I was there watching in 2013 so I know what it's like to go and watch at Wembley - obviously it's a dream and it would be amazing to do it as a Tunbridge Wells player, says Robbie Bissett

Sunday 16th January 2022

TUNBRIDGE WELLS match-saving centre-half Robbie Bissett says he wants to take his home-town club back to Wembley Stadium for The FA Vase Final in May.

The 25-year-old was in the crowd when Martin Larkin’s class of 2013 reached the showpiece final and took the lead through THAT goal from Josh Stanford, only to suffer a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to then Northern League side Spennymoor.

However, the class of 2022 were heading out of the competition as they were 2-1 down going into injury-time in their last 32 clash at Western League highflyers Bridgwater United yesterday afternoon.

Only for manager Richard Styles to listen to Bissett’s suggestion to send the former Rusthall defender up front and within seconds he latched onto Regan Corke’s hooked pass and clinically slotted a left-footed angled drive past goalkeeper Jake Viney with 47:41 on the clock to spark wild celebrations from the vocal travelling fans.

Tunbridge Wells had momentum going into the penalty shoot-out and Richard Atkins, Harry Hudson, Bissett, Johnny Phillips and Frank Griffin all scored the spot as they secured a 5-3 win after nine penalties.

“I thought first 70 minutes I don’t think it was a 2-0 game at the time.  I thought we had chances.  Kyron Lightfoot, at 1-0, hit the bar, probably should’ve scored and the second goal took the stuffing out of us,” admitted Bissett.

“But credit to us, we got back into the game didn’t we?  I thought on the balance of it I think a draw was probably a fair result and winning on penalties was obviously great.”

Dave Pearse’s side took a seventh minute lead following their first corner, which was flicked on at the near post by striker Jack Taylor and bounced in via a melee of Tunbridge Wells players inside the six-yard box.

“That’s the thing you put so much prep into the game and some of it just goes out of the window at the beginning, because we stayed overnight, we had a good morning, we went for a walk, went through tactics etc and then to concede after seven minutes, it’s gone out of the window,” admitted Bissett.

“But credit to the boys, even at 2-0 down we’ve had games this season when we’ve been behind and we’ve come back and won so it just shows what a good group of boys we’ve got.”

Reflecting on Hudson’s over-head kick goal that brought Tunbridge Wells back into the game in the 70th minute – after Taylor added a second early in the second half, Bissett said: “At 2-0 with 20 to go it’s going to be a hell of a comeback to get back into the game but Harry Hudson does pop up with those important goals and we knew if we got one, we could get two.

“I think after we scored the first, it was all us really. They were trying to waste time and all that stuff and has come back to bite them really, hasn’t it?

“At 2-1 we knew we just needed one chance and with a few minutes to go I said to the gaffer ‘do you need me to go up front?’ and he said yes and literally within 30 seconds Regan Corke’s put me in and I’ve scored.  I’m not used to being in those positions but I’m just glad it’s gone in and gets us back into the game.

“At that stage I said to the gaffer ‘realistically 2-1, it doesn’t mater if we lose 3-1 at that point, you’ve just got to go for it,’ so he sent me up.

“I don’t think they realised that I was up there so I kind of sort of snuck in and Regan put me in and I put it in the net and then looked across to the lino.”

When asked how he felt when he was put through on goal and faced keeper Viney with his home-town club’s FA Vase hopes hanging in the balance, Bissett replied: “It was a bit of a blur to be honest. I don’t really remember it.  Just keep it down, hit it, hit the target.  I thought it was going to hit the post if I’m honest but luckily it’s gone inside the post.  I don’t score many so when I do it’s always nice.”

Penalty shoot-outs are a cruel way of settling any cup tie, especially being on the losing side but the celebrations at the end will live long in the memory for the Culverden faithful, who made the pilgrimage to Somerset.

Bissett said: “We’ve had a few penalty shoot-outs recently. We had one against Beckenham last year, which we won and we had one against Roffey earlier on in the competition so we were always confident as well.

“We’ve got Aaron Lee-Wharton in goal, who is probably the best keeper in our league, if not one of them, if not the best, so you’ve got to be confident and trust your team mates.

“The fans, they’re quality, probably the best in our league, up there with Sheppey and Chatham. They’ve come all this way, getting up early so full credit to them. They were unbelievable and always are.  Thank you for coming down, get home safe and see you in the next round.”

Abbey Hey, Athletic Newham, Brockenhurst, Buckland Athletic, Coventry Sphinx, Hamworthy United, Loughborough Students, Newport Pagnell Town, North Shields, Rugby Town, Southall, Stansfeld, Tunbridge Wells, Whitchurch Alport, Wythenshawe Town, Wroxham or Anstey Nomads all have a serious chance of getting to the Wembley Final in May.

Bissett said: “I’ve been playing at this level for four years and I’ve never got this far.

“I was there watching in 2013 as a 14 or 15 year old so I know what it’s like to go and watch at Wembley, so hopefully we can push on.  We’ll take each game as it comes. If we get someone down at the Culverden we know that our home fans will be unbelievable but going away they’ll be unbelievable so with that support we can always hope.

“It doesn’t matter if you get a home or an away draw.  You’re going to have to beat the best to get to Wembley and win the competition so you don’t want to be avoiding teams. Whoever you play, just give it your all and try to beat them!

“Obviously it’s a dream and it would be amazing to do it but I think we’re all very level-headed. We all know we’ve got three games to go (including a two-legged semi-final) – if we get there, so it’s going to be a massive push. We’ll take every game as it comes and see how it goes.”

Styles takes his side to Gravesend for the bread and butter of the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division to play a Punjab United side fighting for their lives in the bottom three in the table.

Tunbridge Wells are in ninth-place in the table with 30 points from 19 games and Bissett added: “We’ve had a few postponements, we’ve got a few games in hand.  I don’t think our league position is reflective on the quality in our squad that we have.  We want three points, business as usual, hopefully.

“Matt Gething’s out injured, he’s our top goalscorer and Richard Atkins came in and done very well so we’ve got the depth and quality in the squad to win games.

“I’ll play centre-half (on Tuesday) but I’ll still pop up and try to get a goal if I can.”

Punjab United  v  Tunbridge Wells
Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division
Tuesday 18 January 2022
Kick Off 3:00pm
at Elite Venue, Dunkirk Close, Gravesend, Kent DA12 5ND