From Balham to Bayern

1967_european_cup_winners_cup_final_programme

Football allegiances, I believe, can be categorised into three sources: supporting your local team (very laudable); glory seeking (glory seeking) and parental indoctrination (who pays for your food?).

Balham United, of which the caretaker at my school, St Mary’s on Balham High Road, kept goal, was my local team growing up. They never featured on the ladder you could get at the start of the season in Shoot so I followed my dad’s team.  Dad went to Stamford Bridge for every home game and was a massive Chelsea fan (or Speedway as they had that when he was going, let’s stick to Chelsea or this article will become irrelevant very quickly).

Throughout the 1996/67 season my dad would take me to the Bridge. This was a time when football violence was becoming endemic and I was conscious of the intimidating atmosphere.  Dad and I would walk from our flat in Du Cane Court to Tooting Bec Station and get the 49 bus towards the home of Chelsea FC.

My dad was so keen to make me a Chelsea fan he took me to ex-Chelsea player Frank Blunstone’s shop on Lavender Hill and got me a Chelsea kit with a number 9 (Peter Osgood) on the back. There was no sponsorship, no team name.  The Chelsea logo on the front and the number 9 on the back.

On Saturday, May 20th 1967, Chelsea lost 1-2 to Spurs in the FA Cup Final (which this year, as I write this, will possibly be contended between non-league sides, Sutton and Lincoln – modern day Balham United equivalents).  I had decided, from my armchair, that this team was rubbish and the quest for a new team began.   I was, I hasten to add, more interested in cricket, but peer group pressure insists you follow a football team; my thought now was which one?

I was (I believe I still am) an only child. A consequence of this was that I was sent to bed, most days, exceptionally early.  In the summer the sun would be shining, but my mum’s little Mickey Mouse, was forced to have his beauty sleep.

Fortuitously, because of my dad’s passion for football, screamingly early bedtime was delayed on the school night of 31st May 1967, eleven days after I’d spurned the Blues like a rabid dog.

There wasn’t the proliferation of football on the TV in 1967 – if you’ve got a big enough satellite today you could watch football 24-hours (especially if you like hard-fought cup games in Timor Leste); this game was the first, live televised game after the English FA cup final.

The game was between Rangers (whom I assumed were from Canada) and Bayern Munich (could have been from anywhere). The event was the European Cup Winner’s Cup Final.  Dad explained it had been the previous season’s equivalent of the FA Cup winners in various European countries in a knock-out competition.  The cup doesn’t exist anymore and has gone the way of other pan-European tournaments like the Inter-Toto cup (Toto split from Inter and went on to record “Africa”).  Chelsea weren’t going to compete in that next season, obviously, which highlighted my need to change footballing support.

The game started at 7.30 PM (perilously near bedtime). I didn’t care that I was unaware of the competition, both teams meant nothing to me – I was in my jim-jams, but allowed to watch TV.  It was on this evening that I had a Damascene moment and realised there was a God – and he was possibly German.  The game was 0-0 after 90-minutes.  Dad realised the importance of the game (I couldn’t give a monkey’s – I was staying up late).  Extra time started (as far as I was concerned it was probably nearly time to get up it was so late) and after 109-minutes Bayern Munich scored.  The score remained at 1-0. Bayern had won the mouthful tournament the European Cup Winner’s Cup.  A team of winners.  I went to bed after ten o’clock, with, I swear, it was just getting light.

So, glory seeking it would be and the team I would support would be the team not from Canada, Bayern Munich.

During the following few seasons I wondered why Bayern Munich were never on March of the Day or The Big Match.  Wolverhampton Wanderers seemed to be on it a lot but they’d not won anything in Europe.  Derek Dougan wasn’t even singing the song for the Northern Ireland Eurovision Song Contest entry.

There was no such thing as the internet those days (which may have affected my eyesight even more if there had have been) so no way of keeping up with my new team’s news. The absence from football programmes in the UK was a conundrum for me.

It wasn’t until we started learning O-level Geography at Bec Grammar and focussing on North West Europe that I realised exactly why Bayern Munich had never featured having David Coleman commentating on a cold Tuesday evening at Stoke. The glory seeking also kicked in during the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico where six of the eleven West Germany players played for Bayern.

50 years on, Balham United possibly don’t even exist, Tooting & Mitcham have never threatened to win the Champions League, so continuation of following Bayern Munich has carried on. This is the sixteenth season I’ve had a season ticket and can say “where is the nearest chemist?” in German as well as my name, age and inside leg measurement.   I was there on Wednesday against the Arsenal and these days Thomas Müller has replaced his namesake Gerd as my hero. Auf geht’s Bayern (I think my clutch has gone).   If Bobby Tambling had scored a hat-trick on May 20th 1967, my Saturday morning travels would be slightly easier.  He didn’t, so 1,100-mile round journey every other weekend is now routine.

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