David Blunkett is pictured at 19 when he was a student. David’s mum was horrified by the idea that he would set out on his own from Sheffield to meet a friend in London
Tonight Sheffield Wednesday will play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in West London in the FA Cup.
Not big news, you might think, for anyone except avid supporters of the two teams. But if you’re not, don’t turn the page!
There is a story behind this match that involves two blind people finding each other, out of the blue and without aid, in a scrum of supporters outside Stamford Bridge in another cup clash more than 50 years ago.
It all goes back to April 1967 when Chelsea were playing Sheffield Wednesday in the quarter-final. Tonight’s rematch will only take the winner into the last 16 – but it will be no less emotional for me.
Born with no sight at all, in 1967 I was in my late teens. So was my friend Tony Randall, though he had a tiny bit of sight – enough to see obstacles up to two or three feet in front of him.
Neither of us had guide dogs so, equipped with a small white folding cane each, we had become accustomed to facing the impossible and managing the improbable.
Both of us were at college in Shropshire but the match day fell in the Easter holidays when Tony was at home in Woking, Surrey, and I was living with my mum in Sheffield.
We had decided that we would go to the quarter-final. Tony supported Chelsea and I, of course, supported Sheffield Wednesday.
There is a story behind this match that involves two blind people finding each other, out of the blue and without aid, in a scrum of supporters outside Stamford Bridge in another cup clash more than 50 years ago. The modern stadium is pictured above [File photo]
It has to be said that my mum wasn’t as enthusiastic about my adventures and determination to demonstrate my independence as I was.
In fact, she was horrified by the idea that I would set out on my own from Sheffield to meet a friend in London – and even more so when she discovered I was going on my own on one of the club coaches.
God knows what possessed both of us to think we could meet outside a packed football ground at a time when mobile phones were non-existent, and we had no other means of locating each other.
In those days, pig-headedness was probably a kind way of describing the tenacity and sometimes bloody-mindedness that I certainly exuded, in seeking to demonstrate that I could ‘do things on my own’.
It probably stood me in good stead in later life, not least in the political arena, but at the time it must have looked bizarre both to my family and to those around me.
So, I set out on the local bus, made it to the coach station and with the assistance of those already ensconced, found my seat.
I did accept a bit of help at the stop-off point for a toilet break and a cup of tea on the way down but rejected the kind offers of other supporters to take me under their wing for the afternoon.
The former Home Secretary David Blunkett recalls the most reckless adventure of his life. He and a friend asked the two people sitting behind them to give them a match commentary [File photo]
I was going to find my friend, and we were going to do this ourselves come hell or high water!
Of course, I wasn’t daft enough not to follow the crowd from the bus station in London to the ground itself.
It has to be remembered that 50 years ago people still talked to each other, stopped when approached in the street for directions, and generally were not worried someone was about to assault them.
Nevertheless, I don’t think either of us fully appreciated the vast crowds (Stamford Bridge was able to accommodate very much larger numbers than the 40,000 or so limit it has today – 52,000 were there) and just what a maelstrom of noise and confusion would face us.
Even if I had accepted help, I wasn’t in a position to exactly describe Tony to anyone looking out for him, and in the crowd a white stick would have been impossible to see.
But, and this is a true story, a minor miracle happened.
I arrived at the main gates and stood for a moment contemplating the enormity of what we had arranged to do.
Was I completely crazy? What was going to happen if I couldn’t find him? Then I simply raised my voice and shouted: ‘Tony?’
A voice some feet away in the crowd shouted ‘David!’, and there he was – two blind people meeting up with hundreds of fans around them in what must have been a one-in-a-million chance of actually arriving in much the same place at much the same time.
But the afternoon was not over. The next task was to find the appropriate turnstile and then, with a bit of common sense prevailing, to ask one of the stewards to help us to the seats we had reserved.
Back in the late 1960s, there was no ‘audio describe’, no commentary that could be accessed over earphones, and no multiplicity of radio outlets which might have been covering the game.
Tonight Sheffield Wednesday will play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in West London in the FA Cup. Tonight I will be at Stamford Bridge again, but with my family. And this time the score really will matter! [File photo]
We therefore did something, which in retrospect was not only a bit cheeky, but probably deeply intrusive on someone else’s enjoyment of a Saturday afternoon: we asked the two people behind us if they would give us a commentary.
God bless them, they did – and if they’re still alive, I’d like to say thank you. Their kindness ensured that our day out wasn’t wasted.
Sadly for me, Chelsea won 1-0. This was not just deeply disappointing but came on the back of Sheffield Wednesday reaching the Cup Final the year before, when we were defeated by Everton at Wembley, having been 2-0 up and on track to record a historic victory for the club, which had not won the Cup since the mid-1930s.
Regrettably, they haven’t done so since, although they came close on a couple of occasions in the 1990s.
But I won’t remember that day for the result: instead for the extraordinary sequence of events, the risks that we both took, and the hand of fate that ensured we survived.
Tonight I will be at Stamford Bridge again, but with my family. And this time the score really will matter!