Long day for West Auckland fans ends in heartbreak at Wembley

The Northern Echo: A West Auckland fan battles the rain. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH A West Auckland fan battles the rain. Picture: CHRIS BOOTH

A LONG day for West fans started at 6am, boarding coaches in the County Durham rain outside the village’s Working Men’s Club.

At precisely 6.31am, with a warning from the driver that the toilet, “without going into the nitty gritty”, was for “one reason only”, we were off.

The two-coach Compass Royston convoy was full with my immediate neighbour a delightful older lady who fell asleep on my shoulder soon after we reached the A1.

This left me with something of a dilemma, namely, how could I sneak a slurp of the Capri-Sun she clutched in her snoozing hand without waking her.

Aside from the slumbering traveller, the five-and-a-half hour journey passed without incident, all passengers palpably excited about their near 600-mile round trip.

Behind me two younger fans reminisced about West’s FA Vase final at Wembley in 2012 - a 2-0 loss to Dunston UTS - pausing only to punch each other on the arm with great gusto when one spied a number plate with double digits or letters.

When we first saw the Wembley Arch it was gleaming white against the dark clouds, but it was quickly shrouded in rain.

The mood was one of confidence, one optimistic young fan betting West would win 4-1 purely because he was sat in seat 41.

One of the organisers was also discussing what time the bus would leave after the fans had stayed to celebrate.

And the confidence was also high among the several hundred fans congregated at the Green Man pub on Dagmar Avenue, the regular hilltop meeting point for northern fans heading to the famous stadium.

Neil Clarey has been to six games at Wembley, one England, one West Auckland the rest Sunderland, but is yet to see his chosen team win.

“It will be seventh time lucky, I just know it,” he said, his friends Nigel and Carl Thompson and Dave Taylor nodding wholehearted agreement.

“We know nothing about Sholing, but it doesn’t matter, West will win.”

Dave Taylor, who runs Stormking Windows in Bishop Auckland with Neil and Nigel, said: “It’s the result that matters today.

“We had the Wembley experience two years ago, this time we want to win it.

“If the team turn up we will win, after all, we are the mighty West.”

A downpour greeted fans as they entered the stadium, soaking those at the front - one steward was overheard saying “We can’t close the roof when customers are in in case it falls on their heads” - but the rain clouds parted as the teams emerged.

One fan quipped: “God, obviously wants to watch West win.”

Within ten minutes one West fan was topless with the first eviction coming eight minutes later.

A persistent stander, who ignored warnings from the stewards to “sit down bruv” pulled from the crowd.

The rest of his mates maintained their stand, however, much to the annoyance of other fans, threats of black eyes exchanged before calm returned.

Chants of “West are wonderful”, “We’ve got Mattie Moffat” and “We’ll do what we want, we’re from West” were sang cheerily throughout the game, but ultimately, there was only sadness at the end.

Fans young and old wept as the final whistle blew, two FA Vase finals, two losses.

The 253-mile journey home suddenly seemed a lot longer.

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