“IT is a total blur,” says one of only two Wembley-bound Huddersfield Town players to have already played at the rebuilt national stadium. “I just can’t remember much about it at all.”
Danny Ward is gearing up for his third consecutive appearance in a League One play-off final and racking his brains as to what stands out from his 2010 appearance under the Arch that has become such a familiar feature of the north London skyline.
At the time, the Shipley-born winger was on loan at Swindon Town. The Wiltshire side, then managed by current Blades boss Danny Wilson, had seen off Charlton over two legs to set up a Wembley meeting with the team who had accounted for Huddersfield in the semi-finals, Millwall.
A crowd of 73,108 – the third highest for a play-off final involving two teams from the third tier – then witnessed the Lions clinch promotion with a 1-0 win and the Yorkshire Post is intrigued to know if Ward feels that experience will today stand him in good stead as the Terriers prepare to take on Sheffield United. The 20-year-old, however, is stumped.
“I know it was only two years ago,” apologises the £1m summer signing from Bolton Wanderers ahead of only the second all-Yorkshire play-off final, “but that day really is a blur.
“I couldn’t tell you if Swindon had more fans there or Millwall. Or anything about the match itself, other than we lost. I realise that sounds weird but that’s honestly the truth.
“I was speaking to my dad the other day about the 2010 final and he said, ‘You won’t be as overwhelmed by the occasion as you know what to expect this time’. I think he’s right as this time it won’t be a novelty.”
Ward’s temporary bout of amnesia is, perhaps, understandable with Wembley never having been a place to be on the losing side in any kind of final, never mind a play-off decider when nine months of toil can come down to just 90 minutes. Or, as in Huddersfield’s case a year ago against Peterborough United at Old Trafford, a crazy seven minutes.
That is how long it took Darren Ferguson’s Posh to score three goals without reply a year ago when Ward was in the Town team beaten 3-0.
Unlike Wembley 2010, he remembers plenty about last year’s final.
It was the then-loanee from Bolton Wanderers who came closest to scoring for Lee Clark’s men with a searing shot early in the second half that crashed against the crossbar when the score was still goalless.
“The dressing room was so quiet afterwards,” recalls Ward, who along with Kallum Higginbotham is the only Town player to have previously played at Wembley due to Sean Morrison having been an unused substitute with Swindon in 2010. “We came in and, literally, you would have been able to hear a pin drop. Everyone was devastated, totally devastated. A horrible, horrible place to be at that time. The manager felt like we did. There was not a lot he could say. Everyone was just so low after losing. No-one could speak.
“Hopefully, that can spur us on and make sure we don’t have to go through that feeling again. We want to be coming away with a winners’ medal.”
On why it can be third time lucky this year, Ward said: “I think things are a bit different this time. Certainly, among the lads the mood is different to a year ago.
“Everyone feels confident that we can do it and everyone is really up for it, probably because we have started to hit a bit of form in the last couple of weeks.
“Maybe it has helped because we knew from the middle of last month that we were in the play-offs. Our chances of winning automatic promotion had gone and that has allowed us to prepare differently.”
In agreeing a permanent switch to Huddersfield last summer, Ward sealed a return to his West Yorkshire roots after spending his formative years playing for the youth teams of Bradford City and Leeds United.
He was tempted away from Elland Road at 16 to join Bolton, who he made two Premier League appearances for before really starting to carve out a reputation during a loan spell at Wilson’s Swindon in 2009-10.
Among those left impressed by his displays at the County Ground was Simon Grayson, whose Leeds side were comprehensively beaten 3-0 twice by a Ward-inspired Swindon.
The Town winger said: “When the manager came in, he did say he knew a bit about me. Maybe it was from my time at Swindon when we beat Leeds, I’m not sure.
“What I do know is he is a great manager to play under and I really enjoy working with him, Glynn Snodin and Ian Miller.
“It is also good to have come full circle and back to West Yorkshire. I was fortunate enough to play for good Academies and that really helped me. But it is good to be back. My family like it, that’s for sure. They find it a lot easier to get to games. To be fair to them, though, they never missed one. So, they’ve earned their Wembley tickets.”
Happy to back in his native West Riding, Ward now has one firm target in his sights – enjoying a memorable trip to Wembley.
He said: “The lads are excited about playing at Wembley, even though we realise that isn’t the biggest thing about the weekend. Instead, that is winning promotion. But it will still be a big moment for everyone. The lads are confident and in good spirits ahead of what everyone believes will be a great final. It being a Yorkshire derby makes it that bit bigger, as well. What really matters, though, is winning promotion. The Championship would be great to play in. Teams like Bolton, Blackburn, Leeds and others are all fantastic teams with great grounds. They would also bring a lot of fans here to Huddersfield so that would really help the atmosphere.
“A club like this is ready to take off. Huddersfield is a massive club, always has been. And it deserves to be in at least the Championship.”