Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 15

We had nine league games left to play, a two-legged league cup semi-final, the Kent Senior Trophy final and the Vase - all in the space of thirty eight days.

I had to prioritise and therefore decided to go with my strongest selection for the next four league games, which if we won, would see the title sewn up.  

The two-legged league cup semi-final against a very weak Faversham Town team would be an opportunity to mix and match while Kent Senior Trophy Final against a strong Chatham Town side would allow me to play those still fighting to get into the Wembley side. 

As well as dealing with all the football matters, we also had to cope with the administrative demands that Wembley would make. 

To this end Roy employed Annette Bryant on a full-time basis to liaise with Wembley, sort out over ticketing arrangements and sponsorships as well as auditing the finances.  

Roy, his wife Billie, Dave Dadd and I would all be full-time employees with varying responsibilities ranging from transport and accommodation for the players, ticket sales, coach requirements for supporters and merchandising plus a million other contingencies.  

The Club was manned around the clock from 8.30am to 9.30pm and with vice-chairman Graham Johns, the Fox girls, Lynne and Donna as well as various committee members all agreeing on a rota to cover evening hours.

Over the next twenty days we played six games, winning through to the League Cup Final against V.C.D. Athletic  after defeating Faversham Town but more importantly securing the club’s first league championship with four straight wins. 

Now that the championship had been wrapped up I promised the players they would be chosen only as and when needed, therefore, reducing the risk of injury and allowing everyone to fully enjoy the build-up. 

Ten days after our semi-final victory over Newcastle, Roy Smith, Lyn Fox, Dave Dadd, Annette Bryant and I drove to Wembley for a meeting to discuss ticketing arrangements.  

They were due to meet Wembley officials as well as our Chippenham counterpart.   It was a particularly cold and inhospitable April day as we pulled into the Wembley car park right underneath the fabled twin towers.  We made our way to the reception area and were given our I.D. tags before being shown to a waiting area. 

It was there we met the officials of Chippenham Town.   I obviously sought out my managerial adversary Tommy Saunders.  We had spoken on the phone a few times and seen each other at a couple of Vase draws but this was the real thing. 

Within minutes Tom and I were whisked away by Tim Curren, the press officer for Ptarnigan, the company responsible for all the Football Association’s publicity requirements. 

We were taken around the concourse immediately below the terracing to the far end of the ground opposite the tunnel.   It was at this point that Tim produced the trophy itself.   I had seen it while attending draws around the country but had always refused to touch it. 

At that moment Tim thrust the Vase into my hands and walked me and Tommy up the last few stairs to the point where we had a magnificent view of the stadium itself.  

The last time I had been to Wembley Stadium was in the early seventies to watch Bobby Charlton ply his 100th International against a George Best inspired Northern Ireland.   Here I was now with the ‘holy grail’ of trophies for teams at our level in my hands and behind me the most famous football backdrop in the world. 

The next few minutes of banter set the mood, I believe, for what was to come in the weeks building up to the final.  

Tommy was a great one for the definitive statement (saying what was on his mind).   “I can name your side now” he said knowing whereas “the next time my team play together will be at Wembley”. 

All the time I found myself either nodding in agreement or shaking my head in apparent disbelief, trying to give nothing away while at the same time appearing to be co-operative.  

I do remember taking an instant liking to this ebullient 28 year old form the West of England and felt that whatever happened between our two teams we would probably enjoy each other’s company. 

In the meeting sat around a huge table we were given all the advice and support we needed regarding ticketing, merchandising, sponsorship and the like.  

Once the meeting closed both parties were given the guided tour and walking back round the concrete corridor in the main body of the Stadium you could not help but sense the history of the place.  

The chill wind didn’t really matter as we followed our guides.  

Liz Coley was F.A’s administrator dealing with the Vase, Trophy and F.A. Cup.

I was walking along with her, chatting away trying to act all nonchalant about this almost surreal situation.  Liz had completed “the tour” many times before and was recounting tales about  clubs and officials who had, like me, been “blown away” by the sheer magnitude of the experience.  

You could feel the curve of the corridor taking you around and down to a staircase which ended in the famous Wembley tunnel. 

Looking around the dressing rooms like a wide eyed kid gave me the shivers:  I though if this is how I feel three weeks before the big game what state will I be in on the day?  

Daddio, Roy, Graham and Lynn were chattering away with everybody else as baths, showers, benches were inspected in fine detail.  

I wish I had a pound for everytime I heard :
“Bobby Moore sat there”
“Puskas showered there”
“Pele used that bath”
“Ramsey won the World Cup there”

Can you imagine it?  Ramsey, Nicholson, Busby, Shankly, Ferguson and now ....Tommy Sampson.  

Having inspected the dressing room we were ushered back out and led up a slight incline towards the mouth of the tunnel.  

The first thing you see is the canopy surrounding the Stadium.  Then the scoreboard.    A few steps more and the terracing comes into view with the words WEMBLEY picked out in different coloured seating. 

As the tunnel levels out the frame of the goal nearest comes into view and then you step out into the open air.  It’s a struggle to take it all in - the Royal Box, the vastness of the arena and the lush green surface.  

I suddenly felt very small, very unimportant in the presence of this wonderful, awesome and yet gracious old lady who had deigned to allow my Deal Town team to grace her with our presence in a few weeks time.   The group was about fifteen strong as we snaked around towards the Royal Box area. 

“Daddio”, Tommy Saunders, Colin Bush (Chippenham assistant manager) and myself paid particular attention to the “dug out”.

“Dug out” is hardly an appropriate description.  There are three rows of five seats tiered to allow each five seats a view above those in front.  

The front row, which I would be seated in, provided the view of all and yet I wasn’t at all bothered because the implication of sitting in that seat was obvious.

Up the steps into the Royal Box was the final part of our tour.   Looking out over the scene form the he best view in the place was again overwhelming.  Cameras were clicking all around me.  Groups posed together shaking hands.  With the pitch in the background was the standard shot. 

One last long look around and we were finally shown back into the bar area where we chatted away before saying our good-byes and making our way home.   On the way we discussed the various responsibilities we would all have to take on. 

When Roy dropped me off at the Tollgate Services on the A2 I was exhausted.

I was coming to realise that the actual day of the final would be not only physically demanding but mentally so as well.