Every kid's dream is to play at Wembley and it's a great opportunity now, says heroic Deal Town goalkeeper James Tonkin

Sunday 18th February 2024

HEROIC Deal Town goalkeeper James Tonkin says it is every kid's dream to play at Wembley.


Steve King’s side booked their place in the FA Vase Quarter-Finals after coming away from Bridgwater United with a 2-2 draw and Tonkin saving two penalties in a 14 penalty shoot-out yesterday.

Tom Chapman and Rory Smith gave Deal Town a commanding two-goal lead inside the opening 21 minutes in Somerset, before a poor clearance from Tonkin was clinically taken by Bridgwater winger Ben Griffith from 35-yards in the 54th minute.

Referee Harrison Blair sent Macauley Murray off for two bookings in the 59th minute before Tonkin was beaten for a second time by Jack Thorne’s header with 20 minutes remaining.

“I think it was one of the hardest games, I know the team have played,” said Tonkin, 25, who was in the side with Henry Newcombe ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury and Adam Molloy cup-tied.

“I haven’t played a lot of football this season but I think it shows the mentality of the second half where we went down to 10, didn’t have a sniff in that second half, so I think it’s a well-deserved win from everyone so we look forward to another away tie.”

Reflecting on their two early strikes at Fairfax Park, Tonkin said: “I think we knew the first 10 minutes of the game would probably set the tempo for it, especially the first half.

“The shot from TC (Tom Chapman) was phenomenal!  If you don’t shoot, you don’t score, so it was a great start.

“I think (the second goal) just shows the quality of those from four.  You’ve got Ashley Miller, TC, Rory Smith, Aaron Millbank, who works non-stop, so I think it just shows the link-up play between all of them.  I think it really does show our strong side.”

Tonkin held his hands up to Griffith’s strike and owned up to being at fault for Murray’s sending off, for sliding in to bring down Thorne while cutting in.

“I probably should’ve stood my ground instead of sliding in but I think it’s just one of them, I miss-hit it and to be honest I really owed the boys because that second half was tough,” said Tonkin.

“I put us under a lot of pressure from that because we’ve only conceded nine minutes into the second half, so I think I really owed the boys there at the end.  I owe them - but it’s a massive win.

“I still sort of take responsibility for that (red-card) because it came from my clearance.  I miss-hit it again.  I think their player took a heavy touch and Macca went into it and it was just one of those late ones, so then you have to take on the chin.”

Deal Town were hanging on after Bridgwater’s leveller but showed great character to see the game out and win on penalties.

“You definitely heard it from their supporters, especially when they got that second goal.  The momentum did really change.  It was a good header, no complaints about it but you had to suck it in, work as a team and hope our quality shows.”

Bridgwater had two match points during the 14 penalty shoot-out and Tonkin (who took and scored Deal's sixth penalty) revealed he watched Bridgwater’s previous penalties online. 

“I haven’t played a lot of football since Binfield away (in The FA Vase Fourth Round Replay in 2019, winning 7-6 on penalties after a 3-3 extra time draw), because of work, so it takes a lot of my weekends,” said the civil servant, who works for the Home Office.

“When you’re a goalie you definitely want to be the hero and take the limelight. I’ve been taking them as well so it felt good to score again but my main job is to save them and I saved them at key times, especially their seventh penalty. 

“I’ve seen a couple of videos on You Tube. He does take them and he goes that way so I know especially at this level, a nice little bit of homework does work out.”

King takes his side to United Counties League Premier Division North side Lincoln United in The FA Vase Quarter-Finals on Saturday 9 March.  The Semi-Finals are a two-legged affair before the Wembley Final on Saturday 11 May.

“Another away day, there’s only been one home tie in the Vase but every team wants to go away, especially a long journey and make a weekend away out of it,” said Tonkin.

“The following has been superb this season. When I first started we were only getting what 10-20 away fans, six, seven, eight years’ ago and look at us now, there’s 150, definitely, if not more, so we owe everything to the fans especially because it’s a five hour journey.

“It’s a great achievement and that’s all for them really.”

It will take a very good team to beat Deal Town in The FA Vase this season, especially as they are now on a 20 match unbeaten run in all competitions, or two defeats in their last 31 outings.

“Every kids dream is to play at Wembley and it’s a great opportunity now,” said Tonkin.

“I think when we went to Consett (in the Fifth Round) a few years ago, the squad wasn’t as good. I think today really shows how good our squad is.

“It’s up there with Binfield for sure.  Kingy has done a phenomenal job.  Everyone from Natalie (Benveille) the chair and the committee, to fans, have really changed the club and really pushing it forward.

“Today is probably personally one of the biggest days of my life.”

Deal Town are the only Kent club to ever win The FA Vase when Tommy Sampson’s class of 2000 beat Chippenham Town thanks to THAT Roly Graham strike underneath the iconic Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium.

“Tommy does keep in regular communication with the boys, reminds us that we are the only Kent side to win it and we’re only three wins away, three games left away from Wembley so you’re not going to have a better opportunity than that,” said Tonkin.

“I think we can get there, we’ve got to believe in everyone. We’ve got the ability.”

Sampson was beaming with pride that King’s class of 2024 are so close to replicating the likes of Graham, Terry Martin, Steve Lovell, Steve Marshall and Marc Seager and gracing the national stadium.

“If Steve King wins the Vase, he will sit at the top table of the great non-league football managers,” said Sampson today.

“I include myself in that, Chris Kinnear, Steve King - if he wins the Vase - and Neil Cugley.  You can’t get better company than that. If he wins the Vase, he will be in that group.”

Deal Town have 16 league games to cram into the last 10 weeks of the season.

Deal Town also play a two-legged semi-final against Erith Town for a place in the Challenge Cup Final.  The first leg is at The Charles Sports Ground on Tuesday, 20 February, before the second leg takes place at Bayliss Avenue seven days later.

Glebe remain at the summit of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division table with 62 points from 30 games.

Corinthian are in second-place with 56 points from 27 games, while Deal Town have 55 points on the board from their 24 games –  six games in hand on the league leaders.

Despite having a £10,000 per week budget, Faversham Town suffered their SEVENTH league defeat by losing 3-2 at home to Nicky Southall’s Lordswood yesterday and are languishing in fourth-place in the table with 54 points from 29 games, while Bearsted - who welcome Glebe to Honey Lane on Tuesday night, a game being covered by this website - are in fifth-place with 53 points from 27 games.