THE Championshiop play-off final will be a huge occasion for Yorkshire football and a proud day for the county.
Tens of thousands of fans will be heading to Wembley, dreaming about their team reaching the Premier League and it promises to be an occasion to savour.
I know a little of what Hull CIty and Sheffield Wednesday can expect from my own experience as Huddersfield Town manager in 2012. We faced Sheffield United in what was only the second all-Yorkshire play-off final in history and the stakes were so, so high.
There was a lot of hype beforehand about it being a Yorkshire derby but, in all honesty, we managed to divorce ourselves from that.
A play-off final is huge enough, without the added ingredient of it being a derby. I don’t think it matters if the final is Yorkshire v Yorkshire or North v South, winning promotion is what the day is all that the day is about.
It might be different for the fans. They might work together or even have family who support the opposing team. Then, there is the fact many of those fans will be travelling home on the same trains and roads after the final. It can’t be much fun to be sharing a train carriage with fans of the winning team if they are singing all the way home!
We were so late leaving Wembley after winning the 2012 final on penalties that all the Sheffield United fans had gone home. There were none left on the M1 north.
It will have been different for the fans, and I am sure a few verbals were exchanged between the coaches on the way home!
So, I can imagine that losing a play-off final could feel even worse in those circumstances.
But, as players and coaches, it is all about the prize on offer – promotion to the division above.
Back in 2012, I always felt the final would be tight. Just as I do this year, in fact. That proved to be the case and it wasn’t a great game, if I am honest.
We then got to penalties and promptly missed the first three! I was sitting on the bench with (Town chairman) Dean Hoyle and thought, ‘We are out’. But, thankfully, we hung in there and, in the end, the shoot-out went to 11 penalties before we won it.
To be honest, it is all a blur. I didn’t watch them. Instead, I just went with the reaction of the Huddersfield fans. What I do remember, though, is when Sheffield United missed, I turned round to celebrate with Dean and he had shot off down the touchline.
We had practised penalties beforehand. Funnily enough, though, all the lads who missed on the day scored in the week and vice-versa. That shows how difficult it is to plan ahead of an occasion like this.
Whoever ‘turns up’ will win. Look at last year’s Championship final. Most would have said Middlesbrough were the better team over the season but they just didn’t turn up and Norwich City were comfortable winners on the day.
I have heard suggestions that Hull haven’t turned up as a team a few times this season but that is true of nearly all of us in the Championship.
We beat Hull at Deepdale this season but then we beat Sheffield Wednesday there, too. Both games probably suited us, in that their styles involve getting men forward and that allowed us to pick them off.
The key on Saturday will be staying focused. I sensed that focus in my players a year ago ahead of the League One final against Swindon Town and we started brilliantly. We were more or less up by half-time. Not that I let the players think that!
A play-off final is a massive occasion and some players do freeze. The pressure can get to them.
Both Steve Bruce and Carlos Carvalhal will be guarding against that.
A lot is made every year ahead of the Championship play-off final about the money that a club can earn with promotion.
Not so long ago, the prize was £60m. Then, it went to £80m and £100m. Now, I see that Saturday’s winners will bank a minimum £200m, even if relegated from the Premier League after just one season.
It is a mind-boggling amount but I can guarantee the players won’t be thinking about the money. Okay, they might get a wage rise out of promotion but the bottom line is victory at Wembley means Premier League football.
This is all about getting back into the top flight – and going to all the big clubs next season. First and foremost, players just want to win.
They want the fixture list to feature the Emirates, Old Trafford and Anfield. They don’t want to stay in the Championship, those players want to test themselves against the very best. Promotion will bring that opportunity.
Whoever does win – and, to me, the final really is too tight to call – they are in for one hell of a celebration.
I have won promotion at Wembley three times and every one of them was special. Even if any celebrations are off-the-cuff and unplanned, which they have to be by the very nature of what is at stake in a play-off final.
The day is all about who wins – and if you lose, you don’t want to hang around because a whole season has gone up in smoke.
When I was a player, we had things organised at Leicester City ahead of two play-off finals but lost them both. No-one wanted to be there afterwards.
By the time we got to Wembley for a third time in the play-offs, a decision had been made to not organise a thing and that time we won!
I can understand why teams organise a party after an FA Cup final or League Cup final. But not the play-offs, as there is simply no consolation to be had from losing.
One of Hull or Wednesday will discover that this weekend. It is going to be a day to remember and, for one team, probably the best of their players’ careers. Wembley is for winners and it is going to be fascinating to see which Yorkshire team will be flying the flag for the county in next season’s Premier League.
Interview: Richard Sutcliffe