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Huddersfield to be left like a ghost town on a huge weekend of sport in the capital

“The last person to leave has to close the door when they go out,” says Jermaine McGillvary.

The Huddersfield Giants and the England winger are not wrong. On Saturday, McGillvary and his team-mates face Wigan at Tottenham in the Rugby League Challenge Cup final. On Sunday, the football club from his hometown will face Wembley against Nottingham Forest for a place in the Premier League.

For just one weekend, this part of the Pennines will become a burglar’s haven as tens of thousands flock to the capital. “I’ve got my cameras on, so they better not come to my house!” the 34-year-old jokes.

Jermaine McGillvary looking forward to this weekend's Challenge Cup final

Jermaine McGillvary looking forward to this weekend’s Challenge Cup final

More than 100 buses depart from West Yorkshire to London. Rarely have they seen anything like it. In a cricket-crazed county, some local leagues have taken the extraordinary step of canceling matches.

The bars and restaurants down the hill from the statue of famed son Harold Wilson are bracing for their quietest Saturday night since lockdown.

If, as the former prime minister said, a week is a long time in politics, then a weekend will be a long time in sports. “There’s a buzz in town,” McGillvary says. ‘Everyone is going for it, even people who don’t normally watch sports. When I walk around people come up to me and say: you can do it”. It’s humble.’

McGillvary will be very interested in the fate 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, it crosses the M62 to the Etihad. “I’ll pick it up when I can,” he says. “People say why they don’t both play for the same team, but they’re different kids and they’re horses for courses. United suits one and City the other. It’s up to them where they go. As long as they enjoy it, that’s all that matters.

“My middle son was supposed to be on tour with City in Spain, but he’ll be with Spurs on Saturday.”

McGillvary was born at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He lives near where he grew up, says he will never leave and will think of his grandparents when he puts on his Giants jersey today.

Huddersfield will also play in the championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday

Huddersfield will also play in the championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday

“They came here from the Caribbean to work,” he explains. “They sacrificed a lot—come to a place they didn’t know to put food on the table. This place gets a bad reputation but for me it was great. I didn’t know what racism was until I was a teenager. At school there were black, white, Indian and Pakistani children. That was normal. It wasn’t until growing up that I met people who only had one black child in school.

“It’s culturally amazing and I’m lucky I grew up in it. I often think about my grandparents and how proud they are of me to represent the city they came to.’

Huddersfield’s exodus is not without its problems, however. At John Smith’s Stadium, which both teams call their home, Town legend Andy Booth, now Ambassador, has something else on his mind. ‘It killed my cricket team, this,’ jokes the former striker. “I’m the president of Hall Bower CC and we’re struggling for players because everyone’s going to London.”

Booth, like McGillvary, is proud of his roots. “I’ve never moved,” he says. ‘Once you’re in it, you can’t get out! It’s a good city, a big city, a typical Yorkshire town where we say what we think. But it is also a beautiful city. Within five minutes there is countryside in all directions.

Huddersfield icon Andy Booth (L) knows it's going to be a huge weekend for the city

Huddersfield icon Andy Booth (L) knows it’s going to be a huge weekend for the city

“It’s sports crazy. This weekend feels like it’s going to be a party. It’s everywhere you go. When I’m out walking the dog, I’m always asked for tickets. You’ll probably hear more Huddersfield accents in London this weekend than in Huddersfield.’

At the bottom of King Street in the city center is Owen Scott, a smart tailor with a bar downstairs. “There won’t be anyone here anymore,” founder Scott Hufton says. “Everyone’s talking about it when they come in.”

Hufton supplies embroidered ties for the Giants. Many of Town’s directors will be in his suit. “Both clubs support local businesses and we support them,” he says. “I just hope that if Town gets into the Premier League, the council will do more to find out and bring money into the city.”

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