BROMLEY AT WEMBLEY: It will be a very proud moment to lead Bromley out at Wembley, says boss Neil Smith
BROMLEY manager Neil Smith says it will be the proudest moment of his life to lead out his home-town club at Wembley Stadium next Sunday.
The legendary Hayes Lane boss has guided the Ravens to their highest ever finish in their 125th year history of ninth-place in the Vanarama National League and on a club record of 70 points, falling short of the play-offs by just four points.
Bromley boss Neil Smith is looking forward to leading
his home-town club out at Wembley Stadium against
Brackley Town on Sunday 20 May.
Photo: Edmund Boyden
Bromley have beaten Hartley Wintney (2-0 away); Blyth Spartans (4-1 away); Workington (7-1 at home after a 1-1 draw); Spennymoor Town (2-1 away after a 0-0 draw at Hayes Lane) and Gateshead (1-1 away in the Second Leg after beating Steve Watson’s side 3-2 at home) to earn the right to play Brackley Town at Wembley Stadium on Non-League Finals Day.
“I feel a bit disappointed with the way it ended on the Saturday away at Maidenhead (losing 5-2) but overall if you look back there’s more highs than lows,” said Smith, 46.
“Some of the games that stick out in memory are Leyton Orient at home (winning 6-1) and away (winning 1-0), Hartlepool at home, being on the tele and winning away at Sutton and the game here as well against Ebbsfleet.
“It’s been fantastic and the jewel in the crown, which was the cup run, every game travelling away from home and having to deal with all of that and the travelling to now finally get that chance to enjoy the fact that we’re going to Wembley!
“The boys have had 15 games in two months, we haven’t had a chance to come up and take a breather and we’ve managed to relax and look forward to what should be and honestly be a fantastic day for Bromley Football Club.”
Smith has done a brilliant job during his time as Mark Goldberg’s number two, running the Academy and making sure Bromley will be dining at the top table of non-league football for a fourth season in August.
“Our paths had crossed several times and this was the second time that Mark asked me to come on board. The first time something got in the way and we couldn’t and this was the second time and when you walk in and you’re playing in front of 300-400 supporters and you’re fighting relegation in the Conference South. It was a good division to be in and then it starts getting better and you have the 3G pitch (at the back of the stadium) and all the players start to come in and you get promotion and you come up as champions (April 2015) and you’re proud of that.
“What happened with Mark (parting company in February 2016) and myself being offered the job, would I envisage us going out at Wembley and leading this club out? No I couldn’t but over the last two years and it has been difficult but with the bunch of players that I’ve got in there, who are hungry for themselves and the club and not just on money terms but happy to be successful people, it’s a magnificent achievement for us.
“We’ve got a board of directors with Jon Plassard, Robin Stanton-Gleaves and David Waller and the chairman in Jerry Dolke who have backed me since I’ve come in and not just the backing of them, I’ve had the backing of the players who have brought in to what I want and especially the supporters.
“There have been difficult times and they have always shown their support for the players and the club. They know they’re getting 100% commitment from the players and you get that back, no more than this season.
“Hopefully we’ve repaid them in some sort by getting to Wembley but also our performances and I can only put on one hand where we’ve let ourselves down this season out of 57 games. It’s been absolutely brilliant and the standard of their play has never let me down either.
“When I walked in eight years ago did I ever envisage, dream, you dream about these days. You always think you’ve got a chance but it always seemed to be someone else so for it to be us, it’s absolutely fantastic!”
Bromley were rated as relegation fodder by the bookies at the start of the season – but Smith was keen to prove them wrong!
I recall before Bromley’s National League debut at home to Wrexham, BBC Radio Kent pundit Tony Hudd said live on air “I think they’ll drop!” when asked about Bromley’s top-flight chances. The Ravens finished in 14th place before progressing to tenth and now a ninth-place finish.
Smith said: “I think everyone wrote us off! We did it the first season and then you’ve got the Second Season Syndrome and then I had to clear the decks and bring in my own players and it was always going to be difficult and we’ve proved them wrong! Throughout my football career and throughout life you always got to prove people wrong and you’ve got to prove yourself right and luckily we’ve managed to do that!
“We still had the goal of getting in the play-offs (this season). We wanted to beat our points total from last year and goals scored and stuff like that so we still had our targets. The boys were definitely running out of steam towards the end but to take it to the last game of the season where we had a chance was outstanding. It was a big ask for the players’ but they gave me everything!”
Smith, who went to school at what is now the Ravensbourne School in Hayes Lane, says he will be a proud man when he leads out his home-town club on the hallowed turf.
“We’d love to be getting 20,000 supporters there and you’re playing on the hallowed turf at Wembley! I’m leading my local club, I live in Bromley, I went to school in Bromley, I’ve got friends who used to play for Bromley. If that doesn’t grab the moment, nothing will! My children schooled in Bromley as well.
“It will be a very proud moment, be very humbling, a moment I thought would never happen but it’s more for the players, the supporters and the club like I said than my personal thing.
“That’s just a dream come true but for the supporters. It’s taken 69 years since the last time we was there!
“To the owners, the new directors, this is a big one for them and for us to enjoy the moment you’ve got to win but I want them to enjoy the fact that we got there and we have to try to encourage people to come and support Bromley Football Club at Wembley!”
Say that again Neil?
“We’re going to Wembley!!! We’re taking this little club that everyone probably thought would be in the bottom five, always go out of the FA Cup, it’s never them, it’s someone else, we’re going to Wembley!
“We’re going there, we’ve earnt the right and hopefully we perform at our best and get the result that we want but we know it’s going to be difficult.”
Smith would love Bromley resident Jack Holland to go down in history and lead his home-town club to Wembley glory.
“Brackley are a very good side, to have the season they’ve had, they want to be playing us in the league.
“We’re not going to take them lightly by any stretch of the imagination. They’re a fantastic team and fully deserve to be at the final and we know we’ve got our work cut out.
“If they play to our best and we play to our best, it will be a very close and cracking game.
“Knowing Jack, he’s a very proud man, again Bromley through and through with his family being there and everything else that goes with it. He will become someone who goes down in history and I think he fully deserves it. He’s been a fantastic captain. As soon as I took the job I made his captain and I’ve never looked back. He’s embraced it and I think it will be a fifing moment for him to lift that trophy.”
Visit Bromley’s website: www.bromleyfc.tv
Buy your tickets for Non-League Finals Day here: https://ticketingcontent.thefa.com/NLFD%202018
Photographs courtesy of Edmund Boyden – www.edboydenphotos.co.uk
Stockton Town v Thatcham Town
The Buildbase FA Vase Final
Sunday 20 May 2018
Kick Off 12:15pm
at Wembley Stadium, Wembley, Middlesex HA9 0WS
Brackley Town v Bromley
The Buildbase FA Trophy Final
Sunday 20 May 2018
Kick Off 4:15pm
at Wembley Stadium, Wembley, Middlesex HA9 0WS