Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 2

Chippenham Town had completed their visit and it was now our turn.  We pulled up outside what looked like two oak doors to an old mansion. I caught sight of a friendly face as I got off the coach.

Mick Gadmore was part of the security set up at Wembley Stadium.   I had often seen Mick flanking Kevin Keegan and Glen Hoddle during their England management days.

I knew Mick because he had been a well known local non-league goalkeeper playing for the likes of Ashford Town and Whitstable Town and his warm handshake and friendly smile made me feel immediately at ease. 

Having posed for the obligatory photographs outside the doors we were finally allowed into the tunnel area and shown the dressing room area that Chippenham were to use the following day.

The other dressing room was being shown to tourists on the Wembley Tour and it was then that it hit alot of the players..  This wasn’t a tour with no end product, this was the overture to an opera to be played out in just over 24 hours on the World’s most famous football stage with ourselves as the stars. 

The dressing rooms were old and the smell of plaster and concrete was prevalent.  This was no state of the art, sanitised impersonal changing area, this was history.

To me this was, Matthews, Finney, Charlton, Moore , Greaves, Ramsey, to others it must have meant something similar. 

I tended to stay in the company of the more senior players and in particular, Terry Martin and Steve Lovell. 

Terry had played for me since 1992 covering Sheppey United, Herne Bay and now Deal Town. Steve was a Welsh international and his clubs had included Cyrstal Palace, Stockport County, Millwall and Gillingham. 

When the time came to walk out onto the pitch the three of us held back a little to allow the rest to move to the front.  I suppose we just wanted to savour the moment for as long as possible. 

Moving up the slope towards the end of the tunnel you come to the concertinered canopy which narrows your walkway. 

Steve, Terry and I were almost the last ones to reach the canopy and from there you have another 20 or so paces to go before entering into the daylight.   Steve got very emotional, he had planned to retire after tomorrow’s game and 2 months short of his 40th birthday I don’t think that he could ever have dreamed his last ever game would be at Wembley.  

Terry and I were always very close and whilst not so obviously caught up in the emotion Steve was feeling, we still struggled to stay dry-eyed.  As the daylight hits you and you adjust your eyes, you can see the word W.E.M.B.L.E.Y displayed in the seating area at the opposite end.  

The scoreboard said “Wembley welcome Deal Town” ........ just fantastic I thought.   The pitch was immaculate and the players took photo’s while inspecting almost every blade of grass. I went to the dug-out area and sat down exactly where I knew I would sit tomorrow and pondered. 

Would it go well?  Would we get hammered?  Would I enjoy it?  How would I feel if we lost?  

A couple of weeks earlier, Roly Graham, had scored his 100th goal under my management and, as a tribute, I had presented him with an engraved trophy on the pitch in front of the players and had said to him “I hope your 101st is here tomorrow”. 

Before we left Steve Lovell and I were interviewed by Gerald Sindstadt for BBC’s Football Focus and I remember our Interviewer getting really annoyed because as he was trying to speak to me the groundsman kept driving past on this huge mower cutting the grass.   Mr Singstadt was not best pleased and one or two expletives were drowned out by the mower’s engine!! 

After an hour or so the players boarded the coach for the hotel and the excited chatter you could hear was similar to a party of nursery school children who had just made their first trip to a zoo.

Who could deny them their wanderlust about Wembley?

Later that evening I drove Roly and Paul Ribbens back to Wembley for a live TV broadcast with Meridian Tonight.

Iain McBride, the presenter, had been brilliant in covering Deal’s path to Wembley and it was good to see him at around 6.0pm behind the goal opposite the tunnel.

The three of us had decided to see how many song titles we could get into our answers (a game the England players had played during Euro 96). 

Roly dried as soon as the first question hit him, I managed “Help”, “Here There and Everywhere” and “People” before Ribbo chattered on about “we’re gonna win big time!!”  forgetting the challenge. 

When we got back to the hotel we all ate together and after dinner I had to tell players their fates regarding selection for tomorrow’s game.   

Phil turner had run into some great form scoring a hat-trick in the Player Kent Senior Trophy Final two weeks before.   Paul Roberts had battled back from an injury sustained at Christmas to play during the last month of the season.  Jon Warden probably knew that his role was to be as a substitute fully expecting to play from an hour onwards.  Ricky Bennett had proved his fitness over the last four meets and again knew he would be on the bench.  

These four would be the subs at the start of the game.  My big problem was who would be the substitute goalkeeper?   I had foolishly promised Jamie Turner and Craig Tucker a game at Wembley in the immediate euphoria of beating Newcastle Town in the semi-final.  My initial reaction was to give them a half each.

 I knew this would be impractical the nearer we got to the final and had to own up to my own sentimental stupidity and select one or the other.   I phoned both players on the Monday and explained that one of them would have to be a substitute and after apologising profusely asked them both one question.    

“Are you prepared to site on the bench?”  and to their credit both said yes  Now came the decision, Jamie had joined in November and had injured his wrist before the 5th Round when I signed Craig to deputise.

Craig had played in the 5th, 6th and Semi-Final rounds whilst Jamie had played in all other games including the first Senior Trophy Final. They were both excellent keepers and whichever I chose I knew I couldn’t go far wrong.

However, being the type of game it was, I decided during the course of that week to seek the opinions of the senior members of the side and my management.

Colin Ford (coach) and Keith Lissenden  (assistant manager) both gave their opinions as did, Terry Martin, Steve Lovell, Roly Graham, David Monteith,. Jason Ash and Paul Roberts. Without divulging their views it came down almost 50-50 so it was left to me, and quite rightly so, to choose.

I sought out Jamie Turner first in his bedroom at about 10.30pm and gave him the bad news.   I have never felt so angry with myself for letting the situation develop and Jamie despite being hugely disappointed accepted my decision gracefully. Craig was obviously delighted at the news but I know he felt for his goalkeeping counterpart.

So finally it was all done, Barry Lakin and Liam Fox were the unlucky ones not to get in the 16 but they would get the opportunity to change and warm up on the turf before the game.

I finally went to bed at around midnight wondering if it was possible to sleep but as it was my exertions of the day had left me exhausted and I drifted off like a baby for a full night’s rest.