There was bright warm sunshine as we left Halifax on our 193-mile journey South to Wembley. We were initially quite relaxed about the day, we knew the plan, breakfast at our favourite Northamptonshire spot then onwards to the capital. It was perhaps the digital motorway traffic signs that informed us of the time and distance to Wembley, that made us aware of the gravity of the game. They were informing every vehicle on the road that there was a game on, and that the Shaymen were heading South, en masse, by coach by van and by car. There were even a few dodgy hand signals from other cars along the way too. You can’t beat a bit of motorway banter.
Wembley has been transformed since our last visit in 2016. Every inch of space outside the footprint of the stadium has been developed. It seems everyone wants to buy a high-rise apartment overlooking the famous Wembley Way. We booked carparking, that turned out to be a new multi-story, wonderfully camouflaged within the first three floors of an apartment block, only the signs gave away what was hiding away behind the fake windows of the first few floors.
There were plenty of Travelling Shaymen milling around as we arrived at 11.00 am. Everyone was proudly wearing the club colours, new shirts, old shirts, hats, caps, and scarves. Inside we had booked seats within Club Wembley, the same price but with an elevated view level in line with our penalty area, and with a softer seat for the long day ahead. We watched the Vase final first, which was entertaining with Ascot Town beating Newport Pagnell.
With many of the Vase fans vacating their seats at full-time, Tesco Pete pulled out a full-scale seating plan of Club Wembley out of his inside pocket. He had meticulously colour coded which seats were occupied by Vase fans, and which might be free later in the day. He wasn’t planning on sitting with us, he was off playing stadium chess, one seat forward, two diagonal, review and move again. He slowly edged past the eagle-eyed stewards and headed towards the seats next to the Royal Box. If someone turfed him out of a seat, he’d cuckoo into another one. We could see him in the distance, he had no chance.
“I’ve got four spare seats, right next to the Royal Box,” flashed up a text message just before kick-off. “Come over now,” it continued. The Ripponden Shayman was having none of it, he was expecting Tesco Pete to be thrown out of the ground and wasn’t budging. It did seem tempting to try our luck though. Just as I made my way to Pete and took up a spot next the Royal Box, disaster struck as the real owners of the seats arrived, and promptly gave us the news, swifty moving Tesco Pete four rows back and eight seats further away. “You’re okay,” they said to me, “there’s just three of us, your seat has been empty all day.” Poor old Pete, he’d hatched a plan and seemed crestfallen as it failed at the last moment.
The first half was tense, there weren’t many Shaymen near us, but we could hear the noise of the travelling 8 or 9 thousand fans beneath us in full voice. Cooke’s goal just on half-time broke the tension and generated a few dodgy looks as we celebrated amongst the neutrals. As exciting as we thought it was, we were reassured by others that it wasn’t a classic, we didn’t care though.
The second half was a real battle, full commitment from both teams without too many chances. The clock took an age to tick down. Johnson made a decent save late on, and everyone to a man, protected the final third of the pitch like their lives depended on it.
As the final whistle blew, it was touching to see just how much the achievement of winning the Trophy for the second time in seven years meant to the Chairman who was sat just a few yards away. As if by magic, Tesco Pete then appeared alongside as the neutrals left, he’d played a blinder and pushed us into trying our luck and got us perhaps the best seats in the house. We shook hands with every Gateshead player as they collected their medals, each and every one wished us a great evening and said we should enjoy our success. A really nice touch.
We’ve been to a few places this season, clocked up a few miles but never in our wildest dreams would we have thought our season would end with such a flourish. We’ve beaten the league champions at home, we’ve beaten one of the play-off teams away from home, both when it really mattered to them. We’ve played every round of the Trophy away from home, the team, the management, and the club have all done us all proud. The day we blagged our way into a spot where we could shake the hands of our players and the management as they lifted the trophy will live forever in our memories. The blue and white army of fans celebrating in the stands shows just what a great club we have. A terrific achievement.
Driving back and the service stations were full of jubilant Town fans, it was late on Sunday evening, but we didn’t care. We did however spot that the car bonnet was lose, just held down by part of the catch, so perhaps those dodgy hand signals from other drivers on the way down weren’t as dodgy as we thought…Apologies for anyone who was offended by Tesco Pete’s response at the time!
Next up, I guess we’ll do it all over again…
Miles on the road 10,232, Goals on the road 26.
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