IT’S over, it’s finally over. The Championship season is finally over.
My team got promoted. This would be special at the best of times but, after the longest season ever, it’s an unbelievable feeling.
It’s over, this weird season, which for several months looked like it might not finish at all. Fans not being allowed to go to matches somehow made it even more nerve-shredding than usual. And it all boiled down to an evening in which the fans of a whole host of teams were to either jump for joy or drown in despair in front of their TVs.
On Wednesday night my team, West Brom, got themselves promoted by the narrowest of margins right at the end of the very last match, crawling desperately over the finish line.
At the very same moment Brentford, having won seven straight games since the restart, then lost their second consecutive match to miss out on automatic promotion.
Their despair was our joy. In turn, their opponents — Barnsley — by winning had saved themselves from relegation, so their joy raged unconfined as Brentford’s players fell to the ground in abject misery.
Elsewhere, Swansea and Nottingham Forest pulled off a minor mathematical miracle by respectively winning and losing in some style to get into, and fall out of, the playoffs, which start this weekend.
Fans around the country felt sick to their stomachs, joy in their hearts, horror in their souls.
All this kind of thing would of course still be true in normal times: the joy of Liverpool fans; the despair at Bournemouth and Watford as they face relegation; the quiet, agonising stress of Aston Villa fans as they pray their players now don’t go and fluff their lines on Sunday.
But two factors have made this bizarre, crowdless end to the season much more intense. We’ve had to watch alone or perhaps with one or two friends.
All in same boat
There’s been no physical strength in numbers — no fellow travellers to lean on, sing with, laugh with, sob with or hug. It’s been a lonely road at times, and all the tougher for that.
But in a different way it’s brought us all closer together, because there’s normally a big dividing line between fans of a club.
There are those who are there, at the match — and those who aren’t.
This last month there has been no divide, we’ve all been in the same boat. And I suspect that for fans around the world that’s been an extra special feeling. Because now, for once, they’ve been equals.
Ahead of our big promotion game I heard from West Brom fans in Croatia, Australia, France, Italy, New York, California and Japan. We’d all be watching anxiously from the same place, in front of our screens.
And as well as fans of my own team I had good wishes from, among others, a Southampton fan I once met in Antigua; a Wolves fan who happens to be a rock god (Robert Plant); and a family of orthodox Jewish Man United fans in Jerusalem who I filmed with five years ago.
All of this was very nice but ratcheted up the tension to unbelievable levels.
At home things had been tense for days.
My girlfriend, you see, is a Leeds fan. They’d got promoted thanks to us losing last Friday. She kindly kept her celebrations very quiet that day, while I’d just glowered darkly in a most immature fashion.
But she wanted the Albion to be promoted too (she knows what the team’s fortunes do to my mood). The tension was so unbearable she went off to fold some washing.
Meanwhile at Anfield, my friend Lee Dixon was covering the Liverpool v Chelsea game.
As a West Londoner he was hoping for the Brentford goal which would have promoted them instead of us. But he said on 89 minutes he suddenly had an image of me sitting there, in pieces.
Lee calls my hair “the squirrel” as he says it looks like one is sitting on my head.
“I just thought of you tearing your squirrel out”, he said. “And I found myself almost hoping Brentford wouldn’t score. I didn’t think you would survive the trauma.”
He’s right about that, and possibly about the squirrel too. But then the whistles blew, and we were promoted.
The bloke from Antigua, Robert Plant, the Reds of Jerusalem and hundreds of others all texted.
I thought, randomly, of something Jeremy Paxman, of all people, said to me the other day.
He’s not greatly into football but said he always liked the way us fans use the word “we” when we talk about our teams.
And “we” is what it’s all been about this summer.
And I mean “we” not just as in fellow fans of our own teams, but “we” as in all fans of this wonderful game the world over.
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