Trip in a sentence:
Toronto-Manchester-Sheffield-Wembley and back again in 64 hours, only to see my club rip my heart out by losing in the most gut-wrenching fashion you could imagine.
How it came to this:
- Firstly, for some background on me as a Sheffield United fan, here’s a piece I wrote a while back
on life as a lower-league footy fan. That’s your primer.
- Last season started with hopes of challenging for the League Championship playoffs. It ended,
after 8 months of hellish football, in relegation. League One was a grim prospect.
- A great league season this year made all feel right again. We were winning games for fun and flying
towards promotion. Then this happened. Our best player and leading scorer by a mile,
Ched Evans was convicted of rape. Disgusting. On so many levels.
- 5 points from promotion with 3 matches to go, the finish line WAS still in sight. 0-1 at MK Dons, 2-2
vs Stevenage and 2-2 at Exeter followed. . 90 points. Good only for 3rd place. Behind Charlton and
Sheffield Wednesday. Yes, hated, bitter rivals Sheffield Wednesday. The playoffs loomed.
- After a tight 1-0 win over Stevenage over 2 legs (an 85′ winner in the 2nd leg), the Blades were heading
back to Wembley and a playoff final. Recent history was not on the Blades’ side, having lost finals to
Burnley, Wolves and Crystal Palace in the last 15 years. Huddersfield were the opponent this time.
- The club took care of my Dad and I as always. As soon as we got off the plane in Manchester we headed
to Bramall Lane. Tickets and new kits in hand (courtesy our pal Mick Rooker), we were ready for
Wembley the next morning.
- A glorious, sunny 25-degree day set us off right as we got on a coach at Sheffield Arena to head
to Wembley. I was also crushingly hungover and running on very little sleep. Good.
- It was my first trip to Wembley, old or new. Very impressive. The electricity of 30 thousand Blades
on “Olympic Way” only added to my excitement, nerves, and overall feeling of needing to vomit.
- After soaking up the Wembley atmosphere, my Dad and I hit the tube to meet up with other
“exiled Blades” from around the world to soak up some pints. 4 pints later, the nerves were settling.
Amazingly I was somehow “enjoying myself”. It wouldn’t last.
- The walk back up to Wembley was quite simply a spectacle. Blades fans in full voice (and full of booze)
drenched in the London sun. Goosebumps.
- Perched high up in Wembley, my Pops and I had a birds-eye view of what was an open 1st half, but
one with few chances of note. 0-0 at half. I could handle that.
- The match burst in to life in the 2nd half, with Huddy smacking the woodwork on 47 minutes.
They would continue to have the better chances, with the Blades clearing the ball off the line
twice, and ‘keeper Steve Simonsen making 2 great saves. Off to extra-time, somewhat luckily for us.
Maybe luck was on OUR side this time? Feeling confident now.
- Both teams went for it enough in extra-time. Hearts were in mouths for all of it. But alas, it was going
to come down to penalties. Of course it was.
- The whole journey hinged on this shootout. Worth it or not? Elated or devastated coming home?
- Huddersfield won the coin toss and decided to shoot in front of their fans, opposite us.
- Although it’s all a bit of an emotional blur, I know for certain I was physically shaking from the time
Huddersfield’s Tommy Miller stepped up for the first penalty. He missed.
- So did the Blades Lee Williamson. Then they missed again. We scored. 1-0 after 2 pens each.
- We were in control. Then, they missed again. It was Brazil in Copa ’11. Here was our reaction,
thinking it was in the bag:
- Well to bring us down from that high, Matt Lowton missed the penalty that would have put us up 2-0.
- Huddersfield then finally scored, 1-1. But we were still in the driver’s seat if we scored out 4th.
We didn’t. Andy Taylor, brought on in the 120th minute, solely to take a penalty, hit the post.
All up in the air once again.
- They scored their 5th. In what seemed like seconds we’d gone from feeling like we’d done it to being
a miss away from losing. Unbearable. *holds back vomit*
- We scored! 2-2 after 5 penalties, sudden-death time. When it gets to this point, it really is an advantage
to go first. A tiny bit less pressure… if that’s possible.
- They score, 3-2. That’s it, we’re going to miss. We score 3-3. Breathe. For 3 seconds.
- They score, 4-3. We score, 4-4. They score, 5-4. We score, 5-5. They score, 6-5. We score, 6-6.
- At some point in all of this I looked around at the Blades fans surrounding me. All as nervous and
utterly gripped as I was. Something special to share that, like a family in many ways.
- Not to get too over-dramatic, but a kid about 10 years old looked at me with this wry smile
and all I could do was smile back. We’re in it together either way kiddo. But please, get out NOW!
- They score. 7-6. Our last outfield player, Defender Matt Hill… scores! 7-7. What now?! Everyone’s gone.
- Oh right, time for the ‘keepers to shoot. Of course.
- I CAN’T TAKE THIS.
- Their keeper Alex Smithies steps up… Simonsen gets a piece. YAA… And then you hear it. The wave of
sound from the other end of the ground. It takes half a second to travel across Wembley. But it’s
unmistakeable. And painful. It slips in the side of the net. Stunned silence from 30,000 Blades.
- Simonsen, the hero in the 120 minutes and the beginning of the shootout now has to score his penalty
or we’re done.
- He steps up… and then it comes again. that wall of sound crackling across the Wembley pitch,
up the stands and in to my heart like a stake. Simmo skied it. Dropped to the floor in agony along with
the other Blades players.
- I could only turn away and slump down, holding my face in my hands. Other than one guy bashing away
at his seat in anger, you could pretty much hear a pin drop. And, of course, ecstatic Huddy fans
across the stadium. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I did a combination of both. I couldn’t
even bare to look at my Dad, who has endured this for 23 years longer than I have. Poor bastard.
- Thoughts of next season filled my head. Lowton and Maguire will be gone. Quinny too. That will
be the last of Simonsen with us… what a way to end it. What a waste of a trip. All this for heartbreak.
- But then, something pretty special. the Blades players dragged themselves off the pitch, made a beeline
for our end and clapped the travelling support still basking in the sun, but feeling ice cold from head
to toe. Little anger, tons of disappointment … and in unison, applauding their heroes who had just let
them down. Again. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I’d read in an article on the plane over,
“we are a sum of our experiences”… and that came back to me in that moment, because THAT had been
an experience. I’d never been more proud to be a Blade.
- See you in League One again next season *shudder*
once in a while though, wouldn’t it?