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Carling Cup Final: Slumdog in With the Millionaires at Wembley

I watched the master-class film “Slumdog Millionaire” last night, as I couldn’t sleep before the showpiece event the next day.

How on earth could a…a…a Slumdog…possibly win Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Almost the same question had been asked to me for the past week.

How on earth could a Gillingham fan, a Slumdog Gillingham fan, possibly get tickets to watch Manchester United play Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup Final at Wembley?

In with the nearly 89,000 millionaires in one of the world’s finest stadiums, I really did feel like a Slumdog sitting next to people so rich in watching pure quality week after week in arguably the world’s greatest football league.

I am a Gillingham season ticket holder, and I get to see “real football”; pure, honest lower league football.

My companion is a Tottenham season ticket holder, he gets to see extravagant football; exciting, pulsating, jaw-dropping Premier League football.

I found out the fellow season ticket holder sitting the other side of me, this clean-cut fully suited elegant business-looking man, was actually an FC Barcelona season ticket holder, who thought he’d come to London to see what “real” British football has to offer.

League Two sandwiched in between the Premier League and La Liga. Despite having a £60 ticket for today’s game, clearly I was not a Slumdog Millionaire, just the Slumdog in with the millionaires.

Only 24 hours before sitting in front of a worldwide audience, I was at the relatively unknown KRBS Priestfield stadium, watching my Gillingham team scrape past AFC Bournemouth in front of a whopping 5,353 four levels down the English football hierarchy.

Fast forward a day and I’m at the place where the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final will be held, the home of English football: the new Wembley. And there in North London sits 88,216 millionaires, and a Slumdog awaiting to be dazzled.

I look at my programme and the squad lists of both sides and dream of seeing even just one of them week in week out. How I’d love to have Heurelho Gomes in goal for the Gills.

As this showpiece event, the exciting, highly-anticipated, most least prestigious trophy of top-flight football with a name changed regularly by a sponsor begins, I sit back in awe and wonder and watch hundreds of millions of pounds worth of talent strut their stuff in front of the world.

In the opening stages, a young striker has a chance before another youngster, this one a Republic of Ireland international, hits a shot I can only dream of that goes just narrowly wide of the mark.

Then the winger in white, a £1m man who has played at the highest international level, terrorises the French international red left-back, whose £5.5m worth of talent cannot stop him getting destroyed.

This winger in white, called Aaron Lennon, is definitely a player Mark Stimson should bring to Priestfield, if at all possible…

This Lennon guy seemed real good, but he just couldn’t get past the Red Captain, a man plucked out of a Peckham council estate who goes by the name of Rio Ferdinand.

Ferdinand is England’s first-choice center-back with John Terry and has 72 caps to his name. He’s also the world’s most expensive defender with his team, Manchester United, reportedly shelling out £33m for the guy.

He seems good, I like this guy; he seems almost as good as our man, the one and only Simon King, who seems destined for the top after commanding a £250,000 transfer fee.

As the game wore on I saw pure pace, power, skill, accuracy, technique, strength, creativity, and that special touch of pure class from a Portuguese man who is wanted by some men in white (who are called Real Madrid).

From his audacious free-kicks, to his slick passing, to his creative mind-blowing skills, Cristiano Ronaldo is a player that would even make Gills legend Nicky Southall proud. If he can be compared to Nicky Southall, then this man should definitely be the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner.

Another man who I simply stared at in amazement was a chap called Roman Pavlyuchenko; the first ever Russia international to play in the Carling Cup Final.

The green-booted £14m striker hit shots that would go down well in yesterday’s action at the Six Nations rugby tournament. League Two PFA Player of the Month for January, Simeon Jackson, has 14 goals to his name this season and is a slightly cheaper option with a transfer fee of £150,000. I think I’ll stick with this one for Gillingham.

As a slumdog I felt like a millionaire seeing football of such a high caliber, and was so thankful when the best player in the world failed to win the trophy for Manchester United.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliant effort smacking the inside of the post before rebounding out to his younger, more expensive, £17m Portuguese compatriot Nani. Nani, who stunningly did nothing with the ball, but hit it out for a goal kick.

Thankfully for me, that meant the Slumdog called Yoosof was gifted to another 30 minutes extra of millionaire football. It came and went, with a player more legendary than ex-Gillingham player and now Dover Athletic manager Andy Hessenthaler, welsh wizard Ryan Giggs, coming on, but not able to add to his mind-blowing tally of trophies in this extra time period.

However then came the most intense, dramatic, thrilling, pulsating, agonisingly painful moment of the game.

The penalty shootout was upon us, and even though being also a United supporter, I saw myself as a neutral because I was in the white side of the stadium. I could not look as memories of the true love of my life came flashing back.

The last penalty shootout I saw live prevented a much anticipated and I hoped for a trip to the greatest stadium in England to play in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final. At the KRBS Priestfield stadium, my beloved Gillingham succumbed to Paul Ince’s MK Dons on penalties in the semi-final.

It was at that point where all the hard work had evaporated; a few lucky kicks giving the less hard working visitors a somewhat undeserved, exciting and unforgettable day out.

As the slumdog recalled those events, the red millionaires were cheering and waving all up and down in delirious delight.

A young £18m Brazilian midfielder called Anderson converted the last spot kick, after Manchester United had converted their three others through Ryan Giggs, Carlos Tevez, and Cristiano Ronaldo to create a cacophony of excited happiness around approximately 50 percent of the stadium.

An unsure Jamie O’Hara and a David Bentley miss ensured Croatian international defender Vedran Corluka’s successful penalty would count for nothing.

It was dead silence in the Tottenham Hotspur end as Spurs could not hold onto their Carling Cup crown, meaning the UEFA Cup will now be almost impossible to reach. But if it’s any consolation, at least they’re in the top flight…for now.

The most pivotal point in deciding the champions had bypassed this Gillingham slumdog, although I got over my agony just in time to see Rio Ferdinand lift aloft the trophy in front of a half deserted Tottenham area.

After staying around to see the official World Club Champions parade around yet another trophy, the agony that had finally shifted out of my mind came back. I forgot I wasn’t in Gillingham, and would have to wait my turn amongst 30,000 others to climb aboard the packed tube back to Central London.

However, I managed to get over the agonisingly boring disappointment of waiting by simply recalling the events of what I had just saw in that mighty fine theater of dreams.

I was a Slumdog, who was treated to some real millionaire football from quite possibly the greatest team in the world, Manchester United*.


*Officially of course; we all know the “real” greatest team on earth is Gillingham FC.



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