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It has now been two weeks since that eventful day or weekend really!
Last year, we went and lost there, but we were back, with a different approach and attitude to getting back to were we believe we belong, according to all the talk on the radio, Twitter and Facebook etc. Even the message was continually pressed into all our conversations and meetings.
This one had to be perfect, there was no mention of celebrating the semi final win and all staff spent every day at the training ground to get the lads ready for the battle ahead.
Everyone knew their roles and responsibilities, and getting everything prepared and being utterly professional about the job in hand. We were not going to lose gracefully or be awed by our opponents, the stadium, it wasn't going to happen again!
Well I'm on the staff, doing my dream job for my local football club, that is, I prepare the dressing room and see to all the needs and wants of the manager, coaches, physios, players and from outside the dressing room. On such occasions, the media and Wembley staff, as well as officials, mascots, reporters, and senior staff from our club. I act like a go between, the go to person on a match day.
There is a member of the Wembley staff, like a guard to both dressing rooms, and he is a great help.
I prepare and pack every piece of equipment and kit, that is needed, and a lot that is not, but always with travelling, always be prepared for every eventuality. For a trip to Wembley, the amount of stuff we have is a lot.
We use a transit van and this season it has clocked up a lot of mileage especially to the sarf!
Thursday morning meeting over, we know what to load, who is in squad and equipment necessary, we have a list of lists, including one that has which equipment is needed on the players coach and and what is going in the van. The van is carefully packed due to how and what is needed first and last, we take extra for the hot weather we have been told to expect, but we still pack the large benchcoats, just in case!
Last year we never had enough sun cream, we didn't miss that this time!
The players coach is packed and enough water for an army, it was really nice and warm, I wasn't looking forward to the motorway madness, which is always discouraging on a Friday afternoon.
We always leave after the coach departs, because there is always one player who has left his boots or the staff have forgotten something from the training ground. It happens all the time!
Of course, this time was no exception.
We started late afternoon, missing the m6, missing the roadworks and joining the motorway past Stoke joining at Stafford, before the m6 toll road!
We have a break at the services on the toll road.
We continue down the m42, m40 down to Wembley, we actually take five and half hours to get to our hotel, because we travel all over, and my dietary needs, we always stop at a premier inn. Never had a bad breakfast yet!
Our evening meal sorted in a beefeater restaurant and early to bed. We have to be on the ball, so to speak, tomorrow!
Breakfast done, bloody hell, that would last all day, I forgot about eating till about eight o'clock that night, there was more important things to consider.
We decided to get to the Wembley Park early, and have a look around the outside and around the retail park, already supporters were arriving, and being recognised, photos were taken on our phones, and a desire to get inside and get it right before the players coach arrived.
We would arrive and we get our passes, be scanned electronically and by a dog handler. We await our turn to enter and our escort around the underground part of the magnificent stadium. There is so much underneath, that you just can't grasp the enormity of it all. The amount of staff is huge.
We approach the west gate, already waiting was our fitness coach, he would help set up the important table full of supplements, water, pre match gels, and stupid minor stuff, like, Vick, Sun cream, tape, physio bands, tie ups, and all the stretching equipment, hard rollers, soft rollers, mats, glute bands, towels for the mass of physio beds and more. My immediate job was to unpack the playing kit and arrange it so the players were happy with the placement, we don't do numeric. We do keepers near door, then defenders, not putting the skipper in the corner, he has a dominant position in between all the squad. Then strikers, because, they like to think they are important!
Then midfield and subs.
Leaving room at the bottom of the cavernous dressing room for the staff to put the tactics board(s). The tactical coach has paper to put on other easels and of course the tape and blue tack, were not forgotten!
Once I'm happy with my dressing room and every needed bit of kit, is positioned to particular personal players needs, of course the keepers and strikers being unusually superstitious, have all kinds of different warming up kit and undergarments.
You do unfortunately have to get to know your players!
The next item is to prepare and have the equipment needed for the dugout and warm up, ball's, bibs, cones, blood kits, doctors bags, subs kits, raincoats, and of course defibrillator, crutches, neck restraints, an ice box, ice bags, and lots of ice! Water, supplements, gels. And more! Including walkie talkies, so the staff can be contacted immediately.
This done, we do the usual tour of the inner sanctum of the playing area and take the usual photos.
This is the part I don't like much, everything is ready, the lull before the storm, the anxiety and nervousness abound, we are ready, the time slows agonisingly!
All of a sudden, the players coach has arrived and I'm out to meet it as things need carrying into the dressing room and if not needed, into the van. I return to the dressing room and if everything is okay, I get the staff tea or coffee and I get myself a well earned rest, and if I'm not disturbed, it means, my part of the preceding part of the match is done.
I sit at the back of the coaches side room, and relax watch the television.
The warm up. The goalkeepers emerge an hour before kick off, the coach and three keepers go through their warm up, already the end were our supporters are, are getting vocal and expectant.
I watch from the dugout.
The rest of the squad appears, they do the drills, I join them on the pitch, with a slight smile on my face, I'm there to look after the equipment especially the balls. My job is to gather the bibs and cones after the warm up, collect the balls and get back into the dressing room, sometimes I'm the only person on that near goal to our supporters and I always try and see my family, relatives and friends, mostly I don't pick them out.
The gaffer is going through the final reminders of what is expected of the first eleven and who they are marking at set pieces, tactics adjusted to the opposition line up. Everyone in the changing room is up on their feet, wishing best wishes, hugs, encouraging, grim determination on the faces.
I wait at the door to the tunnel, as I'm aware of movement outside, the linesman, oops, sorry, my age showing, are about to bang on the door to get the players in the tunnel, to check for jewellery, studs, correct under garments. The knock is sounded, I open the door slightly ajar, we have to be walking out as a team led out by the gaffer, the skipper and of course there is one who has to be last out, the opposition is coming out, we open the door and everyone lines up in the tunnel awaiting the referee to start the precession out.
I duck back in and do a quick bit of tidying up intentionally missing the national anthem and the couple of minutes before kick off.
I get settled in the dugout just in the nick of time for the match to begin.
I look at the subs making sure they have the bibs on and water is available.
The whistle blows and we are down to ten men within a minute!
(Oh s!!!!!) It was a red but in the circumstances, a yellow could have been given!
The lad is distraught and its my job to see to him, so I follow down the tunnel and offer any assistance he needs, I take time to see he is as okay as can be, he tells me to go and watch the game, I leave only to be told by the guard on the dressing room door, that the player can watch from above tunnel, I turn and get the message to him as he showers, I return to the dugout just in time to see a goal.
Yeah! We scored! Wow!
The first half continues and going into injury time after already making two subs because of tactics, we get another injury, and a third sub is readied. I have to make sure they wear the right bibs and water them, the injured player has an Achilles tendon injury, he is taken straight to the dressing room. I go with him, we have already played more than the fourth officials board said, in total an extra five minutes were played on top of the six minutes on the board. They scored from the last kick of the half.
The dressing room is deflated, there is much anger at the officials, there is a momentary lapse in behaviour by some of our staff and theirs, resulting in two coaches spending the rest of the game in the stands, I have to get the coach an unused radio, I'm asked to talk to the officials instead of the gaffer, to get the message to calm everyone down. Get more water and gels. We have iced tea towels in soak to cool everyone because even though it is raining, told you I needed them raincoat and benchcoats, the gaffer wanted a drier jumper, because he didn't wear a coat despite the weather!
The gaffer is brilliant in bringing the lads back down and extolling the great way we have performed so far, he says that, they have had one shot on target, we have done better, despite the man disadvantage, we are playing better footie and the need for the lads to do their jobs, they all know and trust each other to do that. We just need to keep our shape, deny them opportunities, and try our best to get another chance ourselves from either a break or a set piece. It was inspiring and much needed at that time!
The bell goes for the second half and the lads troop out with a determination and a resolve to see this through.
I do a bit more tidying up, then take my place in the dugout.
The second half is not the best but in the circumstances, who could blame us, we thwarted everything the opposition could throw at us. And then with barely ten minutes to go, the whole superwhite army exploded as our striker headed the ball past their keeper into the corner of the net.
My excitement nearly did some serious damage, my feet got caught in the seats, my back bounced off the seats.
Against all odds, we were on track to win at the home of football and achieve promotion.
Alas, it was still ten minutes plus injury time, the supporters who had not shut up since before the kick off, got louder and the noise was unbelievable. They were the extra piece of the jigsaw, the much needed kick the players needed to respond to. We got back into survival mode and resisted all attempts at breaching our defence.
Those last fifteen minutes were agony, there was desperation, aggressive defending, every man did their utmost to keep that lead, they were brilliant, the supporters sang louder, the realisation of victory was just a whistle away. Then just as I had no more nails to bite, it went, and pandemonium broke out!
The gaffer started running towards the supporters followed by all the subs, the coaching staff and even myself got caught up in the euphoria.
The celebrations went on and on, the usual celebrations around Wembley playoffs and then the dressing room and champagne and beer flowed, (not me of course) lots of dancing and singing, more hugs, more high fives and then about an hour after the dancing and singing, I was left alone to sort out everything, I got my driver to help and we had to ensure every bit of kit and equipment got to the van and packed.
We left about 7.30pm.
We stopped at the first services on the motorway because we hadn't eaten since breakfast, I wasn't that hungry, honest, as usuaI drank tea and water all day, no food!
A completely different experience than the year before, the drive there and back, the hotel, the breakfast, the company, the perfect way to finish the season. And of course the result!
We are back, watch out you league clubs, we are better, stronger and will be more than a challenge on the day we encounter you! C'mon you superwhites!
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