FORTY-SIX games. Thousands of pounds. Hundreds of pints. Dozens of hangovers. About 15 parking tickets and two speeding ones. And, so far, 73 points.
Will it be worth it? It all felt like it rested on Sunday, if I’m honest. Which is daft really considering all the considerable fun I’ve had along the way. And besides “remember that season I went to all the games and we came fourth and didn’t win anything?” isn’t a classic anecdote anyway. But fuck me it is better than “remember that season when I went to every game, we looked like the best team in the world for a while, and then ended up back in the Europa League?”
I leave my house as soon as I reasonably can without my wife saying “you can’t possibly go to the pub now.” I don’t even really want a drink. Trust me I’d had plenty at The Libertines at Prenton Park the night before. I just want to get out. The quicker I leave the quicker we can begin this process of willing the Reds over the line.
I meet Neil as we both enter Newington. Phil Blundell is in there too with “his lot”. Soon Fintan from Belfast and Cliftonville away joins us too. Moretti is bought, confidence levels are shared. Outcomes agreed. Just fucking win.
We stay for a while and then me and Neil head up to the ground and talk politics to take our minds off it. Which is never a great option. We soon arrive at The Kop end and, quite surreally, Neil ends up getting interviewed by The One Show about Homebaked. Coming to you soon at 18:58.
For once I’m in early. I haven’t got loads to compare it with, but the atmosphere seems very lively for the warm up. Not 2013-14 levels but not ordinary Middlesbrough at home levels either. Their fans are in defiant mood too. Could be a good one this.
It gets to about 30 minutes in and I realise we haven’t had a shot on target yet. Which seems an oversight considering their goalie is rubbish. The crowd are having a go but the players look a bit tentative. Maybe afraid to take a risk. Losing the balance between patience and purpose.
Suddenly Gini Wijnaldum gambles and scores. What a release. Don’t worry about a thing… ’cause every little thing’s… gonna be alright. The half-time whistle goes and what could have been puffs off the cheeks are cheers and applause. Surely that turns the game into one they don’t wish to play.
At half-time the mood is obviously good. I see Pako Ayesteran who tells me where the Reds could be better in a way I don’t completely understand. So I smile and say an early goal would help. And he smiles back the way older girls used to in school when I tried to chat them up.
Second half. Two is followed by three and the sailing is plain. The Kop sings about the return to European elite. Barcelona, Real Madrid, who the fuck you tryna kid. The greatest rhyme since Byron.
By 80 minutes it’s a bit weird because everyone just wants to get off, including, or even especially, the players but we have to go through the charade of the rest of the game.
Full-time and Lucas Leiva gets an award which suggests he’s probably off and then all the kids come on. And then loads of adults too. And then more kids. It’s too many people, to be honest. You don’t need 300 for the lap of honour. Wimbledon used to bring less than we had on the pitch. I’m sound with sons and daughters, but getting Ragnar Klavan’s window cleaner on seemed a bit much.
After they’ve got the last people off the pitch, careful only to leave 50 at a time so the tunnel didn’t give way, we all go too. First to Homebaked for a beer and a pie, and then The Glenbuck for beers and a band.
It’s great to see everyone in The Glenbuck. All the boys and occasional girl from the season’s endeavours. We toast the Reds and decide where we want to go watching the team next year. Then we go to Motel for the subscribers party…
Yeah. Fair to say that was a wild one. Shirts off on tables, lads on shoulders, crowdsurfing, fireman’s lifts for girls, drinking Jaeger from the bottle. And other people probably did things too. Control was a distant memory.
But we deserved it, didn’t we? All of us who gave our all for, and with, the Reds from wherever we could. So to all those I met. To those I shared cars, taxis, trains and buses with. And especially those l can’t imagine doing it without. Nice one. It’s been emotional.
And nice one to my wife… can’t believe you’re still here.