Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 18

Our last training session was on the Tuesday night at fellow Kent Leaguers Lordswood Football Club where we had trained before our sixth round and semi-final victories.  Their management duo of Barry Zilwood and Alan Broad were only too pleased to help us in any way they could.  I can’t stress the importance of those sessions and Lordswood will always have my sincerest best wishes for the help they provided. 

The BBC were going to film bits of the session and in general all we were there to do was go through all our little disciplines.  Things like corners and free kicks were important to me and you only had to remember the manner in which we won our away leg at Newcastle to realise that.  Paul Ribbens’ throw-ins that day were prodigious and so unsettling for our opponents. 

Except for the goalkeeper I knew my side for Saturday but offered to clues during the session as I put different players in positions than they would take up at Wembley.  I was even reluctant to finish with the traditional eight-a-side game.  I only relented to the players’ demands on condition that it was a non-contact game. 

These small-sided games can get really “lively” and with only four days to go I was trying to protect them from themselves.  During the week’s build-up the local press had interviewed Ernie Morgan.  

Ernie was the last non-league manager in Kent to take a team to Wembley when, in 1974, his Dartford side lost 2-1 to Morecombe in the F.A. Trophy final.  I knew Ernie very well and indeed had played three games for him on loan at Tonbridge in the late 70’s. Ernie enjoys legendary status at Dartford for his exploits in that 1973-74 season.

The Darts also won the League title that season and his presence at our training session that night made me feel very proud that my team were on the verge of achieving something similar.   Ernie wasn’t enjoying the best of health and although I had invited him to Wembley as my guest he wasn’t able to attend. 

He did, however, recount various stories of their 1974 build-up mistakes he felt he made and tips on what to say, how to behave, etc.  I do remember one thing very clearly as we sat in Lordswood’s changing room that night preparing for training. 

I had introduced him to the players making them understand in whose presence they were sitting.  He said to them in a thick Northern dialect that could cut through coal.  “The worst feeling in the world is sitting in a losing dressing room at Wembley” 

He went on : “All that crap about enjoying the day and the occasion means sod all if you get beat” 

The point had been made!  

I personally had got caught up in that “occasion” thing just after our semi-final wind but Ernie’s words rang truer than ever and I was now in the state of mind that to win was everything. 

Ernie’s visit that night was another of the defining moments in the build-up and as I shook Ernie’s hand on the way to take training I felt very humble and privileged to be following in his footsteps.  

After training we all assembled in the bar. I had with me all the players’ equipment and was going to hand it out that night.  Tracksuits, T-shirts, dress shirts, socks and the itinerary for the week-end.

I had prepared for each player a personal folder containing their name and photograph and all their movements from now until the following Tuesday were documented for them. 

Not only did we have the Vase final we also had an outstanding League fixture at Cray Wanderers on Monday and a Civic Reception in Deal on Tuesday.  

I was trying not to allow myself thoughts of losing at Wembley, going to Cray on Monday in a depressed state and only a few people turning up at a Civic Reception for the “losing” finalists. 

I am sure everyone had their dark moments and the thoughts of that scenario was mine.   When all the kit and paperwork had been passed on we had a quick beer and made our way knowing that everything had been talked through, practiced and detailed.

The next time we would meet would be on Friday morning at Dartford.  I now had two days of golf in front of me.  

I had been involved along with all the committee and associated people for nearly four weeks and just felt I needed a couple of days away from the ground to allow myself to think.  I played golf with my brother Tony on the Wednesday and Thursday of that last week and being in his company for that period just took the edge off of all the tension I had been feeling. 

On the Wednesday I had visited the crematorium where my late wife Carole was cremated.   It was the sixth anniversary of her death and I took great comfort from sitting in the grounds of Falconwood’s beautiful gardens deriving a much-needed perspective to all that was going on.