You have to admire the Football League’s taste for theatricality...
All Championship games kick-off at 12:45 tomorrow: Showdowns at high noon across the board, where no more than 12 sides are yet to know where their fates, and futures, lie.
A season that threatened to peter out in the winter blossomed in the spring, and the very fact that we have taken our play-off push to the last day - perhaps, the last kick, for those of you that believe Karl Darlow can channel the spirit of Jimmy Glass - is a testament to the character shown by our once-upon-a-time maligned squad.
We’ve fought through ugly scenes, played out to onlookers and outsiders. We have carried the burden of farce, making a serene season troublesome. Chaos reigned, and as if by miracle, when the dust had settled and order was restored, we made a mockery of our demons. It takes a lot more than a failed transfer, a managerial merry-go-round, and a naive chairman to deter this emboldened side.
As every game for the last two months has grown in magnitude, tomorrow’s climax will certainly top all that has gone before us in our last 45 games. There will be widespread panic, the threat of calamity, and victory and defeat will swing between each one’s jaws, like a pendulum with commitment issues.
Now, doesn’t that all sound perfect for than long-running soap opera that is Nottingham Forest?
Of course we left it until the last day. Of course our destiny is out of our hands. Of course, we do battle with Leicester; a rival that, although not our fiercest and most embittered nemesis, jockeys with Forest for East-Midland pride.
Although proximity dictates we should be embroiled in a turf war to rival any of those that appear in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, rather few sparks fly when Forest and Leicester meet. More recent contests have been responsible for drab stalemates, or overwhelmingly one-sided affairs. These failures to ignite are allegorising the waning animosity Forest fans hold for the Foxes.
So, what will be different about Saturday?
Although matches with increased importance can drift into anticlimax, I sincerely doubt this game will be one for the dry-paint spotters. There are too many sub-plots and too many intricacies for both sides to ‘West Ham’ it for 90 minutes.
Also, we need a favour. We REALLY need one. Two teams I promise to get a tattoo of if they win tomorrow, Blackpool and Peterborough, are not the most assured sides to rely on when you need a bit of help; certainly less A-Team, and more ‘why?’ Team... But, I have faith. So much so, I’ve stopped short of finding a Mafia don on the day of his daughter’s wedding, to see if he fancies getting in on the favours.
Another thing to remember about tomorrow, is that we are in a position that positively suits us. All my life, we have failed as ‘favourites’, and much preferred the bolt-from-the-blue approach. To earn promotion from League One in 2008, we clawed back a 11 point deficit, to sneak into second place on the final day. If that doesn’t stoke the fires optimism, I fear for your humanity.
As of today, I’m clearing my mind of rational thought. For a start, we are all pining for a play-off place that we once used to dread so unequivocally, so you can take your ‘logic’ and throw it in the Trent.
There is no point trying to make sense of the Championship at any point of a season, let alone when there are multiple permutations at all ends of the table during the final day. Yes, we can rationalise that Bolton and Palace are in a much stronger position than us... But that’s no fun, is it?
This is it. Winner takes all (then has to have a prayer answered). Our destiny and future balanced delicately by actions of our own design and of others. To believe with reckless abandon, to throw caution to the harsh wind of reality if not for one day, it is a unique culmination of events that have led us to this point; on the brink, but not without assistance.
Ignore the despair of doing all we could, but to no avail. It can happen, a real old-fashioned smash and grab, in through the back door, guerilla style of getting into the play-offs. I know, it’s a lottery we never seem to win, but it’s wonderful to merely have a ticket to the greatest game of chance on earth.
Cross your fingers, draw your breath, and find someone to cling on to for the last swashbuckling attempt at a top-six finish. A season of spiralling contrasts could not be ending in a more befitting circumstance. Nail-biting unpredictability and the longest afternoon stands between us and an old foe...
We’re not afraid of you any more, play-offs.