Same Crap, Different Bucket
An Englishman's adventure in the land that Chocolate Digestives forgot.

You’re going to Wembley, you’re going to Wembley. I’m not, I’m not.

Tomorrow, Swindon Town take on Millwall at Wembley in the League One Play-off final. As an exiled Town fan, this is both thrilling and crushing in equal measure. That they wait until I leave the country before deciding to start playing like Santos is absolutely typical of the emotional trauma they have caused me over the last 25 years. Well done, Town, you’ve made me proud, you cruel useless bastards.

Living in Australia has forced me to change my matchday ritual. With games usually kicking off at 2.00am on Sundays, following their progress has impeded less on my weekend plans and caused fewer domestic fixture clashes. At the start of the season, I would regularly stay up to listen to games broadcast over the internet. A succession of draws in which Swindon conceded late equalisers stunted my enthusiasm and I settled into a new routine of just checking the score online the following morning. I have no idea how people coped 20 years ago. My grandad occasionally posts me clippings of the league tables he cuts out of the Sunday Mirror. This is how people must have survived before the internet – reliance on the kindness of relatives.

As the season progressed, results improved and Swindon found themselves firmly entrenched in the play-off places. Experience had taught me to expect a collapse and I awaited the inevitable slide back down into the familiar comfort of mid-table anonymity. It wasn’t until a fine 3-0 home win over Leeds United in January that it started to dawn on me that they might actually bloody do it. This led to the obvious question: how the hell am I going to afford to get back to London to watch them in the Play-off final? The answer, of course, was ‘You can’t afford it, idiot, and even if you could, flying all the way back to watch the final would be the absolute sure-fire way of ensuring defeat – they used to lose heavily when you only travelled as far as Stoke”.

A series of impressive results around Easter (1-0 at Southampton, another 3-0 thrashing of Leeds at Elland Road) made it seem possible that they would even grab an automatic promotion spot. But with the finishing line in sight, the team looked down and suddenly realised how high they had climbed. Struck jelly-legged by vertigo, they set about winning only one of their final five matches and finished the season in fifth place.

The second leg of their Play-off semi-final with Charlton was screened live on Australian television. Getting up at 4.30am on a Tuesday wasn’t really conducive to a productive day in the office, but I knew how fortunate I was to be able to see the game at all. The tension of extra time and a win on penalties reduced me to a shivering white mess, but if I’d had to discover the outcome via pop’s newspaper clippings, I’d have been a drooling disgrace.

And so, I’ve had a couple of weeks to come to terms with the fact that I’m on the other side of the world as Swindon play at Wembley for only the fourth time in their history. I’ve followed the progress of ticket sales on the official club website, read the preview specials on the website of the local newspaper, and dishonestly joined the Facebook group claiming I plan to attend the final. I’ve sent messages of congratulations to friends who have emailed me to confirm their tickets have finally arrived and smiled when someone sent me a photo of their ticket – even if it was a bit like Charlie Bucket texting Augustus Gloop from inside the Great Glass Elevator to say I M FLYNG FATTY! PWND ;-p.

The match kicks off at midnight Sydney-time, by which hour I plan to have numbed my pre-match nerves. I’ll be watching with a fellow Town fan and will be in contact with Swindon supporters in California and Bangkok, where my friend Paul will be forced to defy a military curfew if the game goes to extra time.

Those of us who can’t be there in person can take solace in two facts: firstly, we won’t have to deal with Millwall fans on the Bakerloo Line, and secondly, unlike those at Wembley, we won’t be forced to listen to that bloody Black Eyed Peas song at any point in proceedings.

On the subject of music, I’d like to finish by directing you to the below video, made to celebrate Swindon’s previous appearance at Wembley in 1993. Be warned though, if the haunting synth intro doesn’t get you, then the power and emotion of the lyrics will. Lennon and McCartney never thought of rhyming ‘belong’ with ‘strong’.

Come on you reds!*

*whites

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