In the build up to Wembley we trained in the midlands until we went to the team hotel on the Saturday afternoon. The social media world was buzzing with the hype building from the fans and local reporters and it was good to see the excitement building especially with the fans.
On the Saturday we travelled to the team hotel in London and it was also the day of the league two play-off final between Southend and Wycombe. Cameron Belford (GK) previously played for Southend and was keen to go and I was keen to go just because I love watching any game. I also know the Southend Goalkeeping Coach Terry Mason who I passed my Goalkeeping B Licence together with and have spoken a few times to Southends two talented young goalkeepers Dan Bentley and Ted Smith so I did have a slight affinity for them to win.
As we had only just reached London and had to quickly shoot on the tube to Wembley, myself and Cam were still wearing our Swindon tracksuits so we got some funny looks from Southend and Wycombe fans on the train!
As Cam and I walked round the stadium to pick up our tickets Cam was “High fiving” Southend fans and posing for photos as he was well liked there and the atmosphere outside was great!
Watching the match was really intriguing and great seeing the drama and tensions unfold as a late goal took it to extra time and penalties. Both myself and Cam were even nervous and felt the tension as the penalties were being taken and we weren’t even involved directly! From a GK Union point of view it was great to see Dan become the hero with a fantastic penalty save to seal the victory.
As the trophies were presented we were near the steps as the players came down and it was good to see the excitement on Dan, Ted and former Swindon player Michel Timlin as they came down. It was a great occasion in the stadium and got us both more excited about our own final the next day.
On the morning of our game I went with the kit-men and masseur to help unload the match kit and setup the dressing room to help pass the time and take in the whole Wembley experience. It really is a fantastic stadium to behold.
Later that day after our pre-match meal we boarded the coach and made our way for the final and it was great as we approached the stadium seeing all the Swindon fans in the nearby streets waving and cheering. Going into Wembley our driver Pete had to manoeuvre his way through tight underground tunnels under the stadium until we reached an entrance which leads into the dressing room area. We had the Sky TV cameras in our face as we got off the coach so by now the buzz was really kicking in for us all.
The goalkeepers warm up routine we go through every match takes roughly 40 minutes but at Wembley you are dictated to by their schedule of what’s happening on the pitch so I was starting to worry we wouldn’t get our normal routine in when I saw the Wembley instructions on the dressing room wall. However we went out early and managed to get our way onto the pitch with a quick wink to one of the Wembley groundsmen!
Seeing a sea of red and white shirts, banners, scarves etc and all the Swindon fans that made the trip was fantastic. The pitch itself was as you would expect, just like a carpet but the funny thing that many wouldn’t realise watching from the side is the way the ball rolls at times. I’ve noticed this more this season at stadiums where the pitch looks and is superb. The way the grass is cut means that when the ball is rolling across it, it can actually appear to wobble and move side to side and when we do the passing element of the warm up it’s always a laugh and worry at the same time for Wes and me.
Both Wes and Ty both like to make ten catches and feel the ball hitting their gloves literally just before kick-off and they are very particular about this. I have received plenty of banter about this from friends and local media reporters this season accusing me of holding the start of the game up! As I came off the pitch though the atmosphere really was electric in front of 48,000 and gave me a real final buzz of excitement for the game.
It goes without saying the result and performance obviously spoilt the day. After all the build up and excitement it ended up being a big anti climax sadly. It’s one of those things that can happen and no Swindon player out there didn’t want to win that game. The build up and feeling in the dressing room before the game was very positive from all.
As I’ve said before I’m both a Swindon fan and member of staff so it hit me hard on a personal and professional level. I also felt massively for the huge amount of Swindon fans that had spent a lot of money on tickets and travel and the hassle getting there. The mosaic organised by fan Jay Collett was another brilliant effort and spectacle following on from his “Streamers” display at the semi final games and it was such a massive shame we couldn’t give the fans something to shout about.
Although the day was tinged with sadness, I won’t let that take away from what was a fantastic experience I’ll never forget.