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Play-off Panic

By Jacob Massey

I think I must be the only one of 40,000 in the Huddersfield Town stands at the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley who would describe it as the worst day of their life. Maybe a few Reading fans would share my sentiment…

For almost a decade now I have been getting drunk every week, like many my age. Most of my best stories involve alcohol and most of my best friendships were forged with it.

Up until this point, I have been very fortunate with hangovers. I’m normally just lethargic with a far from detailed memory. But I don’t puke or shit myself or anything remotely off-putting.

The first time I noticed a change was in January. I had just got back from New Zealand having been on a reunion bender with my old flatmates. I returned home for tea on my hangover, and as food was served I felt a sudden urge to leave the table. I was uneasy and had to go outside for some air. Strange.

On a few hangovers since then, I have felt uncomfortable, opening windows and splashing water on my face, trying to shake the weird coating from my brain. That’s all fine though. Definitely worth the excesses of the night previous. But that Play-off final at Wembley was a game-changer.

The preceding weekend lived up to its billing: constant drinking and laughing for two days, culminating with endless Jägers on Sunday night. I was awoken around 8.30am on Monday with a few hours of sleep under my belt and a dry throat. I whipped on some kegs and was ready to go again.

Throughout the seemingly endless car journey we provided each other with updates on the deterioration of our hangovers. I floated around a relatively impressive 6.1 for the majority of the journey, but I degenerated as sobriety awoke from its three-day slumber, eventually hitting an all-time low that was hardly fit for the scale.

I am the one in the middle, eating a £4 distraction Flake 99 bought for me by the guy to the right

As we passed through security and rode numerous elevators I began to feel unsettled, partly because I’d never been on an elevator in a football ground before. Almost as soon as I found my seat in the heavens I didn’t want to be there. It was surprisingly stuffy and close. My feet were fidgety. I kept looking at the time even though the game had just kicked off, wishing away the minutes.

I left my seat to pace twice in the first half. As the second half commenced I knew I had to leave for good. Continually grinding across my row was untenable. However, for security reasons, leaving was prohibited. I could neither stay nor go. This was exactly the situation I didn’t want to be in.

I ducked into a first aid room but it was cramped and dingy. A nice young man pointed a fan at my face and asked me about my weekend but I was antsy. Eventually, as the excitement of penalties loomed, I was allowed my release.

The view from the stands

Numerous security guards shepherded me through a string of back doors and finally I was out in the open. I strode in solitude down Wembley way, passing countless police officers and horses, each one looking at me quizzically as if to say ‘you’re going to miss the drama of the shootout, you twat’; one of them even pffffffffffft their lips at me with utter contempt. But I was anxious enough already thank you very much.

The tube was the worst bit. In hindsight I am so glad I didn’t stay for penalties, as my deteriorating condition combined with a mass exodus would have been catastrophic. It was like there was a cloud in my head accompanied by a quickening countdown to some kind of unknown but terrible storm. I had to breathe slowly and try to think of something else, but it was not possible. Try not to think about polar bears. It’s impossible – something I have since learned is called ‘ironic process theory’, whereby thoughts you deliberately attempt to supress become more likely to surface, interesting but also horrible, like war documentaries or Michael Jackson’s face.

Soon the symptoms became physical, I could feel sweat darting down my brow, my mouth drying despite my incessant water guzzling, and my knees rattling (though this could have been due to the incessant water guzzling and the growing urge to piss myself).

The posh man opposite me was glancing more frequently, and when I asked him waveringly if there were toilets on the tube he replied ‘no’, as though I had asked him if there was a time-travel carriage.

I got off at the next station and barged into a not-really-open Italian restaurant, pleading frantically to use the toilet. The maître d said ‘of course’ in a way that suggested I needn’t have been so despairing about the whole thing. She didn’t know just how gravely urgent it was, until my clammy and grimacing emergence ten minutes later…

I toyed with the idea of just finding a hotel room, but this would only delay my return to my new hometown of Norwich. I forked out the extortionate train fare at London Liverpool Street station and acquired distractions to accompany me on my journey: more water, Tangfastics and the Sunday Sport, which isn’t about sport at all, just tits.

My logic was that every Tangfastic I consumed would cause a temporary sour paralysis, while I didn’t think I had the attention span to read a challenging paper. It was an erratic choice.

London to Norwich normally took about two hours but, due to damnable engineering works, I had to go via Cambridge, which I assumed would add a maximum of half an hour to my journey. Thus, I was mortified as we pulled away from Cambridge and the train man announced we would be arriving in Norwich at 9.50pm, some 100 minutes later.

When I eventually got to Norwich my girlfriend was there waiting with my coat and a packet of Nik Naks. I wept with relief. After six hours of battling my own mind on a three second loop, I had navigated public transport and made it home. I was exhausted.

Once back in the flat, bed was calling, but nodding off was difficult. My feet still wouldn’t relent from their fidgeting, and my mind was still encased in an unsettled shell, waiting for my hellish playoff final day to finally end.

In the days that followed I felt hollow. A creamless and milkless coconut, with a very negative outlook on life. I have been to the doctor’s since and she gave me some beta-blockers to help cope with such a situation in the future. But I’m hoping this was a one off; the perfect storm of too much alcohol, caffeine, noise, and not enough sleep, space or air.

Hopefully this was my body’s way of saying I need to rein it in a bit, and then I’ll still have a drinking career ahead of me; Ronaldo is still firing on all cylinders because Zidane rests him occasionally.

I have since completed ‘Dry June’ and with any luck my day from hell has signposted a much needed new beginning. Money saved, organs saved. Nice midweek beer with tea, occasional drunken night with friends, tolerance significantly reduced, hangover mind-maze escaped. Maybe I’ll finally master the French horn.

Here’s hoping.

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