Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 16


Winning through to the League Cup Final had caused a real headache for everyone except me.  The original date of April 29th had been moved mid-season to May 6th, the day of the Vase final. With us now participating in the Wembley showpiece I felt that bringing it forward was not an option. 

I had promised my players that the last time we would all play together would be the Kent Senior Trophy Final on April 22nd. Even then I left a couple of players out to allow for injuries. 

The Kent League management committee then decreed that the League Cup Final would be played on April 29th, one week before Wembley.

I spoke to our league cup opponents’ manager, V.C.D Athletic Martin Ford on numerous occasions but he was playing a dead hand by saying that he would comply with whatever the management committee decided.

We discussed it in the club at committee level and there was a feeling we should send our youth or reserve team to fulfill the fixture.

I was adamant along with Daddio and others that we did not want to send a weakened team to the cup final because I did not want the record books to show a heavy defeat in years to come.  

I also felt that if we sent a shadow side it was letting the Kent League management committee off the hook.  

They actually had a wonderful opportunity.  They could gamble on us winning the Vase and stage their cup final a few days later in front of maybe 2-3000 people.

The obvious date would have been the week after Wembley (May 13th) but that was the day of the Kent League Dinner and in their wisdom it was felt the two events couldn’t be staged on the same day.  

How easy would it have  been for them to have had a 1.00pm kick-off with hopefully the Vase winners parading the trophy and them playing for the league’s own domestic cup in front of any enormous crowd?  

The evening would then have been a celebration, marking the fact that a team from the Bass Brewers Kent League had a representative in the country’s showpiece final. 

The decision was eventually taken at a committee meeting to withdraw from the final.   I was saddened but felt there was no other option.

The League’s decision to promote Faversham Town - who we had defeated in the semi-final - to play V.C.D Athletic. at Margate’s Hartsdown Park was rewarded with a crowd of about 100, and gate receipts of about £2000.  The game itself was one-sided and one that no-one (save a few die-hard V.C.D. supporters) will every remember.  

To add insult to injury, Deal Town were fined a paltry sum later that summer for not fulfilling the League Cup Final fixture.

I have been asked many times since about some of those decisions and I explain that for any non-league player a chance of playing at Wembley is a rare bird indeed and I had promised all of my players they would not be put at risk.  

The day we beat Thamesmead Town was the cut off point for me and the duty I had towards my players came before anything else. 

I remember ringing Jim Ward at Ramsgate to tell him I would be sending a complete reserve side to them on the following Bank Holiday Monday.   His response was perfectly understandable.   He criticised my decision but I had to stay true to my instincts in protecting my players. 

I would never have forgiven myself if Terry Martin, Roly Graham or Paul Ribbens, lads that had given me their loyalty and unwavering support for many seasons, had suffered a minor knock preventing them from playing at Wembley just because I had succumbed to outside pressure.  

I have though, always kept an article that appeared in the Ramsgate programme that day attributed to a committee member.    It was a vicious attack on me and my club prompted by jealousy and envy and Ramsgate should be ashamed of ever allowing the article to go to press. 

The tickets for Wembley were delivered by special courier and the job of auditing each night fell to Annette Bryant.   We took five thousand at first and on the first day sold nearly five hundred as people clamoured to secure their place.  As the days went on the flood slowly dropped to a steady trickle, somedays a hundred plus, others less.

Postal applications were handled by the chairman’s wife, Billie, whilst I was negotiating travel arrangements with coach companies. All in all, for a small club like ours, the system put in place was going well.

The League’s sponsors, Bass Brewers were very slow in coming forward with any help at all.   With the prospect of one of the League’s clubs in a national final, I was hoping they might offer some financial help either in cash, or for equipment, especially as Bass had not enjoyed a particularly happy sponsorship with the league up till now. 

This was their first year as sponsors and promises of footballs to every clubs’ first team and reserves had not been met. I had, in fact, brokered the deal for Bass Brewers after their representative, Pete Williamson, phoned me asking for help. The season was already a few weeks in and the footballs still had not been distributed.  

To be honest Williamson didn’t have a clue about football and certainly had no idea about obtaining equipment. I immediately approached a supplier in Maidstone, called 3D Sports and negotiated a deal for nearly 500 footballs over three years and arranged for them to be delivered in batches of 150.  I also organised  payment details.  Even though the footballs were ordered and delivered they still weren’t finding their way to the clubs. Bass Brewers general non-appearance around the country and apparent disdain for the league was a disgrace.

The league had previously been sponsored by Winstonlead Cables, a company run by Bill and Vera Roberts before they sold it on to their son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Penny.  Bill and Vera were marvelous ambassadors, taking in a Kent League game almost every week.   Their sponsorship had lasted thirteen years and had been one of the longest running in the country. 

That the league should have a team finally going to Wembley in the year after Winstonlead had given up its sponsorship was a real disappointment for me and almost everyone concerned. 

Williamson, the rep for Bass Brewers, had also promised to pay for twenty five warm-up tops before our fifth round win at Met Police.   I paid £400 out of my own pocket to get the tops and was still waiting for re-imbursement in the days leading up to the final. 

Williamson also verbally promised the Club between three and five thousand towards our Wembley preparations but that all fell through after Roy Smith told them he could not guarantee them the beer contract and the redevelopment of the oates ground went ahead. 

As you can imagine the conversation was short and sweet when they phoned and I left it that Williamson could expect to see me in the small claims court for my £400.00.  

On a more positive note local businesses were donating money all the time and with hotel expenses alone costing the earth the club were eternally grateful. 

Bobbie Adamson held the franchise in Deal for the car dealer Skoda.   Now, Robbie enjoyed a long association with the club, having played for them in previous years.   He was now the club’s shirt sponsor and had worked tirelessly to get Skoda U.K. involved.    Their help was to prove invaluable as they finally agreed to inject £5,000 into the Club kitty to help ease the growing financial burden.  

We were now about two weeks away from Wembley and had to face Chatham Town in the Kent Senior Trophy final at Sitingbourne.  I left Steve Lovell, Jason Ash and Craig Tucker out of the side that day.   Tommy Saunders was sending his “scout” to watch us so it was nice that we turned it on. A 5-1 victory over one of the best sides in the league was just the ticket.  A blistering second-half hat-trick from Phil Turner stated his case for a place in the final.

“Marshy” had scored in the first half and early in the second a typical Roly Graham effort doubled our lead.  Roly’s goal was his hundredth since singing for me back in November 1995 for Herne Bay.   When the final whistle went I asked Terry Martin to let Steve Best accept the trophy on behalf of the club and the usual celebrations took place both on the pitch and in the dressing rooms.

That was virtually it now. The league was won, the Kent Senior Trophy also and with our reserves winning their division the club had virtually “cleared the board”.

The only disappointment was not being able to defend the League Cup against V.C.D. Athletic  the following week.   The Vase final was now the only item left on this season’s agenda and everybody was tingling with excitement at the prospect.

Not long after we beat Met Police in the fifth round Colin Ford, my first team coach and long-time friend, hit on the idea that if we got to Wembley we would all have tattoo’s done on our backsides.  At the time everybody said “yeah great idea” not really thinking of the consequences. Now that we had made it to the final it seemed obligatory to have them done.

Colin was now in charge of the tattoo’s and designed a small graphic that included the twin towers and the words “Vase 2000”.   Eight of us met one evening in Welling just opposite Welling United’s Park View ground to have the deed done. Those lads that couldn’t make it were going to arrange to have them done elsewhere.

Such was the interest now in everything we were doing the T.V. cameras were present to film.  The Sun newspaper sent a photographer and the local radio station wanted a live interview during the tattooing session. 

I personally view the subject of tattoo’s with great distaste but being part of this group it would have been impossible to back out.  One by one we presented to (................)   our tattoos the upper part of our thighs for him to mark us for life. Squeals of delight from the onlooking players turned to howls of trepidation as their turn came.

In turn, up stepped Roly Graham, Phil Turner, Jamie Turner, Barry Lakin, Paul Ribbens, Marc Seager, Jason Ash, Colin F and myself to suffer the tattooists; handiwork.

The press coverage in the Sun newspaper that weekend was terrific and even now everywhere I go people ask “did you get a tattoo?” and I am only too proud to answer yes and in some cases I have been known to drop my trousers and show them the evidence.