“I didn’t even know this many people lived in Castleford.”
Those are the words of Castleford Tigers supporter Phil Hewitt as he stands looking over Wembley Way two hours before kick-off on Saturday.
The quote paints an accurate picture of the massive following of fans that flocked to the capital for the club’s first Challenge Cup final since 1992.
Supporters lined along Wheldon Road from as early as 6am as a convoy of coaches left Castleford for Wembley.
Around 25,000 filled coaches at Tigers’ Mend-A-Hose Jungle on Saturday morning and turned Wembley Way into a sea of a black and amber as they poured into the stadium.
Michelle Swailes, who has been following Tigers for 35 years, said: “It means everything to be here. I was here in 1986 when we won and in 1992 when we lost so I know all about the contrast of emotions.”
Speaking before the game, Simon Tye, 37, said: “I don’t think there is anybody left in Castleford today.
“It means so much to the town. We’ve had a lot of downs in Castleford but today is just amazing. I know I’ll be crying if we win.”
Hayley Priestley, who was proudly wearing her replica Tigers shirt, said: “This is all anybody has been talking about across the area, not just in Castleford. It’s really lifted the entire area.”
King’s School pupil Tamzin Renouf, 13, was there with her family. She said: “I’m really exctied about the game. It means so much to all of us.”
Fellow Tigers supporter Richard O’Hara has followed the team for 40 years. He said: “It’s fantastic to be back here. It’s been too long between drinks.
“I think all of the success is down to Daryl Powell who has got the family atmosphere back. Not only between the fans but between the players themselves too.”
Despite the result, Cas fans remained upbeat after the game and proud of the club’s achievement.
Adam Price, from the supporters’ club Boot Room Tigers, said: “I am more proud than disappointed. Obviously I wanted the team to win but it’s a massive achievement for a club ike Cas to even get here.
“The town itself has been buzzing and people have been walking around with smiles on their faces. It’s been an amazing experience.”