Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 3

The sky was cloudless as the players mingled at breakfast.   All the families were due at the hotel by coach at around 11.00am.

Roy Smith, the chairman, had laid on luxury transport for the players’ loved ones to meet us at the hotel before going on ahead to Wembley.

The grounds at Burnham Beeches are beautifully manicured and the players sat around reading papers and drinking tea, trying to relax before the off .

The coach carrying everyone turned up bang on time.  Mums, dads, wives, girlfriends, brothers and sisters, they all embraced as if they hadn’t seen each other for ages.

The statutory photographs were taken and it was very moving to see the love and affection and particularly pride shown by all these people to one another. 

At midday we had our final team meeting re-iterating all that had been said previously about our opponents.  Each player was reminded of their responsibilities on the day. 

Dressed like gangsters going to a ‘Mafioso’ wedding we filed on to the coach to head off for the greatest afternoon of our lives. 

For the second time in 24 hours we were on our way to Wembley only this time we had a police escort. 

The outrider agreed to fly a Deal flag and we followed him at breakneck speed through Saturday traffic avoiding all red lights and normal rules of the road.   The journey took almost half the time it had the previous day.

As we approached at about 1.15pm we could see both sets of supporters mingling, blue and white scarves blending with our own black and white design, everybody waving and cheering and locals not having a clue who we were. 

We got back to those oak doors at about 1.20pm, almost at exactly the same time as our opponents.  

Their coach had pulled in just ahead of ours and they were getting off just as we were pulling in.  

Both Clubs had received exact instructions about where to go, what time you were allowed into the arena, when you could warm-up and how long for, so everybody knew precisely what to expect.  

The Carlsberg Pub final was taking place before our game and one of the teams comprised most of the Eastleigh side that played us in that near disastrous early fixture.  Once we had collected our programmes from the dressing room we made our way to the tunnel and out on to the pitch.  

The first thing that hit us was the heat.   Without a breach of breeze the temperature was nearly 90 degrees and it was probably going to get even hotter by kick off time.   There must have been around 3000-4000 people in the stadium and as players walked round the area outside the pitch everybody was signing autographs and posing for pictures. 

I finally got round to the dug-out area and caught up with my managerial adversary Tommy Saunders.   Saunders was only 28 years old and a larger than life character.  We had become quite friendly during the build-up and we were both determined to make it a day to remember with no animosity.   We chatted nervously about our choice of suits and he was still trying to second guess my team selection.

I had decided weeks before to let Tommy do all the talking and I would try to keep my own counsel.   We shook hands, wished each other luck and went our separate ways desperately hoping that the other would need consoling at 4.45pm. 

I am a very methodical manager and when it came to handing in our team sheets at 2.00pm I was ready.  All my paperwork had been completed the night before, all neatly written and in a folder so I could present it in pristine condition. 

I introduced myself to the match referee, Mr David Laws, and his assistants as well as Joe Guest the “head honcho” of all referees from the Premier League downwards.  

At 2.05pm in rushed Tommy Saunders in full Chippenham Town playing kit sweating profusely with only half of his paperwork completed.  

I looked on in amazement as Tommy gave his unfinished sheet to Joe Guest and asked him to copy from a bit of paper his list for the bench while he conducted other business with the referee.   Nothing was said but eyebrows were raised all round as we left the referee’s room.

Fifteen minutes later the players were allowed onto the pitch to warm up.   Colin Ford, my coach, was instructed to keep the physical stuff to a minimum because of the oppressive heat.  We also asked him to pay particular care to our supporters. 

It was agreed that every time the players came down in front of our supporters they would display the tattoo’s we had all had done before the final.  This choreographed action went down a storm with the fans and lightened the players’ preparation for the game. 

The players certainly deserved the adulation and were enjoying every moment.  However, I was determined to have my special memory and at 2.30pm, when the players were on the other side of the pitch doing light exercised, I strolled out of the tunnel on to the emerald green turf.  As the Deal supporters recognised me a round of applause spread along the packed terracing until the ovation reached a tumultuous crescendo and I bowed and paid homage back to our wonderful supporters.  Those near enough to see could witness a grown man crying with happiness.  

The dressing room was thankfully cool compared to the searing heat outside in the stadium.   It was 2.46pm and according to the military style organisation we were due out into the tunnel to await our entrance onto the hallowed turf.