by Neil Chapman
So how was your Saturday afternoon? Mine was the worst I can remember for some time.
It was also the best I can remember for a very long time!
I had sooo many things I had to do, sooo many places I had to be. But I spent it sitting hunched over the laptop, watching an online report of The Match.
What match, Chappers? The match, the second leg of the FA Vase semi-final. You know, the one I wrote about last week: “Tunbridge Wells, Theatre of Dreams”, http://bit.ly/Zhphoz when we (Tunbridge Wells) won 2-0 against Shildon. As I said then, all we had to do was go up there and come away with no worse than a 1-0 defeat and Tunbridge Wells FC would be at Wembley for the final. That still doesn’t look right in a sentence, does it? Well, whether it looks right or not, you’d better get used to it because that’s what happened. The Wells won on aggregate. They are going to Wembley.
But for a while there – well most of the time yesterday afternoon- it wasn’t going to happen. The Wells were run ragged. The online running commentaries said it, the post match interviews confirmed it. Shildon were the better team on the day. Unlucky. Deserved to get something out of the game.
Last week I said Shildon looked a good side. In fairness no-one could tell; the pitch was such a mud-bath it was impossible to say. It was what they call a good leveller. Even so, I think Tunbridge Wells FC realised Shildon were a good side and I think they went up there knowing they had a job on. Somewhere deep down – if they’re honest- they may have thought they ‘got away with it’ in the first leg at home. They knew to a man, and so did the supporters, that an early goal for Shildon in this game was the last thing they needed. A two goal lead, for some stupid unfathomable reason, isn’t as healthy as it sounds, especially against a good side. You just know, if they get one back, they have the momentum, physically and mentally, and a second one, the equaliser could be on the way if you’re not careful. You need to keep things steady for a while. Or all your earlier hard work counts for nothing. So guess what? About 20 minutes in Shildon have scored two, wiped out the deficit, and are all over The Wells like a nasty rash. They are the better team it seems.
OK, as you know I wasn’t there (Easter, family arriving…excuses, excuses etc. etc.) but I didn’t have to be there. I’d already been there so often in my own ‘career’. I know how it goes when it’s going for you and when it’s going against you. Especially when it’s going against you; sometimes it’s unstoppable. Sometimes it’s easier to give in, to say OK, OK, you win, you’re the better side. We were lucky last time. If you happen to be playing in front of their febrile home crowd it doesn’t get any easier. Your loyal followers are easily outshouted, especially when the second goal goes in. So now they expect a procession, more goals. Let’s show ‘em, let’s humiliate these Southern softies. Don’t they know? When will they get it? Football is a game best played by Northerners, an inner city game. Tunbridge Wells? Do me a favour. Puhleeeaase. Someone actually tweeted Tunbridge Wells is full of lawyers, doctors and architects. Perhaps they should have a wander around the town centre late one Saturday night? … They might need a doctor at some point. Let’s see if they can find one.
So sometimes it’s easier to be the plucky loser, shake their hands say “well done, you were just too good on the day”. It’s a very English thing to do. And isn’t Tunbridge Wells the very apogee of Englishness? The Courier would still have hailed them, we would have hailed them. You did us proud boys… bad luck.
Then, early in the second half Shildon get their third. Game over the way this is going.
They are now in the lead. They are now on their way to Wembley. And for a few minutes, everyone, everyone in that ground, both sets of supporters, both teams and both managers thought that was it. Human. Natural. The Wells manager, the soon to be Sir Martin Larkins OBE. MBE, Mr. Freedom of the Borough, said as much. So here we are, around four o’clock in a cold North Eastern mining village, three down fighting wave after wave of attacks from a rampant, energised side. Where are our lad’s hearts and minds now? It’s at times like this you need a captain. A Jason Bourne type. Someone who can get you out of scrapes and win through. Well, funny you should mention that.. As it happens TWFC has such a captain, who just happens to be named Jason Bourne. You have to ask who wrote this script. Outrageous!
We can only imagine where his heart is at this moment of this match. The biggest of his career.… TWFC’s skipper, about 250 games for the Wells, been there years, it’s what he is, through and
through and here he is, half an hour from Wembley… and losing! Hardly ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ at the moment… we are looking for ‘The Bourne Legacy!’ I’m sorry, getting carried away.
Well my heart is clinging in there too. Just. Imagine you’re with me, hunched over this Laptop watching the sporadic texts come in, courtesy of Glenn Garrett, sports editor of the Courier. He’s calling it. He’s saying this isn’t going well, this is getting worse. It’s not his fault it’s all gloom and doom. He’s right! Glenn is calling what he is seeing.
But, and I know it’s easy to say this now, but I will. Because I’ve been there, I know what can happen, and sometimes I know it’s simply hope trying to triumph over reality and that can lead to crushing disappointment. But sometimes, just sometimes….
Then out of the blue, if I’m reading our man’s missives correctly, we score. Andy scores. The Wells equalise. How? We were under the cosh. What happened? Who gives a fuck? We’ve scored.This could be a “sometimes just sometimes” moment. We can squeeze extra time out of this if we are lucky. And we do. And now I’m in full ‘hope’ mode, but I can’t watch anymore. So I’m up and down, in and out of the kitchen, hearing the match texts arrive, but not wanting to see them. I’ll wait until there’s a few. Might make it easier. I know it’s almost the end of the second period of extra time now. So I go back. It’s still all Shildon apart from a few sporadic Well’s raids.
Then Glenn reports “Goal!” Simply that. It’s staring back at me for a minute? Two minutes? This isn’t fair Glenn and you know it. Who the fuck has scored this goal? I’ve taken a dislike to this man. Then you do know it. You know the Couriers’s sports editor wouldn’t mess with your mind like that. Would he? Then he confirms what you hoped, dared dream for the past hour or so. 3-2. Simply that. The Wells are through, on aggregate. I love you, Glenn.
I can write paragraph after paragraph trying to explain what that means. WEMBLEY. That won’t mean too much if you’re not really into football. It means everything if you are. Me? I think you know. I grew up dreaming about the place. Dreaming how I’d score the winner there. Don’t laugh but I still do, I really do. It never leaves you. But let’s move on. It’s every kid’s dream.
I’ll just say this and please excuse me; it’s not braggadocio, it’s really not. I’m just trying to put their achievement into perspective. I played for a couple of league clubs, picked up a couple of youth international caps whilst at Derby County, and played semi-pro non-league for years. Played in lots of FA cup games, FA Trophy games etc. etc. I never, ever got with a million miles of Wembley. Never. Can’t think of anyone I know that did. And ask 99% of professional footballers and they will tell you the same thing. It’s a dream. Wembley is a dream. The ultimate dream. And somehow that still doesn’t put this in to perspective. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. I’ll just say that for the people that are interested in the game, understand the game, these guys will become legends in Tunbridge Wells history. Their names will be recorded, their pictures popping up, being published in local rags for years to come. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
You know what’s ‘bad’ about this? Because from now until May 4th,, the Town is going to be in uproar. Four or five weeks of breathless madness. Suddenly everyone is interested. We are all supporters. Already the TW twitterati are making plans to be there; it’s all about how can we get tickets? How shall we travel? I’m just waiting for the “what shall I wear” tweet. That won’t be long. TV, the Nationals, interviews, the whole media circus will descend on the team, you’ll see.
And yet, a couple of weeks ago, did you care? Really care? TWFC were just a couple of columns on the back page of the K&S Courier and only a couple of hundred at most cared enough to go watch them regularly. Trust me, I’m not ‘having a go’. I’m just as bad. I watched them last year for the first time when they got knocked out at the last 32 stage … and I’ve watched the last three home games in this current competition. So I’m hardly a stalwart. But I’ll go and watch them more in the future. I mean that. And I’ll go to Wembley, and if you’re from Tunbridge Wells or close by, or have any semblance of interest, so should you. It’s one of those days that only come along once in a lifetime.
And since you’re interested. I shall be wearing mostly red.