Play Off Lottery Love-in

The sound of the ‘Maskell clunk’ at Wembley in 1993 still gives Nick Judd an erection… and some other Play Off memories…

I absolutely love the play-offs. Incredible things. Hats off to Trevor Playoff for inventing them, cracking idea. Of course, they’ve given us our fair share of ball-crushing disappointment.

Most of us pulled the curtains and hid for about four days post-Millwall, which was quite frankly horrendous. Before that, Brighton had been a brilliant match over two legs but ultimately ended in disappointment. Brentford? Well that stung.

Those a bit longer in the tooth will recall the Crystal Palace disappointment of ’89, of course, but let’s not forget that the play-offs have also given us some of the best feelings a football fan can experience.

For example, those same fans who curse the Eagles double header will likely go into a daze recalling the jubilant scenes against Blackburn Rovers and the win that followed against Sunderland at Wembley in 1990.

And then there’s ’93. It makes me sad that fans of a certain age weren’t there to share it with us. Imagine how you felt during the 5-5 draw last week… but at Wembley, and with a place in the Premier League at stake.

I was 15 and I remember feeling immense pride at seeing so many red scarfs and flags along the M4, even more so when, once inside the ground, there were more Swindon fans than I had ever seen before in my life. And all in one place! Who were these people? I loved them all.

Even the sea of blue at the other end looked impressive. Red v Blue. Classic. The twin towers. Blue skies. Balloons everywhere. Big expectations. Incredible.

There was Hoddle – with his sock ties and short shorts – passing the ball around like he was playing on his own and already knew the outcome… then stroking the ball home as if he was playing in his garden.

The sound of the ‘Maskell clunk, which still gives me an erection. Taylor putting his facial features on the line like few players have done since to make it 3-0.

That elation was followed by the most abject horror and disbelief: 3-1. 3-2. 3-3. FFS. Tears. Rage. Poor mum, having to deal with this when we got hom… PENALTY!

It was never a penalty by the way, but who cares.

Paul Bodin: a man so reliable you’d choose him over a Volkswagon Golf. Goal! Relief. Elation. Oh my days.

Still doesn’t seem real.

Brighton in 2004 was, of course, ultimately disappointing [though I have fond memories]. In the second leg it rained, we lost and we were so far away from the pitch we might have well of stayed in Wiltshire.

Town bossed the home leg but were robbed by a deflection. “Swindon have every right to feel hard done by,” said Albion boss Mark McGhee afterwards. You don’t say.

We won the away leg, of course, but it wasn’t enough. However, I will never forget the three scintillating minutes towards the end. Parkin had given us hope, that’s just what he did, then Fallon, with three minutes to go, scored a goal we all thought would see take us to Cardiff and a date with Bristol City.

Those three minutes were simply majestic. It’s minutes like those that help you through every takeover, every poor new signing, every poor managerial decision or hopeless performance.

Then Adam Virgo happened with virtually the last kick of the game.

There was no depression this time, more a case of ‘you have to laugh’. Friends were forged that night, friendships that still survive (and flourish).

The Valley in 2010 is one of my favourite nights of all time but let’s be clear; we were very poor in the second leg. Town had limped into the play-offs with automatic promotion a real possibility and while we played well at home, winning 2-1, Charlton had been decent on home soil.

The writing seemed on the wall when David Lucas went off with injury after five minutes, and again when Gordon Greer following him down the tunnel later in the game, this time for a red card. Oh Greer oh Greer.

At half time we were two down and devoid of ideas. Few would have expected the scenes that followed. And that’s why it was so amazing. First Danny Ward’s strike, from absolutely nowhere, then Phil Smith and the crossbar taking us to penalties.

Hang on, we don’t do penalties…

Forget that, four in a row!! Even Amankwaah’s bagged!

Now Stephen Darby’s turn. He doesn’t even play for us…

There are no words for those scenes of celebration. I stood on my chair and looked into the sky, as a grown man, and shed a tear. Football does not get better than that. I hugged so many people it felt like some weird communion. We’d all seen so many turgid performances, so many awful players – and all of them were forgotten with one kick by a player we didn’t even own.

Forget Charlie’s bobble against Millwall, the game at Wembley was lost before it had even begun. Both fans and players were intimidated and subdued. None of us turned up and we got what we deserved.

And so to Brentford in 2013…

This one still hurts a little bit, like a persistent verruca that won’t go away and provides the occasional pinch.

Remember them celebrating their equalizer in the first leg like they’d already won the tie? ‘We’ll show them’ we all thought, but few of us believed it.

The Bees quickly went 2-0 up at Griffin Park. Adam ‘f*cking’ Rooney with an own goal, then Clayton Donaldson… celebrating in front of us. Joy. Then a bit of hope thanks to… Rooney! What a hero (always told you he was awesome). Donaldson again ** holds head in hands **.

Devera offering a bit of hope…. then Flint!!!!!

You might dislike him now, you might even have disliked him then, but we should all be forever grateful for that moment of sheer – and let’s face it, totally underserved – ecstasy. It led to absolute carnage everywhere. You know it’s been a pivotal moment when you check your seat and your several rows from where you should be. Incredible.

It just goes to show that even in defeat, the play-offs can offer moments that live with you forever.

Of course, we can all remember how we felt when Miles missed his pen but for all the pain that entailed, those scenes of celebration when Flint found the net will never be forgotten. Magic.

So what of this year? Does it feel any different? No-one, with the exception of Lee Power and perhaps Mark Cooper, expected us to finish in the top six, let alone reach Wembley. However, such was our season that some of us were disappointed with our fourth-place finish.

And yet here we are and, contrary to our sieve-like defending, deservedly so. Part of me feels elated to be heading to Wembley for a third time in five years. A bigger part of me suggests this time we need to mean business. No Green Man or talk of ‘a good day out’, but instead a shit load of streamers, noise and everything crossed we can keep the division’s most prolific strike force at bay and play to our potential.

Buckle up. Whatever happens, memories will be made on Sunday. And win or lose, you can bet we’ll have done it the hard way.

Is there any other?

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