There’s a fantastic podcast called “Revisionist History” by acclaimed Canadian historian Malcolm Gladwell. The idea is simple yet brilliant, he looks back at famous historical events or sometimes just events and looks at them with fresh eyes. One of which is called “The foot soldier of Birmingham” where he finds out that very famous picture from the American civil rights movement where a dog is seemingly attacking a young protester isn’t what is seems (Spoiler, the “protester” wasn’t really protesting he was taking a short cut home), he’s not afraid to go after big issues but also less than stellar subjects, there’s a whole episode about why McDonalds fries are now terrible in the name of “health”. Aaaanyway… my favourite episode is called “Free Brian Williams” in which Gladwell looks at how famous US newscaster Brian Williams is the source of huge disdain for erroneously claiming to have been in a helicopter convoy that got shot at during the Gulf War, the story Williams tells is embellished throughout the years and is eventually exposed. However, Gladwell then himself tries to remember exact days of significance in his life and finds there’s huge holes in his (and I guess all of our) memory, meaning that perhaps Williams isn’t quite the villain he’s made out to be.
This is all a very long way of getting onto the topic of the 2008 Play-off final vs Bristol City. It’s a day of supreme importance for near enough all of us, but it’s also one in which the adrenalin took over and I’m not sure how accurate our recollections now are. Indeed, Rich Gardham popped on my twitter line after advertising this piece and immediately offered out that most of this day was actually torturous and he has a point. So, here’s my memories from the day that everything changed, I’m going to try as hard as I can not to get sucked in by the repeated TV clips from the same day.
I guess the first thing I’d counter against popular opinion is that somehow it was all “destined to be” me and old man got to Wembley stupidly early although it was a 3pm kick off. We were definitely in and around the ground by about twelve in an attempt to soak it in. Bristol were a good team who had spent plenty of money and my feeling before kick off was just to enjoy it, it really didn’t feel like we were favourites. We’d never been to Wembley, never been in the top league and although our team had gone on a really good late run, it was only a year since we barely survived relegation and six months since we were mid-table also rans. After a few pictures and wandering around the ground starry eyed we headed in. I remember being really pleased that the Coca Cola advert for the play-offs had Leeds directly below us. (small things!)
I think the other factor we don’t talk about enough is just the emotion from everyone that day, old fellas that never thought the day would come, fans like me (I think I was 35) that had seen us be the punchline to jokes for at least half of our fandom, I honestly felt going into the game that this was justification of the years of hardship we’d put in and that the monumental “Sheffield Wednesday” numbers of our support meant no matter what it was going to be a day where you felt proud of what we’d achieved.
After having a very expensive even for 2008 pint, we walked to the seats to see the view. The old man tells people he didn’t cry that day. The old man is a liar. Everyone cried that day, it’s something I’ll get back to later. I remember the view and the size of the place just being immense, we were in the equivalent of the east stand, somewhere between the half way line corner flag, quite low down. My Uncles were there too and had arrived to their seats with us (Dad is one of four brothers) and I couldn’t help but think of my youngest Uncle Martyn Thornes, who was perhaps the biggest City fan of us all. He’d past away in the early two thousands, Martyn was nothing if not a dreamer when it came to City, a loveable rogue. The last time I saw him was at 2-0 down at Leyton Orient in division three. We had a natter at half time, agreed that Pearson was bringing in better players but they had no heart and he walked back into the away end. I think he’d always hoped this day would come, but been told he was off his head for hoping.
The next memory I had was interesting and like many city fans that day, most of them are before or after the game, I guess because the game itself was so stressful and so much rode on it. Anyway, I popped for another beer and there was a young Michael Dawson with his family having a drink and preparing to watch his brother. This idiot decided to pop and say hello. This is roughly how the chat went.
MD looks a little startled but is polite
“Errr… yes thanks mate”
Me, feeling full of “beer two” confidence.
“Just so you know pal, when we win today, you’re signing for us ok?”
MD, grins in a “who is this tit?” sort of way.
“Yep, no problem mate, we’ll get it done”
I shook his hand, what I presume was his Dad burst out laughing and I returned back to find my seats.
As soon as I saw the old man, I confidently told him I’d wrapped up the first pre-season signing.
The next parts of my memory is full of Gladwell-like holes. It’s all mushed together, the build up music, the giant inflatable things at the halfway line, the warm ups, the walk out, the start, the noise. It’s just all in one piece inside my head, I remember it was warm, I remember the noise was overpowering but not always coordinated. The place is just so huge that you could have four lots of songs going on at once and not hear what the rest are singing.
I didn’t sing much, I remember stood up, for long periods, biting my fingers and mentally kicking every ball. This next bit might go against the grain for most fans’ version of the day, but I don’t really remember us being under the cosh first half. We’d gone to several teams that year and soaked up pressure then countered and this is what I felt we were seeing, a City performance like the 2-1 win at West Brom. We weren’t on top, certainly not, but you felt with our back four and Bo in goal that by them pushing men forward we could hurt them on the counter.
I remember a long injury break for their player (was it Orr?) who eventually would be taken off just before half-time, he’d looked really good and so that was maybe underrated in its importance, although I now can’t remember if he was hurt before or after the goal. The goal itself has been done to death, the only thing remotely new I can add is that as Frazier cuts it back, I had no idea at all that Deano was there, I’d followed Campbell’s run and was hoping he’d put it back post. Thank god he saw what I didn’t and we all know what happens next. It was mayhem when it goes in, and the energy of the game certainly changed. If we were set up to counter, now it was going to be much more conservative.
The gap between the goal and half time seemed longer than the gap for half time, but then the second half took at least fourteen days.
Again, it’s all a mush in my head, they had the ball for long periods, Turner made blocks, Bo made saves, we hung on and on and on…. Did I imagine Folan coming on and having a chance to kill it off? He was one underrated larker that lad, perfect for the last fifteen minutes of a game when you needed to run channels. The scouse party tricks lad missed one, my heartbeat was going around one hundred and fifty beats per minute and then the next thing I remember is Bo holding the ball and Wayne Brown slapping him on the head. As many fans have said, it wasn’t fun, it was purgatory, but it was the most important thing to happen in our history, and you wouldn’t change any of it, would you?
The end comes back to me now, Deano and Barmby running on the pitch, tears, hugs, disbelief.
The reason I called it the greatest day is simple. All City fans to that point had been belittled, laughed at, the put down jokes. The rugby fans sneered at us, we were so close to not even existing it wasn’t funny. Every person I can ever remember who said “Oh… you’re the one Hull fan are you?” I could picture in those minutes after the game, everyone who chose an easy way out and watched a successful global club instead.
We weren’t ever of supposed to have done this, we’d crashed the biggest party in the world and nobody else saw it coming. The pain, the being skint and somehow getting to a game, the open away ends getting pissing wet through, being the only Hull City fan in a school south of the Humber where everyone hated us, relegations, humiliations and lockouts… and in one blow of a whistle, all that pain was worth it, in fact not only worth it, it was the pain that made this joy like nothing I’ve felt before or after as a football fan. It was redemption. It was justification for never giving up.
As I looked to my right I’ve never seen more grown adults crying in my life. The players were crying, the fans were crying, but it was tears of joy, of relief and nervous exhaustion. We’d done it, we’d done something I never ever imagined we would.
I think we were there until after the trophy presentation and the players had even gone inside. The old man and me went to a few bars around Wembley and sat amongst the City fans, quietly drinking and trying to take in the enormity of what we’d just seen. Even the slightly narky Bristol City fan on the train (see my first ever blog) couldn’t put the smallest dent in the day. To answer his question of “Do you think Dean Windass is going to score in the Premier league?” I’ll say “Yes mate, he’s going to score one of the top of his massive head at Portsmouth”.
By the time we’d rolled into Bedford station and were walking over the Ouse river to get home that night we’d had several more beers and kept grinning like loons. The old man told me how he never cried and even the old dear didn’t mind that we were half cut. And that’s my memory of “that day”, Malcolm Gladwell would be relieved to know that much of the game lacks detail in my mind because it’s just the emotions that took over. After all, what else really matters?