Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 6

“Crook Town away” babbled Roy Smith down my mobile phone.   I was on a golfing weekend with a small society with my coach Colin Ford and I had told Roy to ring me as soon as he knew our fourth round draw.  Mobile phones are taboo on golf courses but on this one occasion I had it switched on in my bag.

Walking from the ninth green to the tenth tee at Barnham Brooms’ Golfing complex near Norwich I learnt of our fate.  

“Crook” I immediately thought was a bloody long way and the logistics of watching them was my first concern.

It was early December and we had six weeks until the tie so we had plenty of time to organise ourselves.  

Christmas came and went and I had added two more players to an already strong squad.   The first, Barry Lakin, had arrived from Borehamwood.

“Bazze” had played Football League for Leyton Orient before moving on to Conference side Welling United where, after an excellent couple of years a persistent ankle injury had curtailed his progress.

Jon Warden had arrived form Ashford Town, who were experiencing severe financial difficulties and these two experienced lads would both be available for our long trip to the north coast.

I first went to watch Crook play Easington Colliery on a cold January afternoon, having stayed overnight in Bishop Auckland.  

Crook Town had played at Wembley in the F.A. Amateur Cup during the sixties and black and white photo’s adorned their quaint old bar documenting that fact.  

A 3-1 win for Crook saw me travelling home a bit nervous because they were big and whilst not a particularly good footballing side the mere fact that we were going to do all that travelling before actually playing the attitude had to be spot on to get a result. 

Keith Lissenden made the long journey the following week and at about 2.30 that Saturday afternoon my assistant manager rang me in the dressing room at Slade Green to say that his game had just been postponed.

Whilst I was on the phone making sympathetic noises about his fruitless near 700 mile round trip, the lads in the dressing room were obviously getting wind of Keith’s unfortunate predicament and taking the piss.  

Undaunted by his misfortune Keith was determined to achieve something and followed his opponents across the road form their ground to watch them train for an hour.   Roy, the chairman, had booked two nights’ stay in the North East.

The night before the game and the night of the tie which was indicative of his commitment to the players.   Roly Graham’s partner Stephanie was heavily pregnant so it was decided that all being well he would be driven up by Colin Ford early Saturday morning and driven home immediately after. 

The game itself was played in a gale force wind and winning the toss was crucial.  With the wind blowing straight down the pitch we could defend it while we were strong and have it at our backs later in the game. 

I’d left Steve Lovell out for no other reason than I felt Phil Turner’s younger legs would carry us through the game better.   Whilst not happy Steven remained the consummate professional, saying very little to upset anybody and offering encouragement to the guys who were playing.  

Nil-nil at half time was an absolute dream, because in the second half Steve Marshall, Monteith and Graham ran them ragged and on an utterly cold afternoon we triumphed 3-0.  

However, one incident eight minutes from the end caused me to see red.   Having named my team and listed all the subs, I had, in accordance with the rules, given my paperwork to the referee thirty minutes before kick off.   With twelve minutes remaining I wanted to introduce Liam Fox to the game from the benches.   I filled in my card and went to the fourth official.  

To my consternation the fourth official did not have Liam’s name on his pre-written card and would not let Liam onto the pitch.  I berated the official for his incompetence and asked to see my paperwork because I knew Foxy’s name was there.

He told me that all that paperwork was locked in the dressing room  and I had to produce my carbon copy to prove my case. 

Hanging on at 1-0 up with a few minutes to go plus stoppage time I felt it was imperative to get Liam on the pitch.  I shouted to Colin Adams, our fixture secretary, who was sat up in the back of the main stand to come down with the copy of my team sheet. 

The wind was howling so strong that Colin could not hear me properly so I ran along to the stand entrance to climb the stairs.  

Meanwhile, Colin had decided to come down to meet me so whilst I was running up the stand on one side Colin was coming down the other.   Eventually we met and Colin produced the carbon copy which clearly sowed Liam Fox as one of the nominated subs.

It was apparent that the fourth official, for some inexplicable reason had not included Liam’s name on the list he had written.    Finally, after six minutes of chasing around I showed the official his error and we eventually got Liam on the touchline ready to replace Barry Lakin. 

I was not absolutely steaming thinking that if Crook had equalised whilst all these shenanigans were going on someone was to “cop it”.  As it turned out before we could make the change Steve Marshall scored and all the panic was over.  “Foxy” got on with five minutes to go and saw “expectant” father Roly add a third. 

I went into the referee’s room not long after and the embarrassed fourth official apologised at length.  I felt that with the result in the bag there was no point in making any more of it and accepted the apology graciously.