Emma Clay describes a day under gloomy wet skies that started with positive expectations, and ended with Swindon Town’s supporters sent home in dismay
As early as Thursday I received a message from the people organising the trip to Wembley to see Swindon in the Division 1 play-off against Millwall on Saturday 29 May, that they had received a message from the coach company warning about the zero tolerance the police were going to enforce with regard to any alcohol on any of the supporters coaches. They were to be doing spot-checks on coachs arriving into Wembley, and that if any alchohol was found the whole coach would be turned away.
This was reinforced by the driver early saturday morning as we boarded the bus. He read a direct statement issued by the police which also stated that searches may also take place at the services on route.
Our coach left at 9.30am from the car park at Club Energise gym in Stratton. But supporters were there far earlier than necessary, the expectation buliding as the gym generously served coffee while everyone chatted excitedly about the game, which seats everyone had and who had or hadn’t been to the new Wembley Stadium.
When the coach arrived- it was a quick dash across the car park in the fairly heavy rain, but everyone was in high spirits. We began the slow crawl to the M4 amongst what seemed like hundreds of other coaches, and cars full of supporters sporting flags, and tape and holding STFC scarves up at the windows.
Once on the M4 and beyond, the journey was a lot easier than expected. With the next hold-up being only two miles from the stadium. The atmosphere on our coach had gradually moved from that of excitement about seeing the Town play at Wembley to that of anxious anticipation of the possible result of the match, as Millwall are a tough team. The coach got quieter the closer we got to Wembley.
We parked up easily on the Swindon fans’ side of the stadium, so no encounters with the oppostion’s fans. The Swindon supporters who had arrived early like us- all headed to the various pubs around the stadium. We were lucky enough to walk straight into a pub that was obviously a Swindon Supporters pub, ‘The Speakeasy’.
Many others had queues stretching down the streets with people keen to meet up and have a drink with fellow supporters. The atmosphere in the pub we went into was amazing, with singing, chanting and a brilliant camaraderie. Supporters were shaking hands and patting one another on the back (whether they actually knew each other or not). It was a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, so much so that we stayed much longer than planned and only headed over to the Stadium when absolutely necessary.
When we entered Wembley the view was amazing – a different world from the County Ground! The atmosphere was brilliant. As the teams emerged the Swindon crowd really came to life, clapping and cheering as loud as Millwall (who had the larger number of fans for sure). It was very exciting to be there and I was happy to be a part of it all.
During the first half, the Swindon fans became quieter as the game got more tense and Millwall pushed us back and back; Swindon just couldn’t seem to resist their pressure. The goal scored by Millwall minutes before half time led to a very quiet and tense half time break on the Swindon side, the crowd discussing a couple of incidents the referee hadn’t acted on and asking where were our team, of course, our missed opportunity, which many believed to have come down to a bobble in the turf.
But when the second half started, the crowd were again behind the team, shouting encouragement. The team did play far better than in the first half. But as time went on and the tension mounted – the crowd on our side became almost silent, with the Millwall fans only growing in strength as the game progressed in their favour. The noise and the movement from the fans on their side was unbelievable and intimidating!.
We screamed in expectation at 72 minutes when Charlie Austin picked up a poor Millwall clearance with only the goalkeeper to beat, but heads were buried in hands in the Swindon crowd when his attempt missed our only real chance of a goal.
The pitch looked a state, even before the game started, and it certainly played a part when we saw in the replay that the ball had bobbled just a couple of inches when Charlie struck it to go wide.
In the 4 minutes of stoppage time, the Swindon fans came into life again – and equalled Millwall with their chants of encouragement and support. unfortunately with no goals scored in the second half of the match; the result was 1-0 to Millwall. Our side of the Stadium emptied almost immediately after the whistle, with no one hanging about. Everyone was bitterly disapointed, and most beyond words.
The coach ride on the way back was very slow and very quiet. As we were leaving we passed police response vehicles with sirens blazing rushing towards Wembley. Although none of us had experienced any trouble from the Millwall fans, there was talk of incidents that were now going on in and around the stadium. But the thoughts on our coach were more of what went on in the game and the general disappointment we felt, than what was going on elsewhere. The children on the coach, however, were buzzing with excitement the whole journey back.
Still singing and chanting all the long way home. It seemed enough for them just to have been to see their team play at Wembley. I wish myself and others could have felt the same!