I haven’t got long to write this. In one of those quirks of fate I have to head off to get to somewhere very far away for work today. Last night we got in at eleven and I went to bed as soon as the adrenaline had stopped pumping round my body, which took a while but no way could I write. I’m not sure I can now.
Somehow telling the story of the day seems inadequate. We booked a bus instead of going by train as I was taking The Boy – no way was he missing this – and the information at the weekend was that the trains would be carnage. This meant little changes to the routine like entering the WSU from the other end, like going straight up to the seat, like having his normal a hundred and one questions played out in front of a small captive audience with suburban Brighton as the backdrop. Normally I’d throw something about superstition in there but it was an odd feeling. Having been convinced we wouldn’t do it all weekend a sort of calm optimism was descending on me and my bus mates. It was heightened when Sidwell and Knockaert were named in the team after all. We could do this.
So here I am, writing when I have no time, telling you about buses when I should instead be telling you about the enormous pride I feel for our club, for its owners and managers, for it players and for its fans. In our wonderful stadium. In our never say die attitude. In our pies and our proper ale. In our decency towards a set of fans who wouldn’t know humility if it Tangoed them (I’m very much Team Hull in the final, a set of fans who acted with dignity and respect in defeat at The Amex in a direct contrast with Wednesday). I’m telling you about the pride because I cannot, sadly, tell you about the achievement. It wasn’t for the lack of trying.
I have never heard noise like it in a home game. We’ve had some decent atmospheres over the Amex years no matter what people may say on NSC. Alan Mullery once famously opened the dressing room door so his players could hear a packed Goldstone and told them “that’s your team talk”. But at two nil down, with a depleted side, we had been asked to sing and to believe and we did both. How the players responded.
We went at Wednesday with pace and purpose. Twenty five thousand flags waved and twenty five thousand voices joined in the chant. Were there even any away fans in? We battered their goal. Knocky hit the post with an early free kick, just as Hemed had hit the post early on up there. Fine margins. We created chance after chance, song after song, sweat visibly dripping off the players, pain killers forgotten in surges of adrenaline, controlled this time unlike at Boro. Despite that early miss we scored early, Dunk forcing the ball in from close range. I thought The Amex was going to take off and fly to Woodingdean.
Unfortunately that was as good as it got. A lucky equaliser, a cross going straight in after Dunk was pushed away from clearing it, foul not given. Westwood in their goal having the night of his life. Five or six frightened Wednesday players on the line for every corner. Their constant time wasting. All served to frustrate us as we peppered their goal to no avail. And so, at the end, all that was left was pride.
I hope it’s enough. I hope the majority of this amazing group of players stays for another crack and I hope our incredibly impressive, professional, dignified, thoughtful manager does too. It CAN be done next season. I don’t rate Villa at all. Norwich are beatable. Newcastle will probably challenge for the title. But Boro and Burnley are gone and one other challenger will be too. We finished above everyone else this time round, by a considerable margin.
So we can go up next time. We need to remember that feeling though. Not the crushing pain of losing two “cup finals” in less than two weeks, nor the injustice of losing Stephens or bad luck with injury. It’s that feeling of Tomer Hemed standing on the advertising hordings at Fulham, arms splayed in celebration, of Skalak cracking in from 35 years, of the dignity and togetherness of Shoreham tributes, of coming from behind to beat Charlton 3-2, of giving Boro a damn good go in their own back yard with only ten men, of beating near neighbours Brentford, QPR and Fulham with such ease at home. That feeling of watching Knockaert dribble round countless players like a kid in the playground, watching Dunk and Goldson mopping up headers for fun, of Stockdale saving point blank, Kayal and Stephens like a pair of terriers in midfield, Bruno impossibly controlling a poor air-borne pass with one toe, Rosenior bleeding blue and white for his new club. Bobby coming back and scoring winners. Of all of us, for a change, singing the same song at the same time, non-stop. This isn’t where it ends. It’s where it begins. If all that happened this season just think what we can do in the next one.