Actor Patrick Stewart was not the only celebrity Huddersfield fan rendered helpless by their penalty shootout. Nick Westby spoke to Andrew Gale.
As a professional sportman, Andrew Gale has lived through his fair share of nerve-wracking moments when an entire year’s work has been on the line.
Plenty of those scenarios surfaced in the last three seasons when he was captaining a Yorkshire side bidding to win a coveted County Championship title.
On each occasion there was an element of control for Gale. He may only have been one of 11 players, but as captain he could influence tactics, bowling changes and, to an extent, the outcome of the match and the destination of the title.
But on Bank Holiday Monday at Wembley Stadium, Yorkshire’s first-team coach and one of the most recognisable sporting figures in the White Rose county, was as helpless as the rest of the 38,500 fans who had followed their beloved Huddersfield Town to the doorstep of the Premier League.
“To be honest, I didn’t watch half of the penalties,” smiled Gale shortly after witnessing the Terriers complete one of the unlikelier promotions to the richest league in world football.
When it goes down to the last session, the last two hours of a game, your entire season going down to that...Andrew Gale
“I just sat down with my head in my hands and listened to the crowd, and wherever the cheers came from I knew if it was in the back of the net or not.
“It’s weird because everything is out of your control.”
If a seasoned professional cannot handle the nerves, then what chance do the rest of us have, let alone the penalty-takers on whose shoulders lay the hopes of a club, its staff and fanbase?
“I guess it was very similar to what we went through at the end of last season when you’re looking for three county championship titles in a row,” said Gale, when asked if he could draw comparison from his own experiences.
Back in September, Yorkshire were in a three-way fight with opponents Middlesex, and Somerset playing 170 miles away, to win the championship title.
“When it goes down to the last session, the last two hours of a game, your entire season going down to that...” he reflected.
“That was on a massive scale for us, but the Championship play-off final is a different magnitude altogether – a £200m game in front of a worldwide audience – it’s difficult to relate it to cricket.”
Yorkshire lost that day, giving Gale some empathy for Reading, the team beaten by Town on spot-kicks. But for a diehard Terrier, sympathy was in short supply.
Gale follows Town as often as he can, and in this remarkable Championship season just gone, he estimates he went to around 25 games. “It’ll be nice to go away to Liverpool and Chelsea and Man United and Man City instead of places like Wigan and Blackburn next season,” he laughed, as the prospect of Premier League football began to dawn.
“I’ll get to as many as I can. I’ve enjoyed every minute this year.What an unbelievable journey.”
The man who steered Huddersfield on that journey is a person Gale believes he can learn a thing or two from.
Yorkshire’s first-team coach is still a matter of months into his first management role, with Town head coach David Wagner not much further down the line in terms of experience at a professional level.
So what does Gale see when he surveys the group of players Wagner has harnessed and compares them to his own band of professionals at Headingley? “I see a lot of similarities,” said the cricket chief. “They’ve got a really close-knit group of players, and I believe that gives you the edge over the opposition, it certainly did in our championship-winning seasons.
“You can have all the skill in the world, but if you haven’t got that focus, belief and team spirit and the will to play for each other, then you’re not going to win anything. You can see that in abundance at Huddersfield Town.
“The belief that was in that camp from the start of the season, they knew they could get to the Premier League.
“I thought there might be a chance they’d sneak into the play-offs. If you’d have asked anyone if they’d have really believed that Huddersfield Town would get to the Premier League, most would say ‘no, not really’, which is what makes this achievement extra special.
“To have won two county championships is right up there for me, and then to see Huddersfield win on penalties at Wembley to reach the Premier League, it’s unbelievable.”