Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 12

While we were travelling up to Staffordshire the other semi-final was being played.  Chippenham had surprised the bookies the previous weekend by going up to the north east and turning over Bedlington in their own back yard.  They now had to get past Vauxhall Motors to reach Wembley.  

A 0-0 draw away from home meant it was all to play for at Hardenhurst Park the following Saturday.   I was extremely envious of both managers because they had survived the first leg without two many disasters and their fate had now come down to one ninety minute tie; winner takes all. 

My feat was that one bad day for us and it would leave us with too much to do in front of our own supporters.   The previous year Taunton had gone down 3-0 at home in their first leg to better rivals Tiverton leaving them no real chance in the second.  Above all else I wanted just to have a chance at the Charles Sports ground next Sunday. 

I had an hour by hour itinerary typed out for the players and because of the importance of the game I expected everybody to follow it.   When we arrived at our destination, the Moat House Hotel in Stoke, it was about 6pm.  

Dinner was at 8pm and getting off the coach I reminded everyone that we would be eating together and to meet in reception for 7.30pm.   Adjacent to our hotel was a small leisure park with Cinema’s restaurants and a bowling alley!!!!! 

“Don’t even think about  it” I said as someone mentioned visiting the “entertainment”.   I never imagined for one minute that, with a massive game like tomorrow’s only a 20 hours away players would want to go bowling.  I was wrong!!!!  David Monteith and Paul Ribbens, my wing backs, were like two peas in a pod.

They lived close together in Gravesend and had been vital to me over the past three or four seasons terrorising Kent League sides with their pace and ability.   In their defence they never for one minute thought what they were doing was wrong. 

If they had heard my remark getting off the coach such was their respect for my leadership they would not have gone against my instructions.  

Gathering in reception at around 7.30pm for dinner I was chatting away when in waltzed “Monty” and “Ribbo” boasting about their expertise in the lanes because they had spent the last hour bowling.   I heard the commotion and thought they were trying to wind me up.   I refused to believe that they had ignored the itinerary until the look on their faces gave away their guilt. 

I was absolutely furious and it was only because of the regard I had for them that I didn’t kick them out of the hotel there and then.  

Captain Terry Martin smoothed the way for both of them and the culprits’ own apologetic rhetoric calmed my anger.   “Don’t come anywhere near me for the rest of the night” I barked at the sheepish pair. “God forbid you f.... up tomorrow” was my parting shot across their already weakening bows. 

The rest of the evening saw everybody mingling in and around the bar areas, watching the television or playing cards. 

The alcohol ban I had instigated wasn’t going down very well and Captain Terry Martin came to me as a representative of the players but I refused to relent and the lemonade and orange squash flowed freely.  

The following day we left for our destination, barely minutes away, giving ourselves plenty of time to “acclimatise” to the new surroundings and also to establish the fitness of Roly Graham and Phil Turner. 

Newcastle Town were what I call a pure footballing side always trying to pass the ball and rarely knocking it hopefully long so our job on the day was to knock them out of their stride and attempt to impose our style on them.  

Our way of playing was always to hit the target man, in our case Steve Lovell and get the midfield players and wing-backs beyond their defenders. 

So two different philosophies were sent into battle on a cold Sunday afternoon in the “Potteries”.

 For a Vase semi-final it was strangely subdued.   They weren’t the best supported team in their league and despite the prize of a day at Wembley only 811 turned up to watch.

With this enormous tarmac banking around the ground the crowd looked a long way away which suited us because it is easy to get involved in the crowd’s favour if they are right on top of you.  

Two huge throw-ins from Paul Ribbens (who only hours before had thrown a different kind of ball) had helped us open up a 2-0 lead.   The first on own goal and the second shortly before half time fell to Steve Best, who gleefully nodded home. 2-0 away from home at half time was everything we could have wished for.  

My reaction to the referee’s whistle to signal the break was to punch downwards into thin air saying passionately “YYessss”!!!! 

Martin Smith, Newcastle’s assistant manager (manager Ray Walker was playing) saw me do this and immediately followed me up the concrete slope to the dressing room mouthing obscenities at me.  He was obviously shaken by our performance and rattled by my obvious show of supremacy.   I deliberately ignored him because there was far too much football to be played to get too personal.  

I avoided my opponent’s gaze during the second half but he got involved with Jon Warden when I introduced him into the game for Steve Lovell after an hour.  

At the final whistle our 2-0 lead was still intact and I walked forward on to the pitch trying to ensure players did not over celebrate because we still had the home leg to come.   Turning back I offered my hand to the bulging-eyed assistant manager of our opponents.

“Good luck, see you next week”, I exclaimed without any trace of smugness.  

“F... off” was the reply.  

“We’ll see you next week and you won’t be smiling then” he raged.  

“No problem” I said “but at least shake hands, today’s over” I responded meekly.  

A tirade of more abuse came my way so I decided to beat a hasty retreat to the dressing room dragging Jon Warden with me who had taken offence at Smith’s attitude when he came on as sub.  

The celebration was muted because the job was only half done but the sense of pride from everyone in our dressing room was overwhelming and we all knew our destiny was in our own hands.