Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 1
The Wembley Story
Saturday 6th May 2000

The dressing room was thankfully cool compared to the searing heat outside in the stadium.  

It was 2.46 and according to the military style organisation we were due out into the tunnel to await our entrance onto the hallowed turf.  We had gone through every details meticulously through:  free kicks, corners and throw-ins as well as details about our Western League opponents Chippenham Town.

The camaraderie between the players and management manifested itself in ritual hugging, back slapping and handshakes as the moment came to leave the sanctuary of our dressing room.

We had met the previous morning at Dartford and driven in our own cars to the Burnham Beeches Hotel just north of Slough.

When Roy Smith, Deal Town's chairman and benefactor asked me to book the players’ accommodation  for the weekend I immediately contacted Burnham Beeches because of its connection with the English national side and its reputation as a football hotel.  Many Premiership teams had stayed there before F.A. Cup Final appearances.

We de-camped at our hotel around 11.30 on the Friday morning just in time for a light lunch at midday.

The highlight of our day was to be a tour of Wembley Stadium at 2.00pm - an experience everybody had been looking forward to.

Steve Forrest, who had previously played for me at Herne Bay and at Deal in my first season, was part of the squad, although now retired because of a persistent knee injury.  I had included “Foggy” in the squad as a reward for all his playing efforts in those preceding years. 

But within minutes of arriving at Burnham Beeches Steve received a phone call saying that his heavily pregnant wife Emma, who had given Steve permission to have this special weekend away, had suddenly gone into labour and “Foggy’s” backside was seen haring back down the M4 minutes after his arrival.

Emma gave birth the following day and little Hannah’s birthday is one I will always remember.  

Our coach had met us at the hotel with our now favourite driver and talisman Bernie. 

Some of the players felt Bernie bore a striking resemblance to me  (couldn’t see it personally) and a lot of ribbing went on every time we were seen together. 

With lunch finished we boarded our transport, looking resplendent in our designer tracksuits and headed down the M40 to Wembley.  

I sat with Dave Dadd on the way there.

“Daddio” is one of God’s nice people, he’d had a humble playing career and years of involvement with Deal Town, serving in all guises from player to physio to reserve team manager and, until my appointment first team manager.  He now had a place as a valued member of the Club, serving as stadium manager and once again physio.

The pair of us chatted about how far the Club had come and what we could achieve.  There was not only the F.A. Vase to think about but also  our battle with Dover District council over the Charles Sports Ground Lease.  Roy Smith was trying to negotiate a favourable lease to fulfill his vision of a community facility.

The sound system was working overtime as Barry Lakin had got a CD mix of the theme to the Steve McQueen film “Great Escape”. 

This had become our trademark theme song after we’d come back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 at Wessex League side Eastleigh back in October.  Our first Vase game had looked like being our last until an incredible fight back saw us creep through with a couple of minutes to spare.

“That result has got Wembley written all over it” I proclaimed to Radio Kent in my after match interview.  I’ve never been one to miss a soundbite although even in my wildest dreams I didn’t think it could happen. 

We approached the Hangar Lane “gyratory” and, for the first time, in the distance standing almost aloof from their surroundings were the famous “twin towers” of Wembley Stadium. 

After the actual playing surface, that now famous green lush turf, I suppose everybody sees Wembley as those two imposing towers rising up from the circular canopy. 

From three miles away it is fascinating to a footballer. 
From three hundred yards away it provides an awesome, lump in the throat, spectacle and in our corner the realisation that tomorrow these two concrete landmarks would gaze down on Deal Town.