MRB x HTAFC - WEMBLEY WEEKEND
We’re back again following The Terriers’ magical season with Brady Frost, one of the hosts of the Huddersfield Town fan podcast, And He Takes That Chance. He chats to fans about what the play-off final means to them as Town looked to return to the Premier League.
We’re on our way to Wembley. Click, clock and psst, the gas escapes another can of Town Lager. It’s almost as if it’s the soundtrack to our journey. The train to London is packed with Huddersfield Town fans young and old. ‘We can do it boys!’ cries one of the lads to his friend in the carriage filled with blue and white shirts. The play-off semi-final win against Luton was an outpouring of relief, but the mood ahead of the big game in the capital is one of excitement and nerves.
Hours pass and as the drinks flow, the laughs grow louder and as the train gets closer to its destination, you can feel the energy building. Fans get off the platform at Kings Cross and hurry across to get their connections to the stadium, there’s something in the air and it’s not just the loud burp from the intoxicated gentlemen further ahead. It’s the sense of hope. History is yet to be written and a feeling of quiet confidence emerges from the crowd…
It’s the hope that kills you. Look, it wasn’t our day. The season that surprised everyone, culminating in a trip to Wembley didn’t have the fairytale ending Town fans wanted. It stings. For all the joy football can bring you, it can also punch you in the stomach hard enough to make your eyes water. As tough as it feels now, over the coming days, the wounds will hurt a little less, the frustration will die down and the time for reflection can start on what has been a fantastic campaign. We’re not quite there yet though.
There’s a reason fans went in their droves to the capital from across the country and it’s not just for the football, it’s also what happens off the pitch that helps make it so special. The memories, the emotions, the time shared. Over 35,000 Huddersfield fans went to Wembley, each with their own story to tell about what the final means to them.
For Freddie Cocker, it’s a chance to spend time with his dad, Glen. Despite living in London, the two have seen Huddersfield Town up and down the country for the last 23 years together, through thick and thin.
“I almost lost my dad seven years ago to a stroke, which was before we got to the Premier League and I wasn’t sure if he’d ever get the chance to see Town in the top flight again. So for him to see us in the Premier League and for us to come close again after all that pain of relegation, it’s really special,” says Freddie.
He talks about the little inside jokes between them both, like how a cross-field pass that’s poorly executed is referred to as a ‘Jon Worthington special’ (former Town player, sorry Jon if you’re reading this), the game they play called hit and miss, where they wager whether a player is going to score or not in shooting practice based on their run-up. In his words, that’s what makes it special and a good day out every time, regardless of the result. The small quirks mean a big deal.
“As I’ve gotten older and thankfully he’s recovered, I try to make the most of the time I can have with him and that we spend together. When I was growing up, it felt like football was the main thing because you’re a kid and you want to win, but now it just feels like an opportunity to spend time with my dad.”
Despite the thousands of blue and white shirts on the east side of Wembley Stadium, you always run into someone you know. In the sea of glum faces after the final whistle, I bumped into one of my And He Takes That Chance colleagues, Dan Porritt. Dan’s family have been involved with Huddersfield Town since his great uncle, Walter, was a player for The Terriers back in the 1930s. He’s as passionate a supporter as you can come across and part of the fan group The Cowshed Loyal.
Dan started watching matches with his dad and brother over 30 years ago and it's four generations deep in his family. Basically, he’s proper Town. Now, he’s sharing the highs and lows that come with following this team with his sons, Oliver and Jack.
“Some will say: 'it's only a game' but as a football fan you invest so much time, effort and money into your club it means so much more. The boys are obviously gutted but it just shows how much passion they have and how much they care,” says Dan. “With all the technology available to kids these days, sometimes you feel as a parent you have 'lost' your child but at football, there are none of those distractions. It's just me and them for the day, all with the same common goal. You make a lot of sacrifices when you have kids to allow them to do the things they love, but when I walked out of Wembley Park Station and saw their eyes light up, every single sacrifice was worth it.
“Although it was a loss in a massive match, I had an overwhelming sense of pride that I'd achieved the aim of creating two more Huddersfield Town fans. Results come and go, success and failure come and go, but your team is your team and that's for life.”
Whatever the result, football gives us a chance to carry on lifelong traditions we had with people who are no longer with us. James Whittaker is one of those fans. James’ dad Pete passed away last year but he still makes it to every home game, often with his girlfriend Andrea, who he hopes to pass on the same infectious enthusiasm that gripped him from a young age. He’s still working on it, but as always she joined him for the game.
“The final meant a lot to me, with it being the first one without my dad. He came alive on these days. The AA directions, excessive packets of chewing gum, hands with nails bitten down to the very edge, ordnance survey maps and the nervous snappy responses were all missing from the game,” says James, as we discuss the aftermath of the final in the cold, harsh reality post-match. “My brother went to the game separately with his mates and my dad is the whole reason we were there, this is his legacy. He has made us who we are and got us there.”
James experienced it all with his dad when watching Town. The last-minute winners, the dismal defeats. The days where the result gives you a spring in your step or leaves you shaking your head. The joy of promotion to the Premier League five years ago as well as the crushing disappointment when they lost to Peterborough 3-0 in the League One play-off Final back in 2011. In James’ words, his dad would mention that you’ve got to have the bad times so it’s sweeter when the good days come. So, what would Pete say to offer words of comfort after this defeat?
“I imagine he would be philosophical,” says James. “I remember when we were threatened with relegation in the last two years and he said: ‘we’d still watch them in League One’, but particularly given the season we’ve had, I think he’d be positive about next year. He was always a glass half full man, although he almost certainly would have had some harsh words for the match officials.”
Harsh is an appropriate word and to lose the final 1-0 from an own goal and have big decisions go against you, well it’s rough. Still, it feels important to remember what the season has given us. After a difficult period following Huddersfield Town, manager Carlos Corberán, his coaching staff and this group of players have given us something that’s been missing for a while, belief. It proved the miracle fans witnessed when Town made it to the Premier League can be achieved once again and odds can be defied. Crucially, it felt great going to the football for the first time in a while, being proud of your team and creating more positive memories watching The Terriers - particularly after the hard times off the pitch for all of us in the past few years.
It’s also worth remembering the fun you had on the day. The excitement in the build-up to the final with your friends and family, the snippets of conversation that made you laugh to ease the nerves, the moments you shared together. As for the game itself, we can analyse the atmosphere, the key points from the match and the questionable (the word questionable is doing a lot of heavy lifting in this sentence) potential penalty decisions that happened during that 90 minutes but let’s not go there. Instead, I’ll leave you with the words from my stepdad, Andrew, as we raised our cans of Murk Life Balance back at the hotel, distracted by the anguish from earlier in the day.
“This is so frustrating, to come so close and yet be so far away… this has been an amazing season. I remember how we felt after that Fulham game in August where we lost 5-1 at home, I couldn’t have imagined us being here, in the play-off final. There’s another season right around the corner, we’ve got to look at it positively. I’m telling you, Town can go again.”
It’s the hope that kills you. But, right now as we lick our wounds, we fly the flags high, it’s enough to keep us going. Thinking about how the wrongs can be put right and how Huddersfield Town can go that one step further to return to the Premier League. We can’t control what happens on the pitch but we can make the most of it with the people who go to the games with us.
So when the next season starts, savour the pre-match chat and half-time breakdowns and enjoy the post-match pints raised in a toast to victory - they will be back.
Bring on July!