I needed to go again. I’d been before kick-off, but a pint and a pre-match coffee had gone right through me. It was that very same feeling I’d had against Exeter in 2007. This was nerves; not those excited butterfly nerves, just the deadening all-preoccupying feeling of needing a wee. This is the big-game feeling, we were 16 minutes in and it was all I could think about.
Hundreds of pounds of investment boiled down to bladder control. This was what buying the football product was all about. I could do that with 8 litres of Evian, a full tank of petrol and a drive up the M1.
The feeling subsided as it became clear that the occasion hadn’t got the better of us. Far from being leggy and anxious; desperately grinding and jamming gears, we were controlled and calm. We were showing up Rushden as a very ordinary collection of players who had been marshalled by a decent manager. Jefferson Louis, not a smart player at the best of times, was having no impact. We’d been undone twice at home by fine forward play – Iseyden Christie bullying Mark Creighton and Steve Basham showing his class – this wasn’t one of those occasions.
This was no epic struggle, like Swindon in 2002, it was the smooth execution of a well made plan. A clean movement through the gears; controlling, probing, creating chances, goals and then back to control again. If the initial wave of chances – through Green, Midson and Constable – didn’t produce goals, then the Diamonds defence were suitably beaten to allow Potter and Deering to come on and change the dynamic. We’ve been doing it this way all season.
It’s been, what, 14 years – the game against Peterborough – since we did that. Fourteen years since we’d had a good performance in a must-win game. Other games, even some of the great victories, have been characterised by their teeth grinding intensity. Where the needing of a wee simply won’t go away.
It was no fluke. On top of Kelvin Thomas’ business acumen and strategy lies sports science, on this lies tactics and shape and discipline, on this technique. It’s a series of measured, scientific, professional decisions designed to win games of football. It can take 14 years of trial and error to perfect.
Our lives are lived in straight lines distilled as much as possible into a series of binary decisions. The way our entire country is ruled is based on who we say yes to and who we say no to. As an extension, football is a business over which a science is overlaid. And we are totally compliant. We wait to buy tickets in straight lines, we queue for drinks in straight lines, we even go to games and sit in straight lines.
Games aren’t won by people who tumble over each other like delirious morons. And that’s the service right there. The players invest hours doing things you and I wouldn’t do if you paid us double what they’re on. They eat well, exercise for hours every day, potentially sacrifice the long-term stability of their families just to put the ball in the net and send us nutty. No other service offers that kind of return on your investment.
It’s not over, of course, but Wembley is different. No less important, but different. People outside the club are interested in your trip to Wembley. Some of the bastards will actually go to the game. The beauty of this win was that it was for you and me, for people who have stuck with it for all these years while the rest of the world continued their lives regardless and disinterested. My lasting memory of Monday was of the chaos in the Oxford Mail Stand as Matt Green’s goal rolled in. ‘What was it like?; people might ask. ‘Fucking amazing’ I’d say. But that doesn’t even describe the half of it and nothing I can do or say, no photograph or YouTube clip can come close to recreating it. That’s the sheer fucking poetry of the thing.