‘The last person to leave needs to shut the door on their way out,’ says Jermaine McGillvary.
The Huddersfield Giants and England winger is not wrong. On Saturday, McGillvary and his team-mates face Wigan at Tottenham in rugby league’s Challenge Cup final. On Sunday, his hometown football club will be at Wembley to take on Nottingham Forest for a place in the Premier League.
For one weekend only, this part of the Pennines will become a burglars’ paradise as tens of thousands flock to the capital. ‘I’ve got my cameras switched on, so they’d better not come to my house!’ the 34-year-old jokes.
Jermaine McGillvary is looking forward to this weekend’s Challenge Cup final
More than 100 coaches will leave West Yorkshire for London. Rarely have they seen anything like it. In a cricket-mad county, some of the local leagues have taken the extraordinary step of cancelling fixtures.
The bars and restaurants down the hill from the statue of famous son Harold Wilson are bracing themselves for their quietest Saturday night since lockdown.
If, as the former PM famously said, a week is a long time in politics, a weekend will be a long time in sport. ‘There’s a buzz about town,’ McGillvary says. ‘Everyone is going down for it — even people who don’t normally watch sport. When I’m walking about, people are coming up to me saying, You can do it”. It’s humbling.’
McGillvary will take a keen interest in the fortunes of fellow underdogs, the Terriers. Football dominates family life. His eldest son, 11-year-old Isaac, is at Manchester City while his middle son Elijah, eight, is at United.
When we speak, he is heading across the M62 to the Etihad. ‘I pick him up when I can,’ he says. ‘People say how come they don’t both play for the same team, but they’re different kids and it’s horses for courses. United suits one and City the other. It’s down to them where they go. As long as they enjoy it, that’s all that matters.
‘My middle son was meant to be in Spain on tour with City but he’ll be at Spurs on Saturday.’
McGillvary was born at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He lives close to where he was raised, says he will never leave and will be thinking of his grandparents when he puts on his Giants jersey today.
Huddersfield will also be playing in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday
‘They came here from the Caribbean to work,’ he explains. ‘They sacrificed a lot — coming to a place they didn’t know to put food on the table. This place gets a bad rap but for me it has been great. I didn’t know what racism was until I was a teenager. At school, there were black, white, Indian and Pakistani kids. That was normal. It was only when I grew up I met people who only had one black kid in their school.
‘Culturally it’s great and I’m lucky to have been brought up in that. I often think of my grandparents and how proud they are of me to represent the town they chose to come to.’
The Huddersfield exodus is, however, not without problems. At the John Smith’s Stadium, which both teams call home, Town legend Andy Booth, now an ambassador, has something else on his mind. ‘It’s killed my cricket team, this,’ the former striker jokes. ‘I’m president at Hall Bower CC and we’re struggling for players because everyone is going down to London.’
Booth, like McGillvary, is proud of his roots. ‘I’ve never moved out,’ he says. ‘Once you’re in you can’t get out! It’s a good town, a big town, a typical Yorkshire town where we say what we think. But it’s also a beautiful town. Within five minutes there’s countryside in every direction.
Huddersfield icon Andy Booth (L) knows it is going to be a huge weekend for the town
‘It’s sport mad. This weekend feels like it’s going to be a celebration. It’s everywhere you go. When I’m out walking the dog, I keep getting asked for tickets. You’ll probably hear more Huddersfield accents in London than you will in Huddersfield this weekend.’
At the bottom of King Street in the town centre sits Owen Scott, a smart tailors with a downstairs bar. ‘There will be nobody left here,’ says founder Scott Hufton. ‘Everyone is going on about it when they come in.’
Hufton is providing embroidered ties for the Giants. Many of Town’s directors will be in his suits. ‘Both clubs support local business and we support them,’ he says. ‘I just hope, if Town get into the Premier League, the council does more to get behind it and try to trigger an influx of money in the town.’