After years of heartbreak Millwall finally made it to the Coca-Cola Championship League on Saturday. Before the match, everyone in my family chose their seat, preparing not to move for at least ninety minutes. Texts came in from relatives sitting up at midnight in Australia and my cousins who clenched the backsides against the red seats of Wembley Stadium. This was all slightly marred by the Lion who roars loudest in my family was a cousin stuck in New York, unable to utilize his play-off tickets.
As a Millwall and England fan, disappointment and pessimism is the natural form to take when your club or country need to win. Even as Robinson kicked the ball in the Onion bag, my celebration came with that niggling voice in the back of my mind saying “don’t get ahead of yourself” and “never going to happen”.
Half time is a time for reflection on the first half for most, but it just prolongs the agony that we think is inevitable. Not long after the players came back onto the pitch, Swindon striker Charlie Austin’s who shot wide of the Lions goal exercised the half time panic as we constantly expected the Wiltshire men to break away and get a point on the scoreboard.
The last twenty minutes caused the most butterflies, as the players, the managers and the fans fear those two little words that come with flashbacks of Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 – “extra time”. Every time a white shirted Swindon player travelled the ball over the half way line, every corner and every foul, I became resigned to the fact that they would score.
Four minutes added time. The boys held them off and kept a cool head under pressure. Laps of honour were punctuated by the sighs of relief I knew were being released in Wembley, a pub in New York and in my living room.
The sight of Steve Morison wearing a vivid blue t-shirt with the words “We’re Going Up!” printed on it seemed to reinforce any doubt that we are in fact going up. Neil Harris – the most popular and iconic players of recent years – led the manic and electric cheers which reverberated throughout the 32,000 fans at the home of English Football.
Just before I put away my blue and white jester hats and brush the dust of the England paraphernalia at the back of the cupboard, I had a few celebratory texts that were thankfully sent long before the alcohol set in, as well as a quick glance at Facebook. Some were unhappy about the promotion, but those who have waited as long as I have, wrote messages of anticipation for a new season and a new league.