Going to Ghana, Wembley

To wrap-up his blog, Adrian Hanauer recounts some remarkable moments at matches in both Ghana and England.

To wrap-up his blog, Adrian Hanauer recounts some remarkable moments at matches in both Ghana and England, the latter stop featuring the FA Cup Final and the playoff promotion final, played on consecutive days at Wembley Stadium.
From Porto, it was back to London, where a couple nights later we went to the second leg of the playoff at Cambridge. Our stadium was packed to the gills, close to 8,000 people. The only empty seats were in the traveling supporters’ section.

When I had first gotten involved with Cambridge, things looked grim. It looked like we were going down, getting relegated.

The club brought in Jimmy Quinn to manage. Over the second half of the season, Jimmy brought in some extra players and got things stabilized, enabling the club to avoid relegation.

This year we stayed among the top five all season in the Conference, the fifth tier of English football. The top team automatically gets promoted to the fourth tier, called League 2, and the next four go into a playoff for the second promotion spot.

We had finished second in the Conference, and we were facing Burton Albion, which had taken fifth. Our first leg finished 2-2 at Burton. This match would determine who moved on to Wembley Stadium and the playoff final.

On the night of that second leg, the noise our supporters created leading up to kickoff was tremendous, and the energy carried over to the players. In the first minute, Cambridge came down, hit a shot off the post, and then scored on the rebound. A fantastic start.

Burton tied it, but then Cambridge got the winner about midway through the second half. We won the game 2-1 and the playoff series 4-3 on aggregate.

After the final whistle, the atmosphere after the game was brilliant; all that emotion and support and then the fans flooding the field. We were now going to Wembley and a chance to earn promotion to the Football League. That promised to be an exciting prospect and I wouldn’t miss it, but for now it was back to business.

The next morning we were back at the airport, catching a flight to Accra, Ghana. Chris and I have some contacts there who helped to organize an itinerary filled with premier league games, first division games, youth team games, visits to youth academies, visits with team representative, and visits with players.

The youth games we attended were fairly relaxed, but when we went to a second division game it was quite interesting. They played the match on a dirt field, encircled completely by fans standing a couple feet outside the lines.

It was hot like you wouldn’t believe. I just can’t imagine playing 90 minutes in that heat and yet these guys were busting their behinds, slide tackling, getting knocked to the ground and getting back up, again and again.

At halftime, the home team coach took his players to the center circle. But instead of getting away from the noise, the fans moved on to the field, forming a circle around the players, yelling at them and giving them all sorts of hell. Honestly, it was a little scary.

The atmosphere was much different when we attended a premier league match. First, it was being played at their grand national stadium. The crowd was big but well behaved, and the fans were very passionate and knowledgeable.

The quality of play was also pretty high for this match between Hearts of Oak and Zaytuna. You can see why European teams are coming here to search for raw talent.  Upon leaving I was certain that we should keep an eye on the game in Ghana.

We left Ghana and at this point Chris and I split up. He was going home, as we had originally planned, but I was sticking around.

I flew back to London, where I had plans to watch two more games at Wembley Stadium: The FA Cup Final and the playoff final between Cambridge and Exeter. Cambridge United were allotted a block of tickets to the Cup Final, so I was able to have great seats for one of the great traditions in world football.

Given Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp’s days with the Seattle Sounders, and the 2006 visit of Cardiff to play the USL Sounders, I had a connection to both teams. So, I really was a neutral and was just hoping for a good game.

Portsmouth was a deserving winner, 1-0. I was a little disappointed with the quality of the overall match, but the atmosphere–with 90,000 people filling this great new stadium–was electric and I was happy to have experienced an FA Cup Final. 

The next day was the final of the Conference–or as it’s officially called, the Blue Square Premier League–between Exeter and Cambridge United. Just like the FA Cup Final, this was treated as a top-level game by everyone at Wembley. They didn’t open the upper deck, but all 46,000 seats below were full–23,000 from each club. All the important dignitaries were there, and the match was presented with great pomp and circumstance.

This was an enormous match for CUFC and I definitely had some nerves heading into Wembley. Unfortunately, at the end it felt as though we’d been kicked in the teeth.

Our guys didn’t come out playing in the first 20 minutes, and that’s when Exeter nicked a goal. Cambridge played hard and had a lot of good opportunities the rest of the way, but we couldn’t equalize and ended up losing 1-nil.

Now, the job starts all over again and we will try to build towards another great year at Cambridge, either by being promoted directly, or through another playoff and trip to Wembley.

That’s all for now.