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Swindon Town fan Nick Judd looks ahead to The Robins' League One play-off final against Millwall on Saturday, and back to last week's thrilling semi-final win over Charlton
Everyone asks: are you nervous?
Truth is, my nerves have only just returned to normal after a scintillating night at The Valley little more than a week ago!
Looking back, it was one of the greatest nights, although any Town fan that tells you they enjoyed the match itself is lying – it was horrendous!
First, an ominous feeling before kick-off - the team that had overwhelmed Charlton in the first leg had changed. Then, less than a minute into the game, our keeper goes off injured with a dislocated shoulder. Charlton score two and quickly the nasty feeling that our lead wasn’t big enough becomes reality, causing widespread dejection at half-time.
Charlton were ahead, on top and we were seemingly bereft of ideas. The home supporters were chanting of Wembley and a second disappointment in six years looked on the cards. Then we went down to 10 men.
Yet somehow, from somewhere, despair turned to delirium after Danny Ward converted from close range. It was bedlam in our end, great stuff. Once again there was hope and as Charlton huffed and puffed, penalties became more and more inevitable.
That said, our record from the spot hasn’t been great in recent years. We lost against Brighton in the second leg of the semis in 2004 and, more recently, we became the first team in FA Cup history to miss all our penalties when we lost to Barnet in 2008.
"Well, this is tense..."
Not this time. One, two, three, four and, amazingly five… sheer elation as Stephen Darby steered home the crucial conversion. That feeling is something you simply can’t match.
Hugging complete strangers, the prospect of going to Wembley – for many fans, this will be their first time – and the thought of playing Reading and Bristol City next season…
Every one of those Town fans who made the trip will remember that night with fond memories for ever more. The sing-song at the end, the utter shock of it all, the delight on the players’ faces, Charlie Austin dancing to que sera sera…
I’m guessing that feeling will be eclipsed should we win Saturday. I was 15 when we last won at Wembley, so I can’t really remember how I felt then, but seeing the Blackpool fans on Saturday brought it home just what could lay ahead for either Town or Millwall fans this week.
Similarly, as we watched the Cardiff fans hold their heads in their hands, we’re under no illusions that it could be a day of disappointment.
Still, some perspective soon brings us back into focus. Two years ago we were on the verge of extinction. Nine months ago we were travelling home with our tails between our legs after a humbling 5-0 tonking at the hands of Gillingham. You would have been carted off to the mad house if you had suggested we’d be 90 minutes from the Championship at the end of the season!
All white on the night
The club appears to have dropped a rare clanger by deciding to wear white on the day instead of our usual red shirts. There has been criticism from some quarters and while I agree we should be in our true colour – you can bet the fans will be – we could play in skins for all I care as long as we win…
I’m loving the fans trying to find reasons why we’re destined to succeed.
The last time we went up via the play-offs (1992/93), at the end of the campaign itself we limped over the line, much like we did this year.
We then won the first leg of the play-off semi-final and lost the second, like we did this year.
In the final, the team we beat wore blue… There are loads more comparisons being made to previous successes. All nonsense of course, but I’ll be wearing my new lucky elastic band I had on from work during the semi-finals, just in case.
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