As lovers of soccer, we all get caught up in games. But every now and then, there is one game that stands out from the rest. And it can be for a host of reasons. Seeing your team lifting silverware, a dramatic last gap winner, a triumph against your bitter rivals or even just a great away trip with your mates are all factors that can contribute to the perfect match day experience.
Thinking back to my favorite game involving my team – Everton – it is difficult to believe that the clash was four years ago. So many things about the day itself are so vividly etched into my memory.
Everton were playing Manchester United in the 2009 FA Cup Semi Final. I was 19 years old at the time, so the prospect of the Blues taking to the Wembley turf was an unknown experience. Waking up on the day itself, I was met with a plethora of contrasting emotions, with nervous anticipation being the most dominant. But that was settled by a few early beers on the way down to London.
On arrival in the capital, we found a pub overflowing with Evertonians and settled in for the afternoon. The Toffees faithful went through their full repertoire of songs and it was abundantly clear the Blues were in exceptionally high spirits.
These spirits were buoyed further by the news that the Manchester United (who were still on to win 5 trophies at the time) line-up did not feature Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo. A chance? Perhaps, but Evertonians have become accustomed to keeping their emotions – especially optimism – in check.
Heading down to the stadium itself, the noise from the Evertonians both on Wembley way and inside the ground itself was nothing short of phenomenal. Taking my seat and gazing at our end, awash with blue and white, was one of those ‘shivers down your spine’ moments.
Bizarrely, if there’s period of the day from which my memory is somewhat vague, it is the game itself. Maybe it was because of the tension, maybe it’s because it was just a scrappy affair (it wasn’t because of the alcohol, honest). Nemanja Vidic was at his dominating best and the Toffees forwards struggled to break down the United defense.
For Everton, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were conducting similarly excellent defensive jobs. Everton substitute James Vaughan missed a couple of good chances and United were denied what looked a clear penalty, but other than that, the 120 minutes of goalless football that passed by were fairly uneventful.
But the subsequent penalty shootout was anything but. Everton’s first taker, the Aussie talisman Tim Cahill, skied his effort over the bar. My initial reaction? “Here we go again, typical Everton.”
But that feeling of dejection didn’t last, as Dimitar Berbatov practically passed the ball to Tim Howard. This was followed by Leighton Baines smashing the ball into the roof of the net, before Howard saved again, this time from Rio Ferdinand. James Vaughan and Phil Neville both netted for Everton, as did Vidic and Anderson for United.