It all started for me as an 11 year old, one Sunday evening in the Autumn of 1984. My brother brought his then girlfriend around for tea to introduce to the rest of the family. After the meal as we sat around talking, she asked if the television could be put on. Now for those of that generation you will know there was pretty much nothing worth watching on an early Sunday evening, apart from Love Boat or Bullseye. This however was not the case and it turned out she watched this game called American Football and her team Washington Redskins whose game highlights of their previous week was on. Kathy (The GF) tried her best to explain the basic rules to us and we gave it a go.
It became a regular thing in our house that every Sunday after tea we would watch the razzmatazz of the game. All the family picked a team, my Dad (Cowboys), Mum (Seahawks), brother (Raiders) and even the cat was given a team (Lions, well it was either that or the Bengals!).
But me? Why did I pick my team? Well I am not going to lie but I picked a team that were winners. My “football”(soccer) team is Bury and up until then (and still have) enjoyed very, very little success. As an 11 year old I wanted to follow someone who had more than a chance and San Francisco 49ers were just that! They were brilliant, they had a guy who threw the ball called “Joe Montana” to me he sounded like a private detective such as Magnum or Dan Tanner, and he wasn’t just good he was fantastic!
So I nailed my colours to their mast. I remember that year going looking for my Christmas presents whilst my parents were out and to my delight I found they had got me a Joe Montana shirt, I wanted to rip it out of its wrapping and wear it there and then. My parents could not understand why I ignored the big presents and rifled through my present sack until I found the parcel with it in, needless to say it was what I wore all of Christmas Day 1984 and drank everything from my new 49ers mug.
A few weeks later I remember going to bed in tears as I wasn’t allowed to stay up and watch the Superbowl. Then getting up the following morning to dash downstairs and put teletext on to see the score and we had won! The highlights of the game were on that night and I just sat watching it with a beaming smile as Joe put Dan Marino in his place.
As we know the next few years were to ultimately end in disappointment but it did not diminish my love of the game, and I would get hold of various magazines and lapped up as much as I could. I even went along with a friend to watch a few local matches for the Blackpool team “Fylde Falcons” but it just wasn’t the same.
We then had the golden years of 88 & 89, where we confirmed ourselves as the team of the decade. Unfortunately due to it being mock exams time, parental authority won the day again for Superbowl XXIII and I was once more forced to dash downstairs the following morning and view telextext for the result. Then after reading of the winning drive, fast forwarding through the VHS (slow) recording of the game and watching Joe’s pass to John Taylor over and over again.
1989 was the first Superbowl I was able to watch live, and I certainly picked a great one. With Joe being his most brilliant with his 5 TD passes as the Broncos were swept aside.
The next few years sewed the seeds of my current hatred of Giants and Cowboys as they seemed to take it in turns to break my heart, and even now I swear when Troy Aikman is on commentary! Then Steve Young finally got that monkey off his back and we won another and all in the world seemed well. That is until we met Brett Favre………..
The team’s barren years matched mine for following the sport as a whole as a combination of lifestyle and limited NFL coverage meant I could not give it the attention I once did. Thankfully changes to my life around 2006, especially meeting my future wife who loved the game too, (despite being a Bears fan) meant I could return to the devotion I once had, although it was a much harder devotion!
Then the announcement in 2009 that my team were going to play a proper game at Wembley, I just had to be there, it didn’t matter that we weren’t a great team, had a mental case for a Coach and anyone called Smith had a chance of being our QB, it was my team playing, in my country. It was the first true game I had been too and the whole day just passed in a flash and took me back to those Sunday tea times sat watching the highlights on Channel 4.
Then one evening, a couple of years later whilst flicking through pages on Facebook I came across a page called Niner Empire UK, it felt like finding family I never knew I had and it was great to share game day chats on there, and read about and see pictures from trips to “the Stick”, something to my deep regret I will sadly never experience. This happened around the time Harbraugh arrived and suddenly we were good again. And the ecstasy and agony returned. From leaping around my front room like a lunatic for “The Catch III” , to a week later shedding tears when Kyle Williams fumbled the ball.
The following year and we were back in the big one, sadly we know how it ended but good things came of that night as Niner Faithful UK had our first meet up. To finally meet cyber friends in the flesh was great. The overriding memory of that being the start of the second half with Brian Davis giving a rousing Churchillian speech in front of the big screen, oblivious to the fact Jones was returning the kick-off as the rest of us just sat there open mouthed.
And this brings us up to the present day and with not only how strong the team currently are and the promise of great things to come but the fact that I am going to go through the journey of the team with some new great friends makes me even more grateful to my brother’s girlfriend, who has long since gone as I have much to thank her for and have remained faithful even as 49ers put me through has much misery as Bury have!