TOMMY SMITH has been to Wembley before.
The 2011 FA Cup semi-final that doubled as the Manchester derby was the occasion, City’s victory ensuring a happy day out in the stand for someone who had joined the club at the age of 11.
Smith was 19 at the time and just seven months later he had called time on his stay at the Etihad Stadium. A desire to kick-start a career that had yet to feature a senior appearance was behind the decision, taken despite him having no transfer or even a trial lined up.
That step into the unknown has since been justified time and time again but it is Monday when the true value of Smith’s bold move will be felt.
The Huddersfield Town full-back will be back at Wembley for the first time since Yaya Toure’s goal sent City through to their first Cup final in 30 years and he really could not be happier.
“To be on the grass at Wembley will be an unbelievable feeling,” the 25-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of next Monday’s Championship play-off final against Reading.
“I went to Wembley as a fan but I have never played there. It was the (2011) FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. That was a good one. But this will be really special.”
Huddersfield standing potentially just 90 minutes from the Premier League is one of the season’s more unlikely stories.
After four years largely spent battling against the drop from the Championship since winning promotion under Simon Grayson, the Terriers were expected to struggle again this time around.
Just five clubs were priced at longer odds than the 40-1 that bookmakers were offering on Town to win the division outright. ‘No limits’, however, was David Wagner’s mantra to his players during pre-season and they have followed that philosophy to the letter.
The fans have done their bit, too, in how they have backed us. An incredible season on all fronts and us going to Wembley is fully deserved.Huddersfield Town’s Tommy Smith
Smith perhaps embodies that attitude more than most, having been transformed this season from a steady, if unspectacular Championship performer to a pivotal figure in Town’s promotion push.
His forays down the right flank, and in particular how he has linked up with Elias Kachunga, have been a big part of Huddersfield’s armoury. Along with Aaron Mooy, surely the second tier’s most consistent performer this season, and fellow full-back Chris Lowe, Smith has helped set the tone for the high-pressing game so beloved of Wagner. The reward will come on Monday and that £200m showdown with Jaap Stam’s Reading.
“The feeling was incredible but hard to describe,” added Smith when asked about the penalty shoot-out triumph over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
“It is hard to explain what our feelings were like on the night. It didn’t quite sink in. But the team, the squad, the staff will all relish that feeling until the moment we go to Wembley. It has been an unbelievable season.
“I can’t stress just how much this club has invested, not just financially but in terms of what we have done this season, how we have prepared for games and trained.
“The fans have done their bit, too, in how they have backed us. An incredible season on all fronts and us going to Wembley is fully deserved.”
Huddersfield’s place at Wembley is testament to not only the ability of Wagner’s side but also their resilience. Written off several times by the pundits during a season that brought two major wobbles in form, Town refused to be bowed.
Twenty-two victories by a one-goal margin – a Football League record – underlines that strong mentality, as does Wagner’s men being the first second tier side to reach the play-off final with a negative goal difference since Brighton & Hove Albion in 1991.
The Seagulls, who finished that campaign with a six-goal deficit to Town’s two this time around, lost the decider to Neil Warnock’s Notts County but Smith is adamant the Yorkshire club can finish the job under the world-famous Arch.
“We have been proving the doubters wrong all season long,” he added. “Ever since day one, pundits and other clubs have written us off. But we have just kept responding, time and time again. It has been a bit of a motivation for us, definitely.
“When teams write you off, there is a pride inside you that says: ‘We will show you’. It is great for little, old Huddersfield – the team that everyone has written off all season long – to get to Wembley.
“There is still a job to do, of course. We celebrated after the semi-final and we deserved those celebrations. We are in the play-off final, there are not a lot of teams who are able to achieve that – including some big teams.
“We will definitely be ready for the final, preparing as we always do for the game at Wembley.
“We are not interested in who are the favourites, whether it is us or them. That isn’t what we are about. All we want to do is go to Wembley and give it our all.”