It's not every day you go to England for the weekend, but for one dedicated fan, it seemed completely normal.
Everyone around me said I was bonkers, but I wasn’t having a bar of it. It was only while lying in bed on the morning of my flight that I realised they might have a point.
But I lay there thinking I should savour every moment, as for the next five nights I’d sleep only two in a proper bed — the rest would be spent juggling time differences and neck pillows on long-haul flights.
After all, it’s not every day you go to England for the weekend.
The reason? To see my beloved football team (or soccer, as you’d call it) play for a spot in the Premier League in the most important game of the last 40 years.
For me, hopping on a flight for a 40-hour round trip to see Huddersfield Town play Reading in the play-off final at Wembley seemed completely normal. I’d wangled the roster to get a four-day weekend and booked my flight across the world.
It might seem bonkers to anyone else, but when you have a passion it doesn’t seem strange. I’m a Huddersfield Town fan, my team’s playing at Wembley and I’m going to watch them.
It certainly wasn’t worthy of any fuss, right? Wrong!
The day of my flight, I had the horror of seeing my mugshot on the Daily Mail’s website.
“The most dedicated fan in the world? Football supporter will make 29,000km round trip … for a 90-minute match which is worth $400m to the winners,” read the headline that accompanied my unflattering head shot.
First, outrage, then relief. After all, I’d managed to make it on to the Mail online with my clothes on and without the words “bikini-clad” anywhere near my name.
You may look at the pages of Travel pondering exotic and cultural locations for your next long-haul trip; mine was to be somewhat different.
Huddersfield is cultural, but not in the way you’re thinking. Go “down town” on a Friday night and you’ll see what I mean. Shirtless chaps covered in tattoos during summer, late-night kebabs, too many crew cuts, women who go shopping with perma-tans and faces full of make-up.
At the posh end of town, you have summer Morris dancers and folk who drink craft beer and walk the moors.
It rains all the time and the skies have a grey hue that rarely changes.
I love the place, but it sure as hell isn’t a holiday destination. Yet the colourful locals are endearing and their home, deep down, will always be mine, too.
And so, on a Saturday afternoon, after a 20-hour flight, I find myself in crew-cut heaven, looking out of the car window at endless vehicles decked out in blue-and-white flags.
The grey clouds have lifted and the blue tinge of the sky is matched only by the blue stripes on every second shirt I pass.
Since there is no time for jet lag, I adopt a “when in Rome” attitude and head out for a Yorkshire delicacy — curry.
“Are you that lass from Australia,” I’m asked, mid-poppadum.
Yes, the story of “the most dedicated fan in the world” has made it this far and already my mugshot is all over Facebook. I still have my broad Yorkshire accent but there’s no chance of blending in.
By match day, I’m in two local papers and feeling like a minor celebrity. So much so that I hear yells of “you’re from Australia” as I make my way through the smoke of blue flares and fans carrying cans of Stella.
One moment I’ll never forget is my brother lifting me on to his shoulders so I can look over the crowds. There they are, tens of thousands of my people flocking together in a mishmash of blue-and-white home shirts and yellow away jerseys.
Kids, dads, mums, grandmas — every one of them chuffed to pieces at having the privilege of walking up Wembley Way.
Bonkers I may be, but this beats being at home.
The starting whistle starts a see-saw of emotions. We sway between cheering hard in the hope it will carry our players to victory and muttering quietly with our heads in our hands, filled with nerves.
And when penalties are the only way to declare a winner, I’m more grateful than ever that I followed my instincts and flew to the other side of the world.
After all, the racing heart and sweaty palms are subdued only by the knowing that 39,000 other fans are going through the exact same thing.
The final kick seals victory.
We’ve done it. We go ballistic and the tears flow and start the biggest celebration I’ve ever seen. Shirts are waved in the air, and players and supporters enjoy a Wembley disco like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Four hours later, I’m back on a plane, grinning widely, bound for home.
The reasons we travel may be bonkers, but when you have a passion, you’ve got to follow it.
I’m so glad I did.
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