I can’t recall a run-in like it. The magnitude of the games, the intensity of the atmosphere, so vivid you can almost taste it. The roar of the crowd, the togetherness of the songs, the anticipation. The optimism filling our lungs and bodies like oxygen. And the hope…well, we all know it’s the hope that kills you.
If we leave aside Hereford in 1997 – and as a further aside, if we can have regrets in life then one of mine is not being there and instead sitting on my own in a flat listening to the radio whilst my wife and in-laws went out for the afternoon without too many cares in the world whilst I had a pretty large one very front of mind (long sentence but I needed to get it off my chest). No game we the mighty Albion ever play can ever, will ever be bigger than that one.
But leaving that one aside, our trip to the smoggy Riverside last Saturday was, I’d argue, the next biggest game in Albion’s history. I told my kids, sitting in the stand before the game, that whatever happened they should try to enjoy the day because days like these don’t come along very often in an Albion supporting history. Ninety eight minutes later I didn’t really live up to that sentiment myself as it was a draw that felt worse than a loss, when the whistle went it cut deep. I never again want to go away and watch another team promoted at our expense.
And now (I write this pre-match), a fairly unappealing away game at Sheffield Wednesday is, arguably, the next most important game in our history (those of an ‘83 supporting vintage may want to argue with this and I won’t squabble if so). Which will again be superseded in importance by Monday’s only just slightly more appealing home game. And if all goes well, then, well, fasten your seatbelts for a bit of que sera time (and I make no apology for daring to utter these words in advance as we already sang them defiantly at Boro so if it really is a jinx then we’ve jinxed it already, sorry folks).
I know in my heart (and mind) that any sane Brighton fan would have snapped off anyone’s hand who offered us a play-off place at the beginning of the season. The team and the manager have exceeded what we (and I suspect they) felt possible in August. We’re only potentially four and a half hours from the P(romised) L(and).
But why has this week felt, felt, well, so, mwah or mweh, for want of better words to try and convey an ever so deflated sentiment. It all feels, illogically, like something after the Lord Mayor’s show. The buzz of Burnley at home, Forest away and in particular Charlton away gave us a surge of hopeful adrenalin, like a big shot in the arm of pure football hope. Which felt like it was medically drained out of us as we drove south down the A19 last Saturday. Even the milkshake we had on the way home in Thirsk was rubbish.
There’ll be those who say I’m unrealistic, that I’m not behind the team. But I’m not and I am. During the course of this week, I’ve turned several times to the thought that this is the week where Chris Hughton really does earn his money. He’s had to lift what is after all a young bunch of lads, jump-start them out of their own Boro blues, smooth over the disappointment of losing Stephens (and the appeal), get a game plan together, travel north again and get the focus back. Not an easy job. If he manages it then they should bottle the Hughton magic and sell it in the club shop.
I hope to ease out of my flatness or mwahness in the 30 minutes before the game as I’m still not quite there a couple of hours before kick off. Browsing North Stand Chat this week has helped (but also hindered depending on which thread). Listening to the Albion Roar’s special has helped (Al) but also hindered (Ady). Writing this and trying to get my thoughts in order has been cathartic if nothing else.
So here we go then. Two hours until the biggest game since Middlesbrough which was the biggest since Hereford. Then on Monday the biggest game since Friday (and confusingly it’s against Wednesday). Then we get either three weeks of pre-Wembley worry or however many weeks of crushing disappointment. As a reminder, this is something we all choose to do, no-one forces us. And we even pay to do it. No wonder some people think that football fans are stupid.
UTA. Let’s get the job done and crack on with the three weeks of worry.