Hunter and the rest of the boys that made history for us to enjoy and indulge in. Like football and Leeds United I will not take myself for granted. I’ll enjoy thinking about the potted history lesson that myself and Jon spoke about earlier this week, and just the fact that I do still have the ability to make that walk up to our national stadium. 

Myself, Jon and friends, victorious in Leeds!

This is now over the half way point of my challenge, and time for a much-needed, but brief, rest. And I just wanted to say a sincere thank you to everyone that has helped me so far this year; the sponsorship, the social media activity, physically holding me up and the genuine friendship that has shone through. I could carry on and mention so many names but too many people have been too nice. Last time I checked there was still no cure for Muscular Dystrophy, but I do believe that the 219 hours of research we have funded so far will one day help to change that, and that would not be possible without the people that have helped me. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you! X 

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