My adventure started a full 24 hours before the final even began. The journey down south contained numerous newspaper Sports pullouts and plenty of fast food and snacks to boot. Seeing more than a few cars with Blues flags hanging out of the window gave you a strange feeling - you couldn't explain it - but you just knew that you were onto something special. Blues fans were already proudly showing their colours, and the team hadn't done anything yet.
Arrival at a Wembley hotel looked more as if I'd landed up at St Andrews on a mid-April afternoon. Bluenoses were wearing their shirts with pride, drinking copious amounts and excitedly preparing for the biggest day of our lives. You got the feeling that the Final would be something of a home game for Big Eck's boys.
The night before was filled to the brim of excitement and nervousness but an overriding emotion of pure joy that we had actually made it to Wembley. After all these years and after last year's heartbreak in the FA Cup Quarter-Final, Blues had actually done it. We had reached Wembley. We were in the Carling Cup Final.
Many sleepless hours later, it was time to get up. Today was the day. Today we make history. Today we make our mark...today. A trip to a local newsagent led to the reading of pages and pages about our opponents. This is Arsenal's time to end their trophy-drought. Wenger's boys could win 4 trophies this season. Will Fabregas go up and collect the trophy?
Oh, there was also a little bit confirming that Blues were actually playing in the Cup Final too, for those 'Noses who were getting slightly worried that it was all just a dream. The intense media focus on the Gunners meant that Blues' preparations were largely left alone, and the players were allowed to properly focus on the job at hand.
In the London rain, hoards of excited fans in blue and white skipped up Wembley Way to the Home of Football. These Bluenoses were so excited that they forgot the fact that the turnstiles wouldn't open for another hour yet, but they didn't care. They stood in long queues, frozen to the core, exposed to the elements...laughing and joking. You couldn't have told that any of them were nervous.
Walking round the stadium and sampling the atmosphere around one half of the ground was only bettered by actually entering the stadium at 14.10pm and beholding the wonderful sight that is Wembley Stadium.
After paying extortionate amounts for food and a programme, I settled into my Block 137 seat and looked out. It was a fantastic sight. Your mind went blank in awe as you looked around like a baby on your first Christmas. The colours, the lights, the view. Amazing.
Fast forward an hour, which seemed to pass in a matter of minutes, and the players emerged from the tunnel. With most Bluenoses already in the stadium, and about 10 Arsenal fans filling the 'East End' of the stadium, the noise was tremendous. The roar that greeted our boys was the first of many, and it filled you with a sense of pride and belief. We were actually here, and anything could happen from here-on in.
With minutes to go before kick-off, Arsenal fans had finally made their way to the stadium (maybe they got lost?) and into their seats. There may have been 31,500 Gooners, but they were no match for 31,500 Bluenoses who were delighted just to be there.
It was the same way on the pitch too. Blues started like a house on fire, and should've won a penalty after only two minutes. The offside decision against Bowyer was absolutely ridiculous, and had the assistant got it right, Arsenal would've been down to 10 men.
The decision wasn't given, but the damage was done. Blues fans suddenly realised that 'hey, we can do this.'. They saw that Arsenal were not invincible and that Blues could tear them apart. The roar of approval from the West side of the ground was one of belief. We were in a real game now. Arsenal started to get into the game but they were constantly faced by the problem that this Blues team were up-for-it. They wanted it badly, more so than their opponents, and pressurised every player in a red shirt.
Blues were on top, but could we score? Keith Fahey's attempted cross was deflected wide, and we had a corner. Larsson's delicious delivery was met by the onrushing Roger Johnson. From my seat, you saw the ball travel agonisingly close to the goal. It was going in. In a split second, my heart started to sink as I saw two Arsenal players in a good position to clear the ball - Rosicky on the post, and the keeper Wojciech Szczesny. Damn...but, wait. No! The ball was diverted. Someone had got in the way! It was in the net! Ecstasy. We were 1-0 up! Suddenly the belief that we could win and the knowledge we probably wouldn't was all erased. This was just a game of football. Nothing impossible. And we were 1-0 up. NIKOLA ZIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGICCCC! And the Blues were on their way! They danced in the isles, they jumped up and down, they believed the impossible. We were in this game.
Arsenal looked to get back on the offensive, but Blues had their tails up. They were positive in their approach and knew that they had ruffled their opponents. Arsenal hadn’t properly started in the game and Blues had taken advantage. They say that the most important thing is to score when you’re playing well, and Blues had done it. Magic.
However, the nerves started to set in, as you asked whether Blues could hold out for…well…a long time. Arsenal started to play football more befitting their illustrious billing, but Blues looked to be a good match for them. Arsenal were creating half-chances but Blues players were chasing every ball and fighting for everything, pressurising the Gunners everywhere, from back to front. The game was open, even and exciting. Surely this wasn’t a Cup Final, given the disappointment of recent showcases?!
Bluenoses were determined to enjoy the show, and even a well-played equaliser forthcoming from the boot of Robin Van Persie couldn’t flatten the mood. The Arsenal end of the stadium let out its first and only real roar of the afternoon, but they were met with an equally impressive and wholly heartfilling rendition of KRO. Blues fans were here, they weren’t going anywhere, and they were behind their boys, all the way. Win, lose or draw, we do it together. Blues had lasted 40 minutes, and were in with a great shout.
Half-time came and went, and Blues fans started to get the sense that Blues could do this. The noise levels were rising, and the talk around the food and drink stations revolved around an effective performance as attention was paid to the performance, and not the magnitude of the occasion. It was almost as if you forgot that this was a Cup Final, such was the way that everything passed you by, like a dream. Had Nikola Zigic taken his second opportunity, Blues could’ve been in an even greater position, but we had done enough for now.
The second-half started in the same way that the first ended, and even though Arsenal were passing the ball well and spreading the play, Blues were right on top of them and didn’t allow them to breathe. The substitution of Craig Gardner threatened to destabilise Blues’ tremendous effort to-date, but with Beausejour moving to the left wing and Keith Fahey settling into the middle of the park. In the past, some Bluenoses have lambasted Fahey’s performance in the centre of midfield, citing his lack of strength, but he settled into the role excellently and started to pass the ball around the field with aplomb, making a greater impact on proceedings. Fahey himself had a chance to put his name into the record books again, and he was only denied by the woodwork. Having scored the goal which returned us to the Premier League, Fahey’s delicious half-volley looked to have done the trick again, but it hit the post and bounced agonisingly across the goal and away. So close. So so close, yet so far. However, that was enough.
Time passed on and as the clock ticked past 70 minutes, something changed. Blues fans’ belief enhanced. Foster had come to the rescue against Nasri and Bendtner, with two fantastic saves, and Blues were holding their own. Van Persie had left the field of play, and Nasri was again frustrated by Foster, and Blues were in with a fighting chance. The players were starting to fade, but the passion still stood firm. As Obamfemi Martins entered the field of play, Blues were in need of something special and he was the man for the occasion.
Fast forward to the 89th minute and, well you know what happened next. The ball dropped to Obafemi Martins, and the world stood still. Time stood still.
Bang. Crash. Wallop.
One kick of a football later, and the history of Birmingham City FC had forever been changed. Obafemi Martins. Super Oba. KIng Oba. SIr Oba. Heck, i'll call him Sire if he really wants me to. One half of Wembley stadium was sent into delerium, while the other half only watched on with a measure of disbelief. Was this really happening? Many Bluenoses were asking the same question, but looks to your left and right, and the sight of hundreds of inspiring flags waving valiantly in the wind assured you that this was real. Birmingham City were going to win the Carling Cup.
I'd love the explain the euphoria of the next few minutes and hours, but that is something quite unexplainable. If you are reading this article, no doubt you understand what I mean. This was a truly momentous occasion and the reaction at the final whistle was something to behold. It was a beautiful sight if ever i'd seen one. Players rushing here, there and everywhere. Ben Foster punching the air in pure delight. Captain Carr tensing his muscles and letting out a roar to the heavens. Alex McLeish jumping up and down like a child on Christmas Day. We had done it.
All this excludes the fans, who were simply amazing. Commentators and onlookers hailed Blues fans as possibly the noisiest fans to have ever graced the Wembley stage, and who can argue? This was one giant party, and the final whistle brought one heck of a party with it. Champagne, dancing, moments of pure emotion encapusalated in iconic images, and that was just on the pitch. In the stands, they chanted how we were all going "On a European Tour", and they were right. It just got better and better. You realised that not only had we won a cup, we were going to Europe too! Little Birmingham City, who no-one believed had a chance, were going into Europe.
The days that followed have been amazing and fantastic. I personally have read every match report and watched every bit of analysis possible. THe reception afforded to the team at the recent West Brom game was befitting of heroes.
There-in lies the truth. These boys are heroes. That squad. Those players. That manager. One of the loudest cheers of the presentation ceremony came as Alex McLeish and Carson Yeung lifted the Carling Cup Trophy in unison. That says it all about how us 'Noses value and rate our management duo.
They said we had no chance. This was Weneger's destiny. This was their moment. This was their time. No-one would stop Arsenal.
Clearly, they'd never heard of Birmingham City FC. We're all going on a European Tour, and after all these years of hurt, boy, we deserve it. Words don't do justice to the occasion; it was simply...unreal.
Promotions and Relegations come and go; players do as they please. But records, and trophies, and memories, last a lifetime. And this very proud Bluenose has been given a whole heap of memories from his team. Phillips against Brentford. Zigic against the Villa. Ridgewell, Bowyer, Johnson and Gardner in the semi-final. Obafemi Martins. We made history. Keep RIght On.