Thursday 01st September 2005

The Real Deal - Wembley Manuscript
by Tommy Sampson

Chapter 8

We were now into uncharted territory. Neither I nor my players had been this far, the sixth round of the F.A. Vase.

Several of us had been involved in 1997 at Herne Bay when we were knocked out in the 5th round by Banstead Athletic. 

I traveled to Anfield (Monday) for the draw staying overnight at Cannock near Birmingham. Also in the draw were Kent League rivals Ramsgate and the local media were already dreaming of an all-Kent Wembley final.

Jim Ward, the Ramsgate manager, had snatched the league title on the last day of last season and like myself was basking in the attention that was now coming both our ways. 

We all assembled in the Carlsberg Suite, directors, managers, interested parties and F.A.. officials to hear Gerard Houllier the Liverpool Manager decide our fate. 

Sitting on a round table with all the Ramsgate contingent chatting away I first encountered the Chippenham Manager, Tommy Saunders.  

Now in my part of the world I enjoy a certain reputation for being outspoken and a bit “full of myself”.   

Well compared to my new west country cousin Saunders, I was probably no more than the shyest boy in the choir.  

Tommy was forthcoming on all subject;  players, money, chairman, opponents.  No-one was spared his caustic and abrasive comments.  

A big robust man of only 28 he was cocksure and very open to all discussions.  Yet I detected a certain naive in his manner.  Fair play to him though that was his way and no-one was going to change him.

Only nine teams remained in the draw.  We all knew the numbers and I was praying for a home draw against a least fancied side.   Unfortunately, I think Deal Town and Ramsgate were two of the outsiders left perhaps along with Chippenham Town.  

We were number three and as soon as Mr Houllier pulled our number out of the bag first, I gulped thinking “great at home”.  It then seemed an age as I considered everybody left in the draw.

They were:  Bedlington Terriers last year’s beaten finalists;  Taunton Town Wembley finalists previously and very much fancied;  Vauxhall Motors, based in Ellesmere Park with a burgeoning reputation.  

Could it be Ramsgate though?  Three hundred miles all the way form East Kent to be drawn against a side eight miles down the road!  

“Will play no 4” I fingered my information sheet feverishly trying to anticipate the announcement .........   “Mossley” came the response. 

In that next couple of seconds I was trying to compute in my mind the consequences of the Liverpool manager’s actions. 

I looked across at Jimmy Ward who gave me the thumbs up.  That was me sorted and I was really hoping Jim would get his reward.   Tommy Saunders, sitting on an adjacent table, visibly shuddered as his Chippenham charges drew the shortest straw in the bag, Bedlington Terriers!!  

Ramsgate’s number then came out, a home draw I thought, Deal and Ramsgate at home on the same day, bloody hell!!!!   Chasetown or Newcastle was the next sound heard.   Again Jim and I exchanged glances for long enough that we didn’t hear Vauxhall and Taunton’s tie complete the draw.

So that was it, our fates sealed.

Excited chattering filled the room, people introducing themselves to their quarter-final opponents, exchanging fixtures before the upcoming tie.  Tommy Saunders had regained his confident air.  

“They’ll find it hard at our place, good draw for us, if your going to win it you/you’ve got to beat these type of teams”.

“Whistling in the dark” crossed my mind but I had a certain admiration for him and wished him well and said I hoped we would meet again at the semi-final draw. 

Jim Ward and I conducted interviews down the phone and even had our photo’s taken with the Vase trophy itself although neither wanted to actually touch it because we both felt that the only time we wanted it in our hands was in the Royal Box at Wembley on May 6th.