The build up. The excitement. The anxiety. The pressure. All the things that I remember feeling so clearly say at the back of the team bus listening to my music. The atmosphere of the lads was so calm almost like we knew that this was our time to shine. I think the nerves were so settled because of the FA trophy final previous. We arrived for our pre match meal and looking around the lads were having the same banter as we did all season. In our minds this was just another game we had to win. We treated it like every single game we played. From going through set plays on the training pitch, to the pre match meeting before we headed over to the stadium. Everything Leading up to the game was to give us the best chance possible. And with anything you start to ask yourself questions leading up to the announcement of the team.... am I starting? What position will I play? I hope I play well! What’s my job role! All these questions running through my head until I hear Richard money’s voice say “HUGHES”. And then I can breath again! This is when the nerves kicked in with the added mixture of pure excitement and making sure my mindset was right which to be honest was knowing our preparation was as good as it could be.
Upon arrival at Wembley stadium I remember driving past the United fans and already how much atmosphere there was really was incredible which perhaps gave us another boost even before the game started. Then standing in the tunnel ready to walk out the atmosphere we heard earlier was magnified immensely. Walking out to the sea of black and Amber was one of the most proudest moments of my life. So many different emotions, I still to this day struggle to find words can describe what I felt. But we had a job to do.
You have to forget the crowd the occasion and focus for 90 minutes (or over 100 in our case) on getting the job done. I remember the game been so intense and fast the first 15 minutes until we grew into the game. Both sides sharing possession and creating chances but I felt the first half we didn’t really make the impact we had worked on in training.
At half time we changed our shape and I felt at the time we became dominant playing football in the final third which we had done so well throughout the season. And the pressure we applied finally paid off when Tom Elliot who was immense for us won a corner. Now as I said earlier we had been working on set plays in training and we all Knew our jobs and I just remember thinking to myself “right hughesy, you know what to do so don’t f**k this up” Ryan signed the corner to signal to us all what to do, played it short to Harrison so I knew my movement had to follow suit and to be fair with Ryan’s quality you always knew that if you were in the right place he will always find you and luckily for me everything worked to a tee. When the goal went in again I can not to this day explain or pin point any single emotion as there was so many. But the elation I felt that was echoed by the thousands in attendance was a moment I will never ever forget. I’m sure Ryan will say the same about his delightful free kick which I wanted to take so bad by the way!
Fast forward to the legend of Ian miller getting injured and the 9 minutes we had to play with 10! All of a sudden the anxiety, fear, nerves that I felt before the game suddenly came rushing back in an instant. But we had worked so hard as a group to be in the position we were and looking back now I can still se the faces of the players around me. I saw looks of pure determination to ride the pressure and see the job through. It was the longest 9 minutes of my life.
Then the best sound I heard that day apart from the amazing fans, the cheering was the final whistle. And at that moment, everything as a club and as a player we had gone through together was worth every single second. Back to the promise land and back to where the club rightfully belong!
Relive the day through the photos Simon Lankester MAGIC MOMENTS https://tinyurl.com/y9xjqhvq