Yesterday, on a whim, I bought an old football
programme through the medium of an eBay auction. Actually my wife bought it. She’s much better at that kind of thing than I
am, and anyway I wouldn’t have had the patience to play the cat-and-mouse game
that’s apparently required to thwart crafty competing bidders. Our winning bid was £8, plus postage.
No, I haven’t reverted to one of my passing adolescent
fads; the document (in case you thought I was talking about a software
application) has a particular, if minor, significance in my catalogue of nostalgic
The programme is for the Football Association amateur
cup final of 1940. It was contested by ‘my’
team, Bromley, and Romford. Bromley
played in the Athenian League, Romford in the Isthmian League. (In those days, the amateur football leagues
in southern England
honoured the ancient Greek city-states.
There were also leagues called Corinthian and Spartan. The names were thought to symbolize the
At the time, I was a football-mad seven-year-old and
an avid Bromley fan. Bromley’s ground at
– it’s still there – was less than a mile from our house. Dad and I attended most home games (which we
often called ‘fixtures’) by trudging along a rutted farm track through foul-smelling
We were both thrilled when Bromley reached the final,
but my delight was quickly extinguished when I learnt that I wouldn’t be
going. Dad would be there, of course,
but he thought I was too young to be exposed to what was expected to be a vast
and rowdy crowd.
He had a point.
The match was played at Wembley Stadium, the first amateur final played
there, and attracted a gate of nearly 100,000 (contemporary reports vary from
94,000 to 97,000). Amateur football at
the time had a huge following. Bromley’s
home games regularly drew crowds of 5,000.
The disappointment of missing Bromley’s finest
hour-and-a-half rankled for years. To
tell the truth, at some impenetrably profound level, it rankles still.
In case you’re wondering about the result, Bromley won
with the only goal of the match, scored by one Tommy Hopper. By all accounts – mostly my father’s –
Bromley played with only nine fit players for most of the match and, after
defending for virtually the entire second half, were fortunate to emerge with
But deep down we knew that mighty Bromley would find a
way to win. With several England internationals in the side (including the
captain Eric Fright, who skippered the Great Britain team at the 1948
London Olympics) the team were a class act.
The players were celebrated with an open-top bus tour
through the town. Even there the crowds
on the pavements were four deep. I know,
because I was there, hoisted up on my father’s shoulders, outside Ghinn’s, the
It was scant consolation.