CARDIFF – 10 YEARS ON: Wednesday -v- Hartlepool – RAMBLE
The excitement building up to this game was unbearable, I don’t think we’d slept since the semi-final against Brentford.
My heart is still pounding now thinking back over it all, this last wonderful, golden period in our club’s history. It’s been filled with such joy, so getting up on this morning… THE morning that would either crown it all off or bring us down with such a loud crash I doubt we’d ever recover.
It didn’t take us long to get loaded up and bid Mrs Beastie a fond farewell… would we ever see her again after this? Did she even care?
The plan was to drive down to Bristol which is where we’d decided to set up Camp Beastie, at the Thistle Hotel, the plan being to have a good night out, settle in, get up tomorrow and make the short train journey to Cardiff.
As we’re driving down the motorway we kept passing car after car stuffed to the gunwales with optimum Owls flaggage and every time we overtook one there were waves, thumbs up and huge beaming smiles from both cars.
Other than that the drive down was pretty uneventful, well, I say uneventful, except for the turn we needed to take actual in Bristol to get to our hotel had a road block and diversion sign…
Was SatNav around in 2005? Not that it would have helped Beastie…
That meant we had to find another way in and the diversion was determined that it wasn’t going to be easy…it sent us around the city one way system… not once… not even twice… FIVE CHUFFIN TIMES!
I know what ya thinking: ‘You were lost Beastie!’
We weren’t exactly lost, we knew exactly where we were at any given time, chuff me, we got to know Bristol very well indeed by the fifth time round… I think people were queuing up to wave to us as we passed them.
“COOEE! Look Mabel, they’re here again….wave to the Northerners!”
Oh hell yeah, we weren’t lost, we knew exactly where we were and what we were doing at every twist and turn, we just didn’t know how to get off the ride and find where we needed to be.
As we reversed up a side street (the same side street we’d reversed up 3 times already) a bloke sussed we were lost, no idea how, and gave us directions. Fortunately they were very good, CONCISE directions (plus a little mime to make sure I understood what ‘turn’ meant). Oh aye, easy this direction finding lark.
Just as we’re approaching the hotel Oldskool rings and asks which one we’re in…
“Something called the Thistle mate….”
“WAH! That’s the same as us”
“Aye… Didn’t I tell you?”
I hadn’t told him on purpose so it would be a nice surprise… or shock, whichever way ya look at it.
We got settled into our room, got changed and we were ready for a nice steady night out.
Down in the bar we meet and greet both Oldskool and Neet Owl who are also changed looking dapper and are ready to go.
This was a new city for us so me, Hollie and Neet Owl didn’t have a clue about Bristol… not a clue… we needn’t have worried though as Oldskool chirps in with ‘I love Bristol, I know this place like the back of my hand!’
Excellent stuff, should be good then!
‘I’ll take you to where all the good pubs and bars are, trust me!’
Too much effort for a pint?
We must have walked 5 miles, I kid you not.
5 long, arduous, soul searching miles… any longer and I was gonna start eating Neet Owl to survive. Worse than that, worse than the struggle of body and mind, we actually passed the starting point 3 times and when we eventually got to the pub Oldskool had in mind, it was 20 feet away… literally 20 feet away from the front doorstep of our hotel.
How can anyone know a city less than this? If Oldskool knew this place like the back of his hand, when was the last time he saw his hand?
Had it been in an industrial accident? It was the only explanation!
Still it was good fun finding our way about, stopping at pubs along the way, teasing Oldskool about us three already knowing Bristol better than he did!
Several drinks and one very expensive curry later it was beddy-byes time, we needed our sleep to be ready for a long day tomorrow…
Me and the Young Un aren’t ya sort of folk that like to roll out of bed early, not even when we’re excited.
We need our snooze time… It was no surprise then that Oldskool and Neeters had already left for Cardiff and we were to make our way there and meet up with them at some point.
We make our way down to the train station and amble onto platform 3, I look around and see we are amongst a handful of fellow Owls and what seemed like many, many handfuls of Poolies, we were easily outnumbered here.
You’d think there’d be a bit of fizz in the air at this point, that everyone would be chanting are singing and getting in the mood but there seemed a subdued mood about things at the moment.
Would hazard a guess it was a trifle busier in ’05
For my part I was pleased I wasn’t dashing for yet another sh*t before dinner time, as had been the norm every day for the week leading up to the final as nerves started to get the better of me.
The nerves had gone for the moment, and there was an eerie calm at Bristol train station, though not because of my toilet habits, as far as I know.
I didn’t really understand the nerves things… if it had been getting to me all week why was it now in check?
I mean this was like all my Christmases and Birthdays as a kid rolled into one, this was THE most important day of my Wednesday life. Missing out on the Wembley dates before due to work commitments at the time, and even though I’d been there and celebrated when we’d been promoted before, this was something else.
This was different – NONE of us – no Wednesday fan alive or dead had experienced the play-offs so we were into unchartered territory.
This meant more than any Wednesday moment before for me. I was there with the Young Un. Another key moment for us to share, and good or bad we would remember this day and the time we spend together. We were both determined to make the most of it all and take everything in and ring every last drop out of the whole occasion.
Like most young Owls fans of her age she’s only known heartache and disappointment. She was haloed by the now customary malaise that younger owls Owls have learned to wear so well.
This day was for her, and for all young Owls, this was their pay day. Their reward for not straying when it would have been oh so easy to call it quits or go watch Man Utd.
We took a few photos on the platform, of each other, of the other fans, all of it but we didn’t really speak either.
Whether that was sleepiness, hangover or nerves I don’t know but we needed to pace ourselves today… it was gonna be a long un… whatever happened it was gonna be a long old day.
That downbeat mood continued on the train and though we idly chatted away it wasn’t about what was to come, when we slowed into Cardiff station though, the twitching started again…
We looked out of the train window, there was a low wall running alongside the tracks, buildings, buildings, buildings, FLASH OF BLUE, buildings, FLASH OF BLUE, building, building, FLASH…
Every now and again, a glimpse of Wednesday fans… tantalising… the stadium peering out from behind the buildings further back…
My heart quickened… we looked at each other, trying to contain our excitement. A smile flashed across both of our faces and we looked outside again – more blue, more fans, was that a bit of noise as well?
Closer to Cardiff station and the gaps disappeared, just buildings blocking our way and the train juddered to a halt.
Off we got and as we walked out of the station, a Poolie at my side asked how I thought the game would go:
“Dunno….I’m Sh*tting it mate!”
Good luck, Poolies.
“Sh*tting it?! Really?” he asked astounded.
“Aye, literally sh*tting it… 5 or 6 a day for the last week. You never know with finals like this do ya?”
He was genuinely shocked that I could be worried about whether we’d win or not as he said all the Pools fans thought they were coming simply to make the numbers up more or less and with that in mind were determined to have a cracking day out.
I shook his hand firmly and wished him all the very best for the day ahead and to have a good ‘un, no matter what.
He was the first of many.
Outside the station they were selling play-off shirts for both clubs along with blow up trophies. The Young Un wanted both but I couldn’t bear it, it might jinx the whole day, so I gave her the standard thing you say to kids, ‘we’ll get it on the way back…’
As we walk down the road away from the Train station and into blinding sunshine our breath was taken away.
Masses of Blue and White shirts, they were everywhere, from shop doorways on the left to shop doorways on the right, it was wall to wall with Wednesday fans, all moving forward, all chattering, all smiling… we followed the crowd…
We didn’t know where we were going, what the ‘plan’ was, or anything.
”Let’s just see where this lot takes us”
We turn the corner….
Wednesday fans… everywhere (Image – @andypars)
As far as the eye can see… there were Owls fans everywhere! Stealers Wheel anyone?
Owls to the left of me, Owls to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with the Young Un.
I thought there was a lot before, that was nothing… as we’d turned that corner it was like some holy meeting point – a blue and white Mecca, it was truly, truly breathtaking… footy hats, jesters hats, octopus hats, top hats… hats hats, hats, caps, hats, if there was a style of hat to be worn, it was here and it was a blue and white version!
There was also loads of police but even they seemed in a party mood, they were smiling and they were relaxed, helping to keep the mood light.
We continued walking through wave after wave of blue and white, bouncing, bumping, staggering, tripping, falling…more bouncing… once you got caught up in a bounce you had no choice, you simply had to bounce… otherwise you were a Blade… or so I’d heard anyway… and as ya bounced it was accompanied by the bouncing song… of course it was!
Vaughan declares early against Bangladesh to get on it with the Owls… or so the legend goes
There were celebrities everywhere… Captain America, Big Hat Jock, Ali G, the real Michael Vaughan, the real Big Fat Ron… both of em minced past us, Michael Vaughan looked worse for wear to be fair!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many painted faces in one place, painted faces, painted hair, painted bodies, writing on faces, beer after beer, song after song, banner after banner, if this was an amusement park this was the greatest ride in history!
Every now and again we’d see a familiar face, we’d hug… if that wasn’t possible we’d shake hands, old friends and new friends, people we’d never met before we hugged them all!
There were footballs being booted up and down, someone would grab a ball, hoof it as hard as they could into the air to cheers from others, it would come down on someone’s head, they’d grab it and then be cheered on to do the same again…but get it higher!
There were dozens of balls in the air, and scarves, the sky was full of blue and white… stuff, balls, scarves, hats, paper, anything they could get their hands on and so many inflatable things flying about, it seemed like everyone had brought something to blow up and chuck about the atmosphere was incredible, so very, very happy…
As we walked along we tried to take it all in… everything… we wanted every last drop of what was happening around us… we passed the Stirling Owls flag…outside pubs there were huge hoppers full of ice crammed with bottles of beer…and of course, there were more songs!
A lone voice started up amidst the masses…
Somehow the atmosphere bettered the one experience here
“I NEVER FELT MORE LIKE SINGING THE BLUES”
It didn’t take much, a moment later and everyone was joining in.
I thought there were no more corners to turn, that we couldn’t possibly see more blue and white than we already had but as we turned yet another corner, there before us, as far as the eye could see, even more blue and white, this was indeed an army and we had come together for an incredible battle.
We had arranged a few meet ups with folk and we set about them as best we could, ducking and diving in and out of the blue and white bodies, there were a few recognisable ‘old’ faces and some very new ones, people we’d spoken to many times on-line but never actually met in person…
It’s always great to meet new people, and under these circumstances even better… at last, it was time to put a face to the name…
Some of these people, the more I meet em the more I like em…
Of course there was fellow hotel sharers, Oldskool and Night Owl who’d directed us to where they were waiting outside the Red Rooms, Big Andy and his mates were bouncing out a few drunken toons in the sunshine, the intimate atmosphere in this group was reflected all around: everywhere you looked there were tables, benches, walls, all taken over by groups of Wednesday fans singing, chatting, getting excited, getting nervous together.
Hoyland and young Kizza are there of course and Hoyland is in hyper mood, not just because of the football, the weekend and everything that’s going on around him but more than that, something that blows all of that right out of the water. He’d found an incredible bargain!
50p! 50p! 50p!!!
Forget ya footy rattles, forget ya ten quid air horns… look at this…he proudly held forward…
Well, I wasn’t sure what it was to be honest… Some kind of thing you blow that makes a noise…
“You waint believe it, but it onny cost…” pause for dramatic effect… “FIFTY PEE!!”
“50p, 50p!” he repeated over and over, each time slightly more incredulous, like they’d sold him a Van Gogh painting without actually knowing what they’d sold him.
BARGAIN. OF. THE. DAY.
It had made his day… this alone had made his day so anything else from this moment on was a bonus.
He still went to buy Kizza a ten quid air horn though…
It didn’t matter, Hoyland’s face is a picture when he’s hyper like this, a huge beaming smile shining from his round face and crowned off with painted blue hair…
As the Young Un said, “seeing his face makes me happy”
We took a few photos with everyone and introduced each other to those we didn’t know.
BHX Owl introduced this young lad to me, he looked a bit shifty to be honest and I didn’t catch what BHX had said his name was.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Oh I’m fine thanks Beastie”
Eh? Who are you? I’m fine?
I was tempted to talk very, very slow to him, but I stayed polite…
I couldn’t understand it, I know I’ve got a bit of an accent but I’d put me best posh voice on as well.
I asked BHX who the young, biggish upstart was and that I might need him to translate for us.
”That’s Craig” he says.
Aaahh, the penny dropped. Not only was he VERY posh but from down south as well which explained a lot. That’s why he couldn’t understand proper talking then!
I swear to you now… pretty much bang on the stroke of 2 o’clock everyone stood up… if they could… and every single person in Cardiff set off walking to the ground.
Everyone seemed to be drawn towards the stadium at the exact same time, it was a little freaky if I’m honest.
It reminded of the film, The Time Machine, when the Morlocks sounded that klaxon to draw all the good looking NATURAL blondes to their lair… being one of those good looking, NATURAL blondes, I felt particularly ill at ease right now.
All over the place people grabbed their drinks and off they went up the main street, all zombie like, glazed expression on their faces, teetering and tottering, left and right, making the journey at least double what it really was, up the road everyone automatically took a left onto the main drag up to the stadium.
Millennium Stadium in sight
A continuous river of Owls spanning the full width of the road and all the way up… the singing, laughing, teetering and tottering continued all the way up to the ground…
As we approached the stadium you could feel it building up inside… the butterflies, the nervous excitement.
My stomach was churning but I wanted it to last forever, I could take this fantastic feeling forever at this moment in time, it felt wonderful and if the day didn’t end how we wanted this could be the highlight… Of course I didn’t allow thoughts like that to stay too long… of course the day would end well …it HAD to end well.
I allowed myself a little bit of wallowing, just in case.
There was electricity surging through every single person walking up that road, tingling through our bodies, passing from one to the other, we were all as one, it was an incredible feeling.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get more intense the stadium came into view, very, very gradually and there was a collective intake of breath, a silent but almost tangible sigh. It looked magnificent.
What a place.
The fact that it unveils itself piece by piece and so, so tantalisingly, just makes the walk up there so much better. The pulse quickening, chest thumping, stomach churning and when you get up sides it, standing in the shadow of this behemoth it is almost spiritual …when you stop on the nearby bridge to take it all in… it almost stops your heart.
Before fans head inside they get their pre match hugging going, we were the same, we hugged everyone and inside we went.
Not before we watched a drunken bloke falling over several times on the bridge. He was so badly drunk and so unsteady on his face that he attracted the interest of the nearby police who didn’t look like they were interested in helping him walk…
Hoyland, Kizza and Boy Wonder went off to their seats and everyone just sort of melted away to their allotted areas with me and the Young Un heading over to gate 6 which is in the lower section.
Of course it was the lower section… it’s what we do.
There was absolutely no pushing, no queue build up, no back logs and no frustration at all.
They’ve got this taped here at the Millennium Stadium and it ran like clockwork.
When we get inside the ground, in the tunnels at the back of the seats, it is huge, absolutely huge and STILL the crowds were bouncing in there. The singing and party mood in that area seemed to just be getting started and everywhere you walked in that backstage area in the subdued lighting, surrounded by concrete it was more of the same, exactly as it had been outside, wall to wall bouncing, singing, blue and white stripes…
Once again we weaved and bounced and jumped and sang our way through the crowd in the dimly lit halls and as we made our way along every now and again there was a break from the gloominess as a blinding shaft of light from an opening leading into the main arena pierced through the darkness…
Until we reached our own shaft of light and the stairs to our seats.
I turned to the Young Un and whispered, loudly…
Take your time going in… savour it.
As you step into one of those shafts of light and out into the arena it’s quite an emotional experience, and just one of many that would get the Beastie emotions set to overload and the tear ducts bust to overflowing. I must have looked a right muppet at times, in fact at least three times I can remember getting a little over emotional… Bollox!
A memorable sight.
If you can’t be moved by some of the stuff that happened on this day you never will be.
Incredible and try as I might, too hoover it all up, to look around, the see it all, to hear it all, to smell it, it was difficult to take it all in.
In front of us was the away end… there were quite a few Poolies already in their ‘half’ and that’s a very loose use of the word ‘half’ as there seemed to be Owls the whole way round the stadium, as far as the eye could see.
Poolies making themselves heard
I’ve mentioned seeing wave upon wave of blue and white many times already. I’ve tried to get over to you how it was like a sea of Wednesday fans. The Wednesday fans went all the way down the left hand side as far as the opposite goals and half way round the other way.
Forget everything I’ve said, what we saw before was a trickle, a babbling brook, a stream at best and all those ‘rivers’ led to the same place, this was the real thing, this was indeed a sea of blue and white… an ocean of Wednesdayites and not just left to right, up and down and any which way you looked.
I lost count of how many tiers there were but it seemed each tier was cascading onto the one below it…a blue and white waterfall….
At 2.30pm when it was our turn to have the music played, Hartlepool had theirs played up to that point and it was now time for ‘Hi Ho Silver lining’.
AND IT’S HI HO SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY!
The noise and emotion was cranked up another notch, how many notches are there?
Surely we must be running out by now? There can’t be an infinite number of notches, if there were many more above this I think I’ll explode.
Of course the inflatables were out in force and being slung around with drunken abandon. They were slung sideways, downways, upways and all ways, loads of beach balls, a crocodile, a whale, loads of sheep and from our front position I could see Hoyland’s inflatable ball pool high above us…seriously, who takes an inflatable ball pool?
A taste sensation…
A packet of balti flavour Nobby’s crisps came flying past my lughole… followed by dozens more, they were everywhere, they were given away free outside the ground and I suddenly realised, seeing so many packets flying through the air, not many people had eaten them… I grabbed a packet of Nobby’s and the Young Un grabbed an inflatable rubber ring with an elephants head on it… and she wasn’t letting it go.
Half an hour later and the noise went up another of those mysterious never-ending notches as we watched Paul Sturrock proudly lead the team out… He was like Moses, walking amongst the Blue and White sea…and we’d follow him anywhere at that precise moment.
I couldn’t take any more, and yes, I was off again, and I’m starting again now, just thinking about it.
The fur was up, my eyes were going and I that tight funny feeling around the top of yer head, and of course the stomach rumblings were back with a vengeance, I don’t want to dwell on it but my back doors were twitching like Billy Oh as well…
Through all this, all this noise, commotion, skull crushing, heart busting emotional turmoil, through it all, I had the moment of clarity to phone Bradford Owl who was on holiday and at the San Siro.
I hold the phone up to let him hear a little of the atmosphere. I don’t know how much he got of it, I hope it was a lot, I hope it was a drop, if he picked up just a drop of this emotion then he would be loving it, he couldn’t fail to be loving it. This, right now, was one of the most intense moments of the whole weekend…
Everything that had gone before, throughout the season would mean everything or nothing at all in the next couple of hours… It does strange things to you does thoughts like that.
To start with, the greatest surprise was that Steve MacLean was on the bench. We’d all thought his injury was so bad that he was gone until next season at the earliest.
When he started warming up right in front of us there was an almost simultaneous outburst of song with everyone cheering him and chanting his name… this had to be an omen, surely?
The first 45 minutes of this game was prolly as good as we’ve played all season. It was a pleasure to watch our team out there, on that pitch, in the glorious sunshine putting on a great display and looking confident, they were passing the ball about without fear and looked to enjoying themselves.
Our midfield, right across the park, were excellent, and I find it difficult to pick any single one of them out over the others. I will say though that during this whole game it was fantastic to see two players who have come in for some stick, much of it deserved, really grasp the nettle…this was their chance to show what they could do and they were making the most of it..
This is not to detract from JP and Glenn Whelan who were prolly the top 2 candidates for MOTM throughout the whole game but Brunty and Rocastle were so very, very good, and to pinch a line from Phil Collins …looked as though they’d waited for this moment for all their lives. Oh lord!
Even though it felt as though we were in control throughout the first half I couldn’t help but twitch and turn and look away on the few occasions Hartlepool did get into our box…probably more than it merited if I’m honest as their chances weren’t really chances but the tension… certainly on my arse cheeks, was incredible…
Mindstya…they had a chance just before half time from a corner and the ball fell to Boyd… ANYONE EXCEPT HIM!!
I cringed, I held my breath, for just a brief moment I thought it was all over, he was sure to score, he usually does, but I dunno what happened, the ball got kinda under him and he put it wide!
I stopped clenching, momentarily…
Come on Peaks
It wasn’t long after that when Glenn Whelan burst upfield and put a peach of a ball through for Lee Peacock who controlled it, did all the hard work and blasted the ball over… GUTTED!
I love the bloke so much and I’m always desperate for him to score, especially today… to become a hero forever, that was agonising, and it could be our last chance of the half. If that costs us now, folk won’t forgive him… we deserved it too, we deserved to be ahead.
LEE..LEE…LEE… ya killing me! Come on mate, you can do it… today you can do it!
As they announced how much extra time was to come I couldn’t stop thinking about that chance…
I was still thinking about it when Rocky picked the ball up… passed to Peacock who did this thing… this stupid, crazy, incredible thing… like some kind of lifted pass back to Rocky… he got on the end of it, crossed it into the 6 yard box and a second later it was in the roof of the net… I think… was it?
JP was off running over to our left at the other end and the bow wave of noise was heading our way… JP had belted it into the net…hand me another notch, I’m going in… all around us, everyone was hugging, jumping, shouting, cheering, almost like we didn’t know what to do… we couldn’t believe it… incredulous looks on every face I saw…my chest… MY CHEST!
I grabbed anyone near me, so did the Young Un, eventually we found each other and we went nuts, what a moment…what a great bit of play… we deserved it, we chuffin deserved it!
Seconds later and the whistle went for half time. I needed the breather. I needed the break!
It wasn’t just the midfield that were excellent through that half, the defence too were magnificent and we kept Pools at arms-length really, going in 1-0 up was the very least we deserved and should really have made it more comfortable. It was enough though… for now anyway!
The chatter at half time was all about that, how we deserved at least that but also that no one thought it would actually come, like we’d missed our best chances… and the nerves were shredded already!
The second half couldn’t have started any worse really could it?
They caught us napping and we were prolly still thinking how well we’d played first half. That was the case both on the pitch and off it. In fact not everyone had returned to their seats when all of a sudden, the ball was in the net… the wrong net!
I have no idea of the details, it was down the other end and I couldn’t see that much of it… I wish I hadn’t seen what little I did see.
Ritchie Humphers takes a throw in, with one of our players stood in front of him to stop him launching it – that didn’t work. The ball goes into the box and we try to head it clear, that didn’t work, then all of a sudden it drops and BANG!
It’s in the back of net as Lucas dives to save it – that didn’t work either! Ya need to move BEFORE the ball is in the net Dave!
I felt sick, my hopes and excitement dropped more than one notch, at least I wasn’t gonna run out of notches now, I slumped into my seat…
I stood up and shouted something… I looked at the Young Un… I slumped back in my seat… and mumbled something or other…
The Poolies’ end of the ground may have been more compact and bijou but they were going nuts and the rest of the ground was looking on, mouths open, absolutely gobsmacked.
I stood up again and shouted some more crap, in some vain attempt to get them going.
COME ON WEDNESDAY!
The rest of the Wednesday fans rallied as well… we picked our jaws off the floor and we tried to lift the team again.
THAT DIDN’T WORK. Nothing was working anymore!
Yeah we did settle back into the game but we weren’t in control as much as we’d been in the first half, Hartlepool had come out fighting and the goal had given them such a boost. They were at us now, full of belief and fighting spirit.
My stomach was churning for different reasons now. I felt sick… so down… but not out… not quite…
Our fans were getting edgy now though, sure enough we were still singing but you could feel it, running through the huge contingent of blue and white; we were unsettled now and not enjoying the game as we had done first half. The Poolies were loving it now though, their weekend was looking so much brighter!
If it was brighter for them at level pegging, it must have been blinding a little later.
They attacked down our left and Hecky put in what looked like a great tackle… I know, I know… our view is the worst in the history of worst views but I’m not having it.
Hecky is a lovely lad, he wouldn’t foul anyone! It didn’t matter anyway, it was right near the corner flag and we’d get shut of it, our defence had started to settle back down so it wasn’t a problem.
The ball came in, someone went up, headed the ball and it was in the net before my heart actually separated from the huge crack in it.
To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement, and then I saw who had scored – Daly…CHUFFIN’ DALY!
I hate that bassad…
I slumped… again… back into my seat… I stood up and hugged the Young Un…
That was it then… I was absolutely convinced now we wouldn’t get back into the match, it was all over.
Even though I’d had a dream that we would come from behind in this game I knew it wouldn’t happen, that stuff is just for dreams and dreams alone and lets’ be honest here, it’s Roy of the Rovers stuff that isn’t it?
To take the lead, then come back from the dead in dramatic fashion? Stupid, stupid schoolboy dreams.
If Hartlepool’s confidence was high after their equaliser it was through the roof now with that second goal and although we had started to make inroads just before it, showing a lot of patience to work our way back into the game and regain our composure I really feared the worst and more goals from the Poolies.
A lot of our players seemed to disappear, especially the midfield who had been so heroic first half.
Then came the masterstroke….
A few minutes after we’d gone behind Sturrock realised some of our players were missing and we needed something fresh – a triple boost of fresh.
Off went Bruce, Peacock and Quinn. And on came Paddy Collins, Drew Talbot and Stevie Mac.
If it didn’t give the rest of the team a boost it certainly gave us one… the Wednesday fans started to get a little bit of faith back. Just seeing Steve MacLean back on the pitch was enough of a boost for all of us.
I was trying like heck to convince myself we could do it but my heart and my stomach said otherwise…
This was our final throw of the dice… Sturrock would live or die by this move… well, not exactly live and die by it but it was pretty important.
As soon as the trio were on the pitch our players changed… the whole vibe was different… we had a bit more about us… we were getting at them, especially the flying Drew Talbot who ran at them every chance he got.
The mood gathered pace amongst the Wednesday fans… you could feel it… the electricity was back… coursing through us again… whatever happened now… I was back to loving it…
Within a few minutes of them being on the pitch we had our chance.
Drew continued to pressure the defence and when he finally burst through he went over… in the box…
IN THE BOX!
Oh lordy… He’s off!
I was hopeful more than anything because I have to be honest, I hadn’t seen anything wrong, I thought Drew had slipped…
A bazillion Wednesday hearts disagreed with me and a bazillion Wednesday eyes bore into the referee and it worked – he pointed to the spot! Then he produced a red card for Westwood, the Hartlepool defender – I was gobsmacked…really? A Red card?
I didn’t care…any thoughts of injustice were gone in a heartbeat… a very quick… quickening heartbeat…
If there is anyone…ANYONE on this planet you would want to trust your life to a penalty, it’s Stevie Mac.
It was a good job I’d kept a few gasps in reserve and even more that I now had a few notches left for the excitement bar.
When Steve MacLean stepped up to ball, there was never any doubts about who would take it, how could there be?
Soon as the ref pointed to the spot MacLean was on the ball as quick as a flash and just as there was no doubting who would take it, there was no doubt about the outcome… I know their keeper had saved a few but he hadn’t faced MacLean.
When he stepped forward, wellied the ball and it hit the net…
The place went mental….
And Macca is back!
As MacLean and the rest of the players ran over towards us I threw the Young Un up in the air and hugging was set to MAX… everyone was grabbing someone near them, whether they knew them or not, hugging, smiling, crying…there were arms, legs, scarves, blue and white painted heads, balloons flying all over the place….
The relief was massive, you could actually feel it in the air, the feeling of the shift in fortunes was tangible…
We could push on now…a few minutes left to hammer it home and get the win… A man up and now it was ours to take.
We couldn’t do it… just couldn’t make the advantage pay in normal time so extra time was here, and with the benefit of a few days hindsight, it just made the whole day even better.
During the little break we all had time to get our breath back… the players looked shattered as Sturrock walked amongst them, talking to them…if they looked shattered god knows how we looked, we’d been through the mill several times…we were all chatting excitedly now, nervous but with a strange confidence, as though everyone knew we would do it…
Fortunately the stop and restart of the game didn’t halt our mood and we continued to take the game to them from the off and from the off the Wednesday fans could sense it, sense the killer blow was coming and this was now our day…
When Glenn Whelan picked the ball up from the Poolies defender, deep in their half and set off running towards their goal, again, just like when Steve MacLean stepped up for the penalty, there was a feeling inside, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that felt it, you just knew this was IT….
He went past a thousand and one Hartlepool players, and just when you thought the chance had gone…BANG!
“MacLean peels off, still Glenn Whelan……..”
He rifled the ball home…
It was dog pile on the wabbit time…all the players went nuts and so did the Wednesday fans.
We absolutely maxed the mental this time. I lost track of who was grabbing who, the noise was incredible, I tried to say something to the Young Un but couldn’t make myself heard.
I couldn’t get my breath, literally…my chest, my heart, my stomach…everything seemed about to explode….me and the Young Un just jumped up and down like little kids….We were now in the final straight, the home run and we were back in front again, and this time it was for keeps.
Even this though wasn’t enough to totally destroy the plucky Poolies. Having a pelanty given against the, losing their lead, losing a player and then going behind…STILL they gave it a go as they had a chance to nip in behind and get back into it, but someone got a tackle in that was worth the admission price alone….I have no idea who it was…I didn’t care…as long as someone, ANYONE got the tackle in, that’s all that mattered.
The tackle was so good, it was as good as a goal IMO, and kudos to whichever player did get the foot in.
The extra time dragged on without either side adding to the score and as it did so we ended up watching the clock more than anything at the end.
To be honest with you, the rest of extra time might well have been brilliant but I was gone…totally lost in the moment and cannot for the life of me remember most of it… that clock… that countdown became the single most important thing in the universe.
I’ve never seen a clock count down so slow in my life, that last fifteen minutes seemed to last an hour, and each digit change was so chuffin slow and so excruciatingly painful…
Amongst the cat calls and whistles as anxious fans urged the ref to call a halt to the game I was discussing the annoyance of the slow clock with a lad at the side of me when Drew had decided he wanted in on the scoring action…
This bit will stay in the Beastie memory a good long while I can tell you that much…what a moment… as if we’d not had enough moments already, here was the crown to top it all off… and right in front of us at ground level…
OK. Given that my memory is shot it’ll prolly last around a month at the most, but for that month I’ll savour it and wallow in it to my hearts content.
Drew jumped up on the halfway line and nodded the ball past the Hartlepool defenders and he was off…they were drag arseing behind him trying desperately to catch him up but they had no chance, absolutely no chance…one thing Drew ain’t is slow….
A moment that will live longer than 10 years…
Konstantopolous came out, towards him…the defender was catching…we all leaned forward…we couldn’t believe what we were seeing…the clock all of a sudden didn’t mean sh*t… in a beautiful single movement Drew went away from the defender, around Konstantopolous and knocked the final nail in…
My last gasping had already been spent on the Whelan goal and this just wrecked me totally…
Yes, I was at it again, the waterworks were in full flow. The Young Un was up in the air, I needed to get some air in…The lad who I’d been discussing the clock with had kept running backwards and forwards to the front and back, I wrestled him towards us with an arm round his neck and he got maximum huggage from Beastie and everyone else around that area…people were jumping on each other, hugging, kissing and smiles so bright, eyes so wide.
I’m sure there was someone upside down at the side of us in amongst a big crowd of blue and white arms!
I had no more gasps left and no more notches, there was nowhere to go after that!
That clock – that stupid slow, slow clock that had shredded my nerves moments earlier was now faster than a really fast thing and when that whistle finally went it all got very blurry!
I can’t remember too much detail as all memory snapshots came thick and fast…
The faces on the players at that final whistle – Bully, shutting his eyes, with a massive grin on his face then opening his eyes to take it all in, then walking over to our end and soaking it up more…
Peacock, pointing at the fans…
The smile on Rocky’s face that split his head in half, how brilliant was his face, he could have lit the city up. The smile never left his face as he collapsed on the pitch and as soon as they saw it others piled on…
Brunty had a flag and ran past…
Bully grabbed a flag and draped it around him…
The moment… THE MOMENT!
That fantastic moment when Bully walked over to lift the trophy…
The cameras were on other players faces and…I just can’t describe how they looked…In awe? Proud? Amazed?
Absolutely, earth shatteringly gobsmacked?
This was just before he lifted it, when he actually lifted…OH MY LORD!
The fur was up, the Young Un was up in the air, yeah you know what happened… the waterworks… You better believe it… I am such a soft sod… I can’t believe how much this affected me… all of it.
They walked the whole length of the Owls fans with the trophy…
Hecky came over with a bottle of champagne… JP was doing the ‘EASY-EASY-EASY-EASY’ clap thing
Woody and Lucas coming back out with the trophy after everyone had gone back in…Huge grin on Lucas’ face…
STURROCK… oh lordy, lordy, Sturrock!
The grin on his face when he walked down towards our end with the trophy. He was another one trying desperately to take everything in, savouring it all, trying to make it last forever and pleased for everyone involved and proud of his team and achievements, you could see the whole lot in his face.
“Have some of that!” says Luggy
As we were walking out of the ground we were amongst the very last to leave, along with a few Poolies who to their credit had stayed and clapped our players who had gone down their end to applaud them too…. I loved that… loved it.
When we finally got back out into the street you just couldn’t move… we were shuffling along, inches at a time…the elephant inflatable around the Young Un’s waist became handy as a buffer outside as everyone was packed together so tightly.
The overwhelming feeling walking down that street was truly unbelievable… It seemed to take an age to get to the other end, as it would when ya shufflin’ but I also didn’t want it to ever end, the whole weekend was incredible but the last three to five hours or so had been the peak of it all and I didn’t want to come down for a good while yet.
When we got down into the square they were still selling the inflatable trophies so I gave in and bought one for the Young Un, as well as the elephant she now had a back up buffer in amongst the crowds so she was well protected and she clung to that trophy like there was no tomorrow, she wasn’t letting go of it for anything.
We met up with a Poolie mate of mine and went for a drink in the Hard Rock café. Of course I rubbed his nose in it a bit, but not too much and he was quite gracious in defeat…he was less gracious when won a bet against him.
He asked a random passer by, who just happened to be a Wednesday fan, which of us looked the youngest…
Whoever you are that picked me, obviously going purely on my best pleading ‘pick me’ face… thank you very much…I’d never have heard the last of it if you’d picked him!
There was a great atmosphere in that bar, even though it was rammed with fans from both clubs. There were Poolies everywhere and rather than be down about it all, they were so incredibly proud of their team, and rightly so, they were determined to celebrate that.
After we’d said our goodbyes we headed back round to the Red Rooms for a few more drinks with Owlsonliners before some of them had to depart for coaches and trains.
As me and the Young Un, Oldskool and Neet Owl got on the train back to Bristol it became clear we were outnumbered by the Poolies…
They were in fine voice too!
We gave them a couple of songs back but they were far too good for us and determined to make the most of it and outdo us at every attempt.
The highlight came when one of the songs was aimed at one of their mates, Kenny, who had been taking jibes, jokes and insults in great humour for pretty much the entire train journey.
This happened whenever there was a moment of quiet, bursts of song followed by moments of quiet reflection – or drunken tiredness more like. Sometimes Kenny got a bit embarrassed going from shades of red to purple and he couldn’t hide or get away as the train was jam packed.
He really did take it with great humour and he did get them back himself with some really snappy and funny retorts, which they loved as well.
Great, funny moments… I felt it for Kenny a little bit, but not too much as I started one of the Kenny songs… It was just too damned catchy.
As we got into Bristol we all shook the hands of every one of the Poolies on the train. We thanked them for their good humour, chewed over the penalty, and genuinely felt a bond between us on this fantastic day. They really were a credit… everything about the, the team, manager, fans the whole lot…an absolute credit. They made the day complete.
Back into Bristol and tried in vain to find a pub that was open late, we really needed to keep our own celebrations going but to our dismay all the pubs shut at 11pm??
OK, so it’s Sunday, but it’s Bank Holiday and Play off weekend FFS, surely you all want to make lots of money on a weekend like this?
I couldn’t believe it and we ended up back at the hotel in the bar
The hotel also had a fair number of West Ham fans staying over for their play off final and they were in party mood and fine voice. We nipped upstairs for a quick change and to drop of the blow up trophy and to try and crowbar that elephant ring from the Young Un’s waist…as we came down we passed Oldskool on the stairs..
“Sup?” I ask him
“I’m going to get our colours”
This is the way to the Wednesday badge
I thought “aye aye…shirts and flags are coming out…it’s all kicking off…this is gonna be like a scene from Warriors…standing our corner against the army of hammers”
He came down the stairs and entered the ‘arena’, a huge confident smile on his face, proud that he’d done this…he puffed his chest out and revealed…. two of the tiniest pin badges you’ve ever seen.
He gave one to Neet Arl who being confused by modern technology struggled to open up the pin. It was one of those pin badges where you nip the button type back to release it and it was getting the better of him.
When he’d finally worked it all out and stood showing his badge to the world (WAHEY!) no one could see it – for some reason when he straightened up the badge had ended up under his armpit.
A quick adjustment, it’s OK none of the advancing West ham horde noticed, and it was rate, though to be honest, the badge would prolly have been just as noticeable under his armpit as it was really tiny…
Still it gave birth to the song…
’I’ve got a badge… I’ve got a badge… as big as a nip’
I don’t think the West Ham fans in the hotel would have noticed the badges if there’d been a neon sign pointing at them. ‘THIS WAY TO THE WEDNESDAY BADGE’
The West ham fans went about their drunken business without paying the slightest bit of notice to any of us, or the ‘colours’ and the bartender was determined he was gonna close the bar early… the West ham fans were convinced he wasn’t… they convinced the manager to keep it open, mainly because if he hadn’t they were gonna serve themselves for free.
Anyway the night ended pretty quietly and we would have waved off both Neet Arl and Oldskool in the morning if they hadn’t flitted out PDQ!
That was it, it was all over. In the morning it was back to normal life.
It felt like how it felt the day after Christmas as a kid, you’d waited so long for it all to happen, building up your excitement and then when the day came it surpassed your expectations, it was wonderful, and then it was over… the come down was huge… the dawning of reality was a smack in the face..
Just to underline the reality of it all as we got out of the car I went to the boot to get our stuff out and as the boot lifted, it was almost in slow motion, like some cheapo film noir, it all went black and white, the melancholy piano music started and the inflatable silver trophy floated gracefully out of the boot with me trying to drop our bags and reach for it, in vain.
The Young Un looked sadly and longingly up. ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ she shouted, with arms outstretched clutching the air as it drifted onwards and upwards…
If it had been a film there was no better ending. Without a doubt we were now back home to normal life.
Who needs Mourinho?
It had to happen though, there had to be a point where it ended, and it was so deflating (in more ways than one) getting back into the normal grind of things.
It’s taken me almost a week to get back into the groove of everyday life.
Steve – Beastie
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @Beastie_