Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 4

The season had started well for us. An F.A. Cup replay, defeat in September at Ryman League outfit Worthing meant we didn’t have to play away to Chippenham Town in the next round!!!

The league programme had seen us win seven and draw two of our opening nine games and with the talent available in the squad I felt the league was there to win.

This was the season Roy Smith hoped to conclude his negotiations with Dover District Council for a satisfactory lease agreement that would enable him to go ahead with his plans for a 500 seater stand with bar, restaurant and gymnasium facilities and an outside astroturf pitch. 

To this end Roy had initiated moving our pitch about 20 metres to the left leaving room to build when the old stand was demolished. 

The ground itself was not good enough to pass a grading for promotion to the Eastern Division of the Southern League but on receiving the green light from the District Council, Roy would foot the price to make sure it was.  The proviso - that my team could win the league.

Winning the Bass Brewers Kent League remained my priority and I had strengthened the squad with talented  lads like Jamie Kempster from Greenwich Borough, Paul Roberts and Ricky Bennett from Erith & Belvedere.

I had also been chasing Phil Turner, an attacking midfield player from Greenwich and by the skin of mine and his teeth managed to get him to agree to sign just two days before he was due to play for his club against Chipstead in a F.A.Vase tie.  

My final ultimatum to Phil was if you play for Greenwich in their Vase tie I would no longer be interested because he would be cup-tied.  Suffice to say Phil didn’t play and signed for me the following week.

Our first F.A. Vase game at Eastleigh in October also provided our first ‘heart in the mouth’ experience. Arriving at 2.40pm we rushed on to the pitch unprepared and despite Paul Ribben giving us the lead early doors we proceeded to look like “ragbag rovers” for the rest of the first half.  We were fortunate to go in only 1-3 down.

“If you think I am going out of this f****** competition in f****** October you’ve got another f****** thing coming” was my considered view.

Replacing the woeful Marc Seager and the even worse David Monteith with Phil Miles and Jamie Kempster I sent the boys out with the parting shot “and if you get beat don’t bother coming back”. 

To their eternal credit they performed heroically and dug themselves out of the hole to win 4-3.  

After the game I mended fences with Seags and Monty, who were both extremely pissed off with me. I also, to my chagrin, got awarded “the Jacket”.   This was a double-breasted red and black cloth jacket with lapels like concorde wings that coach Colin Ford had bought from an Oxfam shop before the season.

The “Jacket” was awarded after each game to the person who the players felt deserved it for an outrageous moment during the game.   It was awarded to me for and I quote “having no faith at half time” and I had to wear it for the rest of the day as well as to our next game.  

The following day I flew out to Portugal for a few days’ golf in the Algarve courtesy of the Kent Messenger Group as a reward for winning their Sunshine Challenge Tournament  in the summer.  

I dined out on the Eastleigh comeback many times that week, full of my team’s fighting qualities and never-say-die commitment.  

The next two rounds followed quickly and were comfortable victories.   Sussex League East Preston were dispatched 3-0 on the day England beat Scotland in the Euro 2000 play offs at Hampden Park.

Most of the excitement that day came from Paul Scholes scoring England’s first goal rewarding the wager the first team had placed on him and netting us/them more than £200.  

Third opponents Watton United, from the Eastern Counties League, held out until the last minute before Phil Turner scored our winner.  

I was conducting a live radio interview with Radio Kent’s Matt Davison at the very moment Phil scored and gave an animated commentary on Phil’s strike and celebrations.  Having won through the first three rounds the competition was due to go national and we were all holding our breath wondering where we would play next.