Lifelong Huddersfield Town fan MATTHEW BURTON – head teacher at Educating Yorkshire school Thornhill Community Academy – goes to Town matches with his dad Neil and five-year-old son Theo.
Dad, lad and grandad were excited to be back at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday for the visit of Fulham and Huddersfield Hub asked Mr Burton to write about what it was like going back after so long.
Football? It’s about so much more than that…
‘Town have got a penalty!’ my grandpa told me, just as I was leaving after visiting him and dropping off a prescription for him.
It was shortly followed by ‘Oh, they’ve missed it.’ It was November 2000. We had won one game in 17, and were still suffering from the hangover of being overrun by Fulham the previous May, ending all hope of a place in the top division.
We all know what happened with Marcus Stewart, Steve Bruce and the ballad of Craven Cottage. It turned out to be the last conversation that my grandpa and I had. He died the following day.
And that’s football. That banal, uninteresting boring away draw between QPR and Huddersfield that nobody else in the world will remember, will always be imprinted on my soul.
Not because of Kevin Gallen’s predatory instinct, Peter Crouch’s assist or Ludek Miklosko’s athleticism, but because it marks a huge part of my life.
A part of my life that I haven’t had since leaving with the raucous adulation for Juninho Bacuna’s thunderblaster against Charlton back in February last year pulsating in my ears.
Football has always been something we do. Grandpa. Dad. Uncle. Cousin. Brother. And now, son. Theo’s a proper little Terrier, and his season ticket is for the seat his great grandpa used to sit in.
He wants to be Christopher Schindler. He wanted #26 for his squad number for his team. For years, dad would drive us to Mirfield, stop at the Navigation, then we’d play pool, have some illuminous fizzy drink and set off to the match again.
Times changed, and Town became a port in a storm between going out before with friends (pre-match drinks) and going out after (post-match drinks). Now it’s different: train, spot the stadium, Magic Rock, walk to the ground, train home. Bliss.
So Saturday was big. It was important. It felt like a day. One of those worth remembering. And it was.
Everything felt strangely familiar, though accompanied with a grin – not dissimilar to slipping back into a comfortable winter coat when the nights draw in.
The packed train festooned with blue and white, the utterly joyous embraces between friends, the delicious anticipation of what might be, and the frustrating realisation that it very probably won’t be.
The pulsing stream of blue and white pouring down the streets to the John Smith’s, like a malfunction at a paint factory had spilled it into the road.
The match itself has been done already. Nothing I say will add to the incisive analysis done to death by pundits across the country.
After the moment that the first release of sheer footballing joy in 18 months was cut short and Matty Pearson’s goal disallowed, it felt like something of a done deal.
It felt like a birthday party where the DJ hadn’t turned up, or a wedding without a bride and groom. A bit empty.
It would be very simple to sit back and accept that Fulham will probably go up this year, and that might make it more palatable. But we need to scrap, to fight and to give absolutely everything.
After all the pomp, all the emotive montages on social media, the pre-season hopes and encouraging signs, Saturday felt like being handed a burst blue and white balloon for my birthday.
It means more though, doesn’t it? Football runs deep, and connects people in a way that little else can.
In the 20 years that have passed since Kevin Gallen’s missed penalty at Loftus Road, Town have done alright with spot kicks, culminating in Christopher Schindler finding the corner in 2017.
Whenever we get one, I always look to the sky and think of grandpa, watching down, very probably expecting us to miss. It’s good to be finally doing that from the seats again.
Football – and its frustration, joy, misery and ecstasy – is back.