Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 14

The huge crowd had watched almost politely as we finished the first half with our three-goal cushion still intact.  The first half had been played in bright sunshine but menacing, black rain clouds now hovered overhead and it was an uncertainty that a good old-fashioned drenching was to be had by all as the day went on. 

As we cowered in the dug-out against the elements it had become obvious what the script would be in  the second half.  Newcastle were going to launch everything at us.  If they could score three times they would force extra-time.

Was I really the only person in the ground who thought this a possibility?   As a manager you always tend to think the worst!! 

The second half was played in an eerie light.   Gone was the bright March sunshine to be replaced by a wintry backcloth of rain, black clouds and wind. Ten minutes into the second period Newcastle struck to reduce the arrears. Thirty five minutes to go and the initiative gone.   Possession is nine tenths of the law and the leads we  had  we were  going to protect. 

The pattern of the game was set with our opponents building up attack after attack and my black and white hoop-shirted heroes repelling each one.  Warden replaced Lovell, in a well-rehearsed tactic, and we now had about twenty five to go.  Despite their pressure we sporadically broke away and created dangerous situations.  

A goal for us at any time would finish it and make Wembley a reality.   We now had everyone in and around the bench area. 

All the subs, plus Martin Buglione, who I had recently signed but was not eligible and Bennett who had made the first-half journey around the ground for my photograph.  All of us inside the technical area willing the guys on the pitch to make every tackle, every header, every pass.  It was important I remained as calm as possible and not get caught up in the drama of it all. 

Colin Ford and Keith Lissenden, my staff were past masters at divorcing themselves from the action.   Keith was his usual implacable self, sat down with his legs crossed with Colin, alongside me exchanging news and issuing instructions.  With ten minutes left we replaced goalscorer Roly Graham with Phil Turner.  

The tension was now becoming unbearable as Craig Tucker in goal caught a succession of high balls that were being launched into our box.   We moved into stoppage time and still I refused to relax, still I made myself believe they could score two and force extra time.  One last corner flew narrowly over our crossbar and it was then I finally believed that the job was done. 

My instinct told me that our referee Mr Cable was going to blow for full time as soon as Craig had taken the goal kick.  

The shrill elongated blast from the whistle pierced the air and I sat back on the hard wooden bench and started to sob.   Steve Lovell picked me up form my seat and cuddled me.

“You deserve it,  You deserve it” he said half shaking me, half holding me up.   I walked forward slowly on to the pitch straight into Phil Turner’s bear hug listening to him shout in my ear over and over. 

“Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant”.  

Mike Green, from  Radio Kent, thrust his microphone under my nose and I proceeded to babble and blub on the air.  

I wanted to get to Roy, my chairman, the man who had made it all possible with his finance and visions for the Club.   He was conducting his own radio interview when I caught up with him and we instinctively threw our arms round each other.   People were all around now backslapping, cheering.  

Chants of “Wemberlee Wemberlee” rang around the ground. 

I was also trying to find Ray Walker, their manager, but couldn’t place him in the throng when I suddenly came upon Martin Smith his “oppo”.   Shaking his hand I had hoped that the animosity from the previous weeks game would be forgotten. 

I was sadly mistaken because as he shook my hand he said “You won’t win it, you’re not good enough”.   The words shook me up and I returned form my dream like state to retort. 

“Well, we won’t be seeing you at Wembley then” was my sarcastic reply.  

To his credit Martin and I talked briefly after the game and while we didn’t actually kiss and make up, we certainly cleared the air.   

Roy addressed the crowd, thanking them and then I did the same thing.   Two thousand people and here I was with a microphone in my hand “It doesn’t get better than this” I thought to myself.

The celebrations were ecstatic.  Jamie Kempster had introduced Spandau Ballet’s classic song “Gold” to the players’ repertoire earlier in the run and the guys sang it with great enthusiasm.  

Terry Martin the captain was his usual, level-headed self.  He told me that he hadn’t felt any nerves before the game because of his unshakeable belief that we couldn’t get beat.  I thought how out of character it was for a man who always played with logic and commonsense to have such blinkered optimism when normally pessimism is the order of the day.  

The post-match festivities were joyous.  I flitted from the bar where all the supporters were to the hospitality tent and back for a couple of hours.  

Not only had we made an impression on everybody with our football but our professionalism and organisation as a football club went down fantastically well with all the visiting dignitaries.   To that end Roy Smith should be congratulated.

His vision of how things should be and his financial input enabled everyone to take a cue from his lead.  The team of people involved in the running of this incredible day will always  be able to look back upon it with immense pride.   

That said, we were all about to embark on something totally different.  

The five weeks before the Vase final would stretch everyone to the limit and for a club as small as ours were heading into uncharted waters.