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The wonder of Wembley

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Dan Walker | 14:33 UK time, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Happy New Year everyone! I am currently considering ways to get rid of my little Christmas gut. I think there might be a gym membership on the cards and some sort of fig roll-free zone until March.

Anyway, this week's offering needs a disclaimer. There will be some people mentioned in here that many will consider famous. There will be several mentions in here of me playing football with these so-called "famous" types. Under no circumstances does this mean that I am:
a) lost in showbiz;
b) turning into a celebrity-loving fool;
c) struggling to remove my head from my own backside.

Now we have got that sorted, let us continue. A few weeks ago I got a phone call from a lovely lady at Umbro. She left me a message on the mobile of dreams. It went something like this:

"Hi Dan. It's Ronaldinho here from Umbro (I have changed her name to protect her identity). I was just planning game at Wembley next week and I wondered whether you wanted to take part. There are loads of people who want to play so if you can let me know asap that would be great."

I was in a dilemma. Should I ring Ronaldinho back immediately and betray my cool exterior or should I leave it a few days? I thought about playing it cool for approximately 11 seconds before the fear of not playing hit me like a left hook from Manny Pacquiao. I caved in and rang Ronaldinho (just a reminder that that is not her real name) straight back. I was in.

Even though the game was 10 days away, I found myself thinking about it with alarming regularity. I had a few games of football pencilled in before then, but all my thoughts were directed towards Wembley. I've come to the conclusion that footballers are talking rubbish whenever they trot out the cliché about taking "one game at a time".

My mind went back to the only time I had previously played on a proper pitch. It was at Old Trafford in 2003, when a Manchester United backroom team took on a Media XI. They had David Gill playing for them upfront and had never lost a game.

walkerw.jpgLetting fly - unfortunately the ball flew wide

Lou Macari, our manager, sent us out of the dressing room feeling 10ft tall. I set up James Cooper from Sky Sports News for our opening goal and then, 10 minutes before half-time, came the chance I had been waiting for.

An attempted clearance from the United kitman hit me on the chin and bounced perfectly into my path as I burst through the defence (it was more of a waddle past a bloke with a dodgy hip). I was one-on-one with the keeper.

Looking back, I could have easily rolled the ball into the far corner, but I went for power, a decision I still regret to this day. My shot whistled the wrong side of the post and we went on to lose 9-2 with an annoyingly good Gill getting a double hat-trick.

This time, I was determined that my preparation would be perfect. I even considered taking the concept of a pre-match meal seriously for once. That all went to pot when the fiends at my local supermarket were offering 2-for-1 on chocolate croissants.

I turned up at Wembley about 90 minutes before kick-off and went out to inspect the playing surface. To be fair, it had seen better days and looked as though a slightly dodgy gardener had tried to turf Bournemouth beach. But that didn't matter, it was Wembley. And I was going to play on it.

I went back inside to meet some of my team-mates. I was playing in a side made up largely of Reverend and The Makers. Hairy frontman Jon "The Reverend" McClure had driven a mini-bus down from Sheffield with five other band members in it. Simon Webbe, of Blue fame, and Danny from McFly were playing up front while two lads from Umbro made up the 11.

The other lot had Max Rushden from Sky, various other musical types and a bloke who looked remarkable like DI Burnside from The Bill but said he worked for a publishing company. I still think it was a cover story.

The dressing rooms were immaculate, the kit supreme and the boots pristine. For a moment, I felt like a professional. Then I went out for the warm-up and shinned my first touch into a fire extinguisher.

Jon from Reverend and The Makers was complaining about the size of his shorts. He looked like he had been shoe-horned into them from a great height and his comment of "you can see me full duds" in perfect Yorkshire will live with me for a long time.

As soon as the game kicked off, I totally forgot about the empty 80,000 seats around us and got on with the business in hand. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will summarise the 90 minutes, from a very selfish perspective, in five points.

1. We won 5-3.

2. I was playing in midfield and set up two of our five goals (one was a miss-hit pass but don't tell anyone).

3. My only chance came in the first half and, rather than square the ball to Simon Webbe, I chose to shoot. Guess what? The ball whistled the wrong side of the post!

4. When Danny from McFly rattled in our fourth goal, I went to celebrate with him but got slightly distracted and missed with the right hand of an attempted double high-five. Instead of the intended palm-on-palm action, I inserted by thumb in his right eye, forcing him to leave the pitch. Not quite Steve Morrow but still pretty nasty.

5. Jon's shorts somehow managed to get tighter as the match progressed! By the end, they looked like spray-ons.

When the final whistle went, hugs and handshakes were exchanged, photographs were taken and two-yard tap-ins almost immediately became 20-yard screamers.

After a fish-and-chip supper and a passionate victory speech from our skipper, I thanked Umbro and disappeared into the night. If I ever get invited back I will jump at the chance, but, until such time, I shall bask in the glory of a perfect record at Wembley.

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  • Comment number 1.

    You are a lucky man Dan i think most of us would love a run about at Wembley!!!

    Just a quick question in point 4 above you stated "Not quite Steve Bould but still pretty nasty."

    What did Steve Bould do???

  • Comment number 2.

    I think he means Steve Morrow.

    What was the point of the game?

  • Comment number 3.

    I do indeed mean Steve Morrow. I have corrected the Steve section. Apologies to all Steve's out there.

    Morrow was the bloke who broke his arm while Arsenal were celebrating their league cup final win in 1993. Thanks for spotting that 1charliebutler (#2).

  • Comment number 4.

    It has been an age since your last blog!
    You been on holiday?
    Hope your Christmas was more eventful than your umbro-wembley match.
    IMHO a white,thin umbro kit does not 'help you'. All the white plus the white shoes made me think (painful thoughts) of Rudolf Nureyev. I know my opinion counts for nothing, but go home and ask the wife- see what she thinks.

    Now, real football.
    What is your informed FF opinion on the Africa Cup of Nations? Are you allowed to give your opinion on this?
    Other end of the spectrum: if there is a mass exodus from Pompey, who do you think there best player is and which club needs him the most?
    Any thoughts on Cardiff Cities young star Adam Matthews?
    I'd love to see Vieira back at Arsenal but I wonder if Wenger's favourites Man City might get him.

  • Comment number 5.

    don't fret over the mis-hit pass. most goals of the season are flukes (trezeguet's winning volley in the euro 2000 final springs to mind)

  • Comment number 6.

    I concur with number 2. what was the point? I wouldn't mind a call from time to time, haha!

  • Comment number 7.

    1charliebutler (#2) and Ross (#6). It was a sort of 'invite some media clowns along to Wembley while we can' type event.

    As you can see from the picture there was a huge crowd at the fixture!!!

    I will ask Umbro to put you on standby for next year Ross.

  • Comment number 8.

    blaenorynyclwyd (#4) I've only missed one week partner! The Walker family did the Christmas thing at various houses and have now returned to a freezing cold Londinium. In answer to your queries...

    What is your informed FF opinion on the Africa Cup of Nations? Are you allowed to give your opinion on this?
    Yes and I like it... especially the juicy stages at the end.

    Other end of the spectrum: if there is a mass exodus from Pompey, who do you think there best player is and which club needs him the most?
    David James and I would have said Spurs until Gomez started to show he is perhaps worth the fee after all.

    Any thoughts on Cardiff Cities young star Adam Matthews?
    Is he the bloke who scored from about 50 yards this season? If so people seem to think he has a future. Not bad for a 17 year old.

    Right, I'm off to slay a double-bill season ending NCIS.

  • Comment number 9.

    Happy New Year Dan.

    Playing footy on the hallowed Wembley turf. Wow, now that's something to tell the (future) grandkids.
    Here's wishing everyone all the best for 2010.

    ps. Hope FF doesn't get snowed off this weekend. ;p

  • Comment number 10.

    You did not respond to the Rudolph the ballerina ... did you ask your better half?
    BUT I will over look that in light of the NCIS viewing. We watch them too and we did like CSI Las Vegas, got seasons 1-8 on that.

    You make a good point about David James, how old is he? Does he still do his orphanage thing in Malawi. As for your knowledge of CCFC's Matthews,right bloke- not enough info. I'll ask again next week and see if you are of a more informed.
    Press on.

  • Comment number 11.

    One last thing Dan,
    Londinium may technically be freezing, but that pails into insignificance compared to the last deer 'watching' escapade. Try sitting in a stand for 5 hours at 0 degrees F or -17C. I stayed warm too. Listened to 3 of Al Martin's finest with one ear, wild life with the other.

  • Comment number 12.

    Happy New Year Dan and all the FF team (except one suspects not Lawro as he's hardly ever joyous).

    In a similar way that some people "detox" for all of January and don't let any alcohol pass their lips - are you going to undertake a no cakes or biscuit diet to lose the Chrimbo expansion pack?

    For a snack junkie like you that's gotta be tough.

    Good luck to you brother and remember vertical striped shirts on Focus will make you look thinner.

  • Comment number 13.

    I haven't been able to read your blogs for the last few weeks, so decided to take a few minutes out of work to have a quick read (there's a bad excuse to stop doing work if you've ever heard one?) And I have to say they were all a good read. Keep up the work Dan!

    Wembley is a fantastic Stadium, and though my knees mean I probably won't play much football these days - I still hope my phone will ring and Fabio will tell me, I'm in! Haha

    Happy New Year!

  • Comment number 14.

    Right. I have returned from the frozen Emirates. We have filmed what we hope will be a really snazzy opener to the programme. See what you think on Saturday - if the game is still on.

    Thanks for the Happy New Year messages. Holloway2Holland (#1) I have already written a speech for my future grand children.

    blaenorynyclwyd - sorry I didn't make the grade on Adam Matthews. I'll try harder next time. Al Martin is a great way to beat the cold though. Good plan.

    realronburgundy (#12) maybe 2010 will be the year we really get the joy out of Lawro. The no-snack rule has already been shambolically broken on several occasions. Vertical stripes will be making regular appearances until membership at Virgan Active has taken effect.

    FN (#13) Thanks for the kind words pal. Glad you are enjoying the blogs. Never give up on the dream of the phone-call from Fabio... despite the dodgy knees.

    Happy New Year

  • Comment number 15.

    hi dan. Happy new year, i'm sure you have awaited my long overdue response with great intensity

    I'm sure it gripes with others as it does with me...does playing on an international class surface improve your game. I had the opportunity in my youth to play at lilleshall and produced the best performance i ever had in me - i was convinced it was because of the bowling green like surface. Back me up here brother

    Also - I'd like your view on some of food's wonderful mysteries such as: Why toast tastes better when cut into triangles? A good old cuppa also tatses much better from a china cup than a porcelean mug!

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Dan, Happy New Year (again!) Reading above that you've just returned from a snowy Emirates made me think about Patrick Vieira almost certainly returning to England with Manchester City over the next couple of days. What is your expert opinion on this? A good idea for a player with a lot to offer or do you think he will be a shadow of his former self? As a Gooner I can't bare the thought of seeing him in another English teams kit.

  • Comment number 17.

    Morning everybody.

    Tomefccam (#15) you are so right about a good surface - even though the Wembley turf was a little ropey. I think it's down to the fact that you can run 20 yards without worrying if you are going to fall down a pot-

    The China cup has baffled generations of tea drinkers... I have no answer. Toast in triangles is all down to the fact that it makes you feel a little bit like the Queen surely.

    brad_scott (#16) it will be very odd to see Viera in another kit. The gangly French spider won't look right unless he's wearing red and white. I can't see him dominating the midfield as he did 10 years ago. I shall put that question to Dixon and Keown tomorrow. It'll be great to see what happens if he goes to the Emirates playing for the opposition.

  • Comment number 18.

    If Vieira does go to Man City I will be disappointed. I so loved the 2004 season. And comparing him to a gangly spider is just sour grapes. By the way Dan, I think his name has two 'i's in it. I could be wrong, but I'll leave you to check that, better do so before FF and Dixon and Keown wade in.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE could you also ask Keown how he would feel about Ruud Van Nist. playing up front for Arsenal. I'll never forget him yelling in RVN's face after the dutch man missed a pen - no love lost there.
    If you ask him I will send a box of jelly beans to BBC Shepherd's bush. If it makes the air I will send Jelly beans and Garibaldis (do not know where I wil get them from)

    Also take back what I said about Londinium not being cold. Last night it wa. Coldest I have experienced over here is -22C. Highlands beet that by 0.1C, or so I read. We had 2 inches more snow last night though.

  • Comment number 19.

    Ah here is a man who enjoys NCIS - a true man!

    But, here is a test. Abbey or Ziva?

  • Comment number 20.

    yikes typo on Abby there :(

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm not a man to bear a grudge so the fact that not a single response was posted to my 'Don' suggestion - see foot of previous blog - has not irritated. But my interaction with Tom Fordyce's brilliant ball-by-ball blog (spot the alliteration?) during the last 2 hours of the Test Match has got me thinking.
    When England reach the last stages of the World Cup and get to the point where Dan starts to say, "I told you so!", i.e. the penalty shoot-out, wouldn't it be great to have a Walker blog feeding to our laptops as we cringe behind the new leather four-seater from DFS. Those enagaged with Tom's feed from SA will agree that the participation of those following on-line was a real addition to tension. How else would the world know that Ian Bell's dad was locked in a cupboard so he couldn't jinx his son?
    Worth serious consideration - as Lampard steps up to the spot, Walker (Motty-like) blogs his facts about penalty successes and allows us mortals to share the fun.

  • Comment number 22.

    Happy New Year Dan. You are some boy (Norn Iron saying). Its just as well your match wasn't scheduled for this current weather spell !!

    Really enjoyed FF today. Was great to see around the Emirates. Going to plan a trip for next season after today (although don't tell the wife). If you want to treat me to lunch in the Diamond club before the game, then feel free. It would take me years to earn my first years membership in that place. Absolutely ridiculous.

    FF should do more on location - programmes, especially around the lower clubs in the league who are hosting one of the top 3, but I'm sure the hassle and setting up of this is a headache and costly.

    Phil Neville - Great interview. What a role model for young players coming through Goodison (Giggs can probably take a bit of credit for this)

    I'm a bit slow these days - Brian Kidd at Man City, what's that all about. Get him back at United and we might start winning again. Vierra - Money talks, although he will be good for the dressing room, knowing the scarf man well.

    Hopefully by this time next week Nigel Worthington will have signed a new contract for the Norn Iron job (ending months of contract talks and speculation). If so, is there any chance of mentioning this in at least one sentence on FF to keep the troops happy. Any sort of footy fan over here wouldn't miss FF.


    P.S Can you post me one of Lawro's jackets, size medium, thanks.

  • Comment number 23.

    foonyroo (#19) I think I would go Ziva but the bloke they call Proby is the best character

    the admiral (#21) in full agreement admiral about the magic of the ball-by-ball blogs. If you are stuck on a computer some where they can make an afternoon flash by. If I am in South Africa I would be more than happy to oblige.

    welfare4wobblers (#22) Glad you enjoyed the programme. It was really good fun to do and I totally agree about Phil Neville. He came across really well throughout.

    Not sure about the Lawro coat request. They are normally hidden away for emergencies.

  • Comment number 24.

    Best show of the season on Saturday, friend - well done all.

    Did you get a little bit scared when Lawro went on his African Cup Of Nations rant? I thought he was going to throw down his microphone and run off to punch a swan at one point.

  • Comment number 25.

    Ripper sausage arms. No swans were hurt.

  • Comment number 26.

    It sounds good, but not quite as good as a Bank Holiday Monday, 20-a-side, 2 hours each way, Clumber Park epic.

  • Comment number 27.

    So Dan - let's do serious for a moment.
    Liverpool and ManU have managers who are both in a dreadful mess financially. Given the state of world-wide finances, is it possible that either could find themselves sold for a pittance, asset-stripped (selling Old Trafford sounds very much like asset-stripping to me)and left to free-fall down the leagues? After all, isn't that what happened to Leeds?

  • Comment number 28.

    ezlawblog (#26) ahh clumber. Fond memories.

    the admiral (#27) Lawro said a few months ago that one of the big boys from the premier league would disappear in the next 5 years. It's hard to imagine it happening to United or Liverpool but then I'm sure Leeds fans never dreamt it could all go so wrong at Elland Road. Greed Admiral. It's all down to greed.


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