I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog about one of the best days ever but I’m still in a trance. Last Saturday, May 28th, Huddersfield Town met Sheffield United in the League 1 Play-Off Final. The Play-Offs, for those of you who don’t follow football, are the FA’s way of deciding which team gets the last spot (3rd of 3) to the next division up. Instead of doing it the obvious way i.e. whoever is 3rd in the league at the end of the season gets the 3rd place, someone decided to spice it up a bit. So, since 1986, whoever came 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th at the end of the season must have their destiny decided via a showdown. First comes the semi-final, which takes place over two legs, home and away. The winners of those two matches meet for the final. The final is held at Wembley as an added incentive to fans to make the match memorable (and to get them to shell out between £35 – £85 a ticket).
Match Day was glorious. Bright sunshine, blue skies. Perfick. We drove down the A1 to Cockfosters and caught the tube from there to Wembley Park. My daughter, Han, decided she had to bring her Town bath duck with us for good luck.
The Town duck arrives at Wembley Park
It was my first time at the new Wembley Stadium. I loved it! Elegant and grand it gave you a real sense of occasion.
the majestic arch
The dress code
merchandise for sale outside the stadium
The stadium beginning to fill up. The poor Sheffield United supporters had the full heat from the sun all match. Temperatures soared to 100f I’m guessing there were a few burnt bods afterwards.
As for the match. What can I say? It wasn’t the best display of football – finals never are because there’s too much at stake. Passes were poor at times, moves broke down and our star striker, Jordan Rhodes, was kept quiet by a determined Blades defence. It ended 0-0 at 90 minutes and 0-0 after extra time. That meant a penalty shoot-out. Arghhhh. Talk about tense. I turned away but then turned back again. I had to watch and I’m so glad I did because this particular shoot-out has gone down in footballing history.
We missed, they missed, we saved, they saved and then, inconceivably, we were all square. It was sudden death – where the first to miss is the loser – but nobody missed! On and on it went, through both teams. In the end it was keeper v keeper. Town’s Alex Smithies, the future England goalie, converted his OK but Simonsen blasted his attempt over the crossbar. The ecstasy and the agony; epic. You can read about it here.
And the crowd went wild…
The best bit was leaving the stadium afterwards. The Sheffield United fans dispersed pretty quickly but we stayed for ages to savour the moment. I did feel for the stewards – they were probably dying to get home to watch the Eurovision Song Contest and here we were running an hour late and showing no signs of leaving.
So out onto Wembley Way we poured, 22,000 happy Town fans (plus duck). We chanted; a low, addictive, rhythmic naaaah-na, naaaah-na (drum beat) na-na-nan-na-na, over and over again. The mounted police, alert, ready for trouble, heard it, saw us, relaxed and smiled. Passers-by joined in the humming, taking photographs of this blue and white army floating on a cloud of pure joy as it headed for the tube and the Championship.