Bristol City take on Hull City at Wembley Stadium later this afternoon. At stake is a place in with the elite of the English Premier League. The game has been called the richest club game in the world as the winners stand to make a cool sixty million pounds.
We have a really exciting battle that would mean so much to both teams if they were to win.
Bristol City havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been in the top division since 1980. Two years after that they found themselves in the bottom division following three successive relegations. They were declared bankrupt but were saved and have made a gradual return to where they are now, so close to the big time.
Hull City have never been in the top flight of English football. They were in the bottom league as recently as 2004 and like their opponents, they have come very close to going out of business. At one time, back in 2000 the players and staff were locked out of their home ground by the bailiffs!
So we have two teams going to Wembley who will find it hard to believe that they are there. The fans of both clubs wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have even dreamt of this day in their wildest and most partisan dreams.
Of course, the game will lead to one team undertaking wild celebrations and looking forward to a thrilling adventure. The other will be in tears and wondering what might have been.
In due course the side that wins and goes into the Premier League will see the enormity of the task they face next season. The players will probably have watched Manchester United and Chelsea battle it out the other night and wonder how on earth they can be on the same pitch as some of those players. They will look at Birmingham and Derby coming straight back down and Reading with them, who went up the previous season and were being held up as the example of how a promoted team can succeed. Apparently not.
All of that though is for another day. Today is all about going to Wembley and trying to win the biggest game of most of the playersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ careers. The win means sixty million pounds, trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, The Emirates and Anfield and the thrill of knowing that you have given thirty odd thousand fans the best day of their life.
As a Watford supporter I have seen two play-off final victories to get us into the Premier League. In 1999 I went to Wembley to see us beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0. It was a day that will stay with me forever. What an experience and what a thrill.
In 2006 I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go to Cardiff to see the final that we won 3-0 due to work commitments. I watched on television in tears as the third goal hit the back of the net. It was another wonderful experience even though I was so disappointed about not being there.
With the exception of my marriage and the birth of my children, those two days are right up there as two of the best days of my life. What happened after the two wins? Well, both times we failed abysmally in the Premier League and got relegated straight back in bottom place.
Whilst the enjoyment of watching your team being outplayed and beaten week after week tends to lose its appeal after a while, I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t swap those two seasons at the top for anything. I guess even Derby fans, who suffered an even worse humiliation this season , will still be glad they had that play-off win last season that will be a happy memory for them for the rest of their lives.
This season Watford nearly got there again. Well, actually Hull stuffed us 6-1 so we werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really that close! I was devastated by our semi-final defeat even though I expected it and had real fears about our future if we went up. The reason I was devastated was because I was so desperately hoping for another final to go to.
The idea of getting the tickets, the build up, traveling to Wembley, the atmosphere in the pubs before the game, the atmosphere in the stadium and the excitement of the game were all things that I wanted to experience again.
I am very envious of the Bristol City and Hull City fans who are going through this experience at the moment. I have never seen Watford lose a play-off final so I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what that feels like. It must be awful. However, I do know that one set of fans are going to have a day that they will always want to remember and will never be able to forget.
Good luck to both clubs. In the long run, you are going to need it!
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