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Saturday, 8th January 2022 Kick-off 17:30
My first FA Cup memory : Bognor v Swansea, oh what a night !
Friday, 7th Jan 2022 09:00 by Gruff Stephens
I couldn’t get to the home game where the swans drew 1-1 with Bognor way back in the first round of the FA Cup back in 1984. In fact it wasn’t on my radar at all. Of course there had to be a replay and like many I was certain a deluge of goals would follow after Bognor’s FA Cup final at the vetch.
Well, it wasn’t a deluge, but by hell it was an embarrassment, of sorts that is. I was in university in Southampton, my father who has since passed on was an avid Swansea fan, born and bred in Wrexham like me, it was his father who initiated him in to the Swansea way. When I say university I was studying the first part of my marine biology degree, and the campus was named an ‘institute of higher education’ weeks after my arrival. Nautical studies was my thing. So, university it wasn’t by the standards of those days.
A phone call from my father, Griffin was his name, a kind and gentle man whose traits I would like to think I still possess. His time as a lecturer at Manchester Uni I’m sure some may recall. People of a certain age that is. Two nights before the game that call was made, we moved on to talk of the swans playing in an fa cup tie just down the road, well, close by to my halls of residence anyway. A good friend of mine was a keen follower of Portsmouth and the next day we agreed to make the journey to watch the replay. Back then it was British rail, southern railways and all that it is today didn’t exist. That was my first mistake, going by train. We both jumped out of a boring modern studies class and took the mid afternoon train from Southampton. I remember it today as much as then.
There is a reason.
We gently trundled by Fareham where two swans fans got on the train, that made a total of about ten people in our carriage. Then Havant, well there’s another FA Cup name to conjure with in more recent times.Then we stopped at Portsmouth. I remember my mate saying ( without the words we cannot reproduce on this website ) “ Oh my word, its those 657 chaps” It wasn’t exactly that, but I’m sure you get my drift. About twenty men of all shapes and sizes climbed in to our life, they looked menacing, tattoos on forearms, they has been drinking and I shit myself ! Being someone who goes to football to watch football I had entered into a an area of the sport that I would never be good at, and to be honest couldn’t see the point of.
They were noisy, intimidating and a pain in the arse, revering each other with tails of yore, Cardiff, West Ham, Millwall, the scum it went on, and on etc. Being partially drunk, thick, stupid and like all people who are of that bent being thick and stupid, and possibly a bit thick and stupid as well they began to take in their surroundings. Getting leary I think it’s called, looking at people sat in the carriage, assessing their weaknesses and their vulnerability. My mate was in a far better state than me, he looked almost in admiration of these guys. Nodding and laughing, like a puppet on a string almost. Looking back now it was funny, it wasn’t then.
Excuse my sad thick and stupid description, but looking back now I’m angry that fellow humans beings would make me feel so vulnerable.
They also started talking to people they didn’t know on the train, back then I had this ridiculous ‘Flock of Seagulls’ look, an ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ floppy bouffant, dripping in patchouli oil. I could see one or two looking at me, I heard things like “plastic punk” I almost felt that I was going to be attacked, it was very intimidating. They started talking about the game on the previous Saturday, apparently loads of Portsmouth fans had travelled to the game in Swansea.They spoke impressively of each other’s exploits, laughing that Swansea had no idea they were coming. And tonight some were looking for more beer, more trouble and definitely in some cases revenge. Saturday it seemed wasn’t one way. I think the hooligan terminology is they had ‘toe to toes’ all over.
As we rolled in to Bognor, it was an hour and a half or so from Southampton by train back then, it hasn’t changed much, I felt a bit better, I just wanted rid of these grown men acting like grown kids. There were a few swans fans getting off the train as the deep rumblings of “657,657,657” boomed out on the partially echoing small platform. Scarves were seen to be put away in pockets. It was a small station, in fact Bognor is a small town. I felt like a scurrying rat trying to get away from these hordes of intimidating Popeye the sailor men.
I didn’t drink that much then, in halls I felt myself to be relatively safe to be more like the person I was, in the old bar we felt brave enough to sometimes sing after a pint or two to the jukebox tunes of the day. Usually what I would describe these days as ‘plastic punk’ excuse the smile on my face right now.
Anyway with my horror story tale finished we made our way to the ground, there seemed a lot of people around, the ground isn’t that far away from the train station, but it was at least three hours before kick off. We found a cafe, sought sanctuary as the wobbling idiots of noise ‘657’ walked by the window. “Swansea where are ya, Swansea where are ya” Grown men apparently. In the ground later they found each other, how bad it was I don’t know, but it has been described in a variety of books about the subject as ‘violent scuffles’
It is all still clear in the memory, it was my first swans game, before this I had been to Anfield with my uncles to watch Liverpool on numerous occasions. However, this was my first game on my own. My first experience of all the things I’m sure many remember from back in those days. It was a chilling evening, it was November, the smell of chimney smoke, and we actually didn’t have tickets, but did manage to get in to the ground. The home end was accessible, and when Swansea scored I just stood there, others didn’t, but nothing really seemed untoward, my senses were clued in to the ‘657’ wherever they were. From where we were I couldn’t see the away end that well, there were around three hundred swans fans in the ground, some reacted quite badly to what was to become an FA Cup humiliation, we lost 3-1. In fact I really thought it was 4-1 for many years.This game is still talked about now in those parts I’m told, and the game that night drew what remains today a record attendance of 3,700 for Bognor.
It was pretty uneventful for us after that, we bought hot dogs on the way home, and the window on what looked like a sweet shop was smashed outside the train station. By who I don’t know, but the desperation for a sherbet dip dab could overtake any emotion back in those days.
It was an humiliation for Swansea City, and sort of saw the end of the road for Colin Appleton, a year or so later the club would be in more financial dire starts. The famous five would appear but that’s another story. For me I actually get a feeling of some humility when the subject of the game is mentioned now, it was the biggest night in Bognor FC history, and still seems to be today. In a way I’m proud of that fact now. It was so long ago for it not to matter at all. But because of the times, the cup, and my first game without a protective family I remember it like yesterday.
A report from back in the day after the 1-1 draw at the Vetch the previous Saturday
Photographs open source
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