Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 17

Ticket sales were running at about 100-odd a day now and we were all speculating about the size of support we could expect at Wembley. Chippenham’s sales were going great guns according to press reports and it was looking like we would be outnumbered about 2 to 1. 

Meridian Television were now well into their stride with constant references to the game on their evening news programmes.  Iain McBride, Meridian TV’s sports presenter, was instrumental in the coverage of Deal Town. They were going to follow Steve Lovell, Marc Seager and Steve Marshall for a day as well as do a feature on the club on a match day. 

The excitement of all this attention was great for the players but was only adding to the tension for me personally.   Annette Bryant was doing a terrific job in obtaining sponsorship for the Club.   I can remember waiting nervously on a phone call from an organisatoin called Robinia, I contacted chairman Roy Smith had passed on to Annette. 

Roy had sold his business earlier that year and had been involved in nursing and caring for the mentally ill and providing accommodation.  Robinia were in the same line of work and were  considering a large sponsorship that would see the players “suited and booted” for the day.

Diplomatic phone calls, messages left for the appropriate people were Annette’s only weapons. Negotiations were also taking place which would see us displaying the Robinia logo and a message on our jackets which obviously we agreed to readily.  The phone call confirming Robinia’s financial commitment finally came through in the penultimate week.

We all breathed a collective sigh of relief because, with them, the players appearance on the day had hung in the balance.   Once we had received confirmation I set about ringing clothing retailers for advice and help. 

After getting short shrift from some of the large clothing stores, I finally got a positive response from NEXT at the Bluewater Shopping Centre, near Dartford. I visited the store to go over details and haggle on price.   We needed 27 suits and shirts and their staff were incredibly helpful.  A particular suit was recommended and all that was needed was a ‘fitting’ for all 27 players on the same day.

Putting all the players in the same place on the same day to choose their suits was going to prove almost impossible until NEXT came up with the idea to open one hour earlier on a Sunday morning.   This enabled all the players and their wives, girlfriends and mums to attend and advise on how their loved ones looked.

There were certain defining moments in the run-up to the final that made it feel special and this day was definitely one of those.  Meeting in an empty car park at Bluewater and having security open the doors to a deserted shopping centre was ...... well different.  

Each play took his suit, tried it on and either gave it to one of the shop assistants for approval or for an alteration.  

The decision to go with black shirts was made by a small band of players.  Paul Ribben, I think was the ringleader and so, after about ninety minutes, and with the general public now filling the store the players finally started to disperse suitably attired for their big day.  

The last time we all got together to play football was at home to Beckenham Town on Tuesday in the week before Wembley.  I had arranged for a presentation ceremony to take place before the game with members of the Kent League Committee performing the honours.

Local schoolchildren in Deal Town kit formed a guard of honour as the players were introduced one by one to loud applause. 

Robinian and David Saunders from a local Solicitors, Saunders Kemp, were there to present cheques to the Club and the carnival atmosphere in the air both before and during the game gave an unreal feel to the night’s proceedings.  

We won 2-0 and it was exciting to know that our next game would be at Wembley Stadium.  

During the last three weeks frantic negotiations had been taking place regarding the lease on the Charles Sports ground.  Chairman,  Roy Smith, had this idea for an all purpose 500 seater stand facility with adjoining artificial surface. His dream was to involve the community in the football club.  The idea of schools and local organisations using the sports and meeting room facilities as well as the social side being developed was all part of his plans ever since he had involved himself in the club four years earlier. 

He’d wanted to make Deal Town the focal point of the community, not just for the football but for all other activities.   His favourite quote in hundreds of conversations with me was that the football was “3/10ths of the pie”. 

I frequently asked him where did he want the football to go and his answer was always the same “as far as it can whilst it remained self-financing”   The idea was that the stand facility would be built on the far side where it would replace the old wooden and now completely dilapidated structure.  It would also finance the running of any football team that played there in the future. 

So in fact whatever standard of football could be afforded budgetary then that is where we would aim.   To this end Roy had got his planning permission through and in the summer of 1999 had spent thousands of pounds moving the pitch some 30 metres to make way for the new structure.  Deal District Council had swapped with the trustees of the Charles Sports ground an area of land so that the Council could negotiate freely with the football club conditions of the lease. 

I know Roy was hugely disappointed he, after months of fine tuning the negotiations, the “head of terms” came through for the offer on a 25-year lease.  

The restrictions placed upon the lease agreement were so restrictive and so negative that it didn’t take the thousands of pounds worth of legal advice he had at his disposal to realise the Local Council’s offer was in fact a “poison chalice”.  

I knew then in that last few days before the final that the great hopes Roy Smith had for Deal Town and the community were almost certainly not going to materialise.  To this end and with my two-year contract running out only a couple of days before Wembley, I realised that my future may have to be somewhere else. 

Roy had been very honest with me all the way through.   The sky was the limit if everything went through but my contract would only be re-negotiated if a concrete offer acceptable to him was made regarding the lease.  The “acceptable offer” never came. 

The Saturday before Wembley and whilst the League Cup was being played at Margate between our scheduled opponents V.C.D, and a hastily thrown together Faversham Town team we were all at Boughton Golf Course, near Faversham for a day’s golf. 

The competitive edge that had helped get us to Wembley was prevalent as the more serious golfers like “Fordy”, Roy Smith, “Daddio”, Simon Bryant, “Luvvers” and myself were making serious attempts to win the day whilst the non-golfers like “Seags”, Jamie, “Rooney” Turner and “Ribbo” proceeded to do some turf arranging on the fairways.   It was though, a great day and Roy Smith came out the victor.  

I can’t remember anyone on the day asking how the League Cup went, the only thing on their minds now was Wembley.