Article #2: Counties Podcast big day out to Wembley

“Orange Juice and Benilyn, you don’t look like a football fan?” said the lady sat in my seat as boarded the 09.05 Virgin train to London Euston.  It’s Saturday morning and my shirt and tie have been called into action for the weekend as Counties Podcast is headed for Wembley! The occasion is to cover Glossop North End in the final of the FA Vase.  As ‘smart’ as I’ve attempted to present myself I actually feel like death warmed up as the previous week has spent in bed trying to fight off a dreaded chest infection that’s hampered since Bonfire night, literally.

Having already missed the MEN United Cup final through illness I’m not about to miss the opportunity to report on a game LIVE from Wembley Stadium and I’m even happy to give up my seat on the train as I plan to rendezvous with the Podcast team members Martin and Gary in London. Sadly, Zach is unavailable for selection due to exams.

The train was relatively full, facilitated by the number of people from Glossop heading to the capital. It was a strange but pleasant sensation to see so many recognisable people from various NWCFL clubs upon arrival at London Euston. After a little wander around London and, thanks to a combination of signal failure and driver mix up, three tube rides later I disembarked at Wembley Central.

I knew plenty of people heading to the game and the unofficial meet is a Whetherspoon’s on Baker Street. However being unwell as I was I wasn’t in the mood for beverages and I had this suspicious feeling that rocking up to the media entrance at Wembley half cut might not be the best of ideas.  Having been to Wembley seven times since 2011 with Manchester City I must confess that I’m spoilt on Wembley and having visited the area roughly twice a year  for the last four years I can honestly say I was happy to be walking to the ground 2 hours before kick-off.

What had been a grey, cold and windy morning in Manchester had become a bright, warm and sunny afternoon and the grassy area outside the TGI Friday’s became a virtual who’s who of NWCFL alumni as I bumped into Martin with his Runcorn Linnets pals in tow before spotting John and Jeff from St Helens Town. The chairman of St Helens Town was resplendent in his-not-quite-as-good-as-the-year-before-St Helens-home-shirt.  Having been 1987 winners of the FA Vase, you could tell that Wembley was still a special place for John and Jeff despite their season woes.  In the middle of having a lovely chat I’d forgotten about poor Gary who was waiting for me outside the media entrance.

Fortunately Gary didn’t hold my lateness against me and upon entrance he, Martin and I were each given a welcome pack with a meal voucher and press lanyard (half of which I must have seen on Facebook the next day) whilst we had our bags inspected by security.  The first major result of the day was the complimentary match programme which, Podcast recording aside, was the primary objective of the whole trip and its Gary was just as happy as I was to get his hands on a Wembley freebie.

Once we’d been led into a lift and walked through a maze of corridor’s we found ourselves in the plush pressroom of Wembley Stadium, rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of Football journalism.  Actually, we didn’t recognise a sole there until league press officer Ian Templeman showed up.

First thing we need to do was to find our seats for the afternoon and the ticket we were handed placed us at the back of the press box with a lovely padded seat, a spacious desk and room to spread out.  The spacious desk was needed as Gary possesses one of the largest laptops I’ve ever seen whilst I made do with my iPad Air and Bluetooth keyboard, nothing but the best for the podcast crew.  Then it came time to log into the Wi-Fi and, I hope our new chairman takes this idea on board, but was an actual IT technician on hand to help us log into the network.  Think about that for a second, Wembley actually employ a guy to come round and help people log into their computers and get them connected to the internet.  In turns out he was needed as I discovered I couldn’t spell the word Daffodil (thanks spell check).

Once Gary and I were setup we decided to explore the press lounge and the second result of the day came with the free lunch! The journalists’ were being fed burritos with wedges before the match, which was great value for money as it was FREE! However Gary and I were more interested in the beverages on offer as we tucked into the fridge (admittedly switched off) of soft drinks as we helped ourselves to a couple of bottles of Coke.  I couldn’t have been happier if there had been free beer on tap as I returned to the fridge several times throughout the afternoon to ensure I stayed well topped up.  So if FA Vase final tickets increase next season I would like to apologise in advance.

Once we’d eaten and had a chats with both Ian Templeman and Jonathan Haggarty from Glossop it was time to take our seats.  As for the match itself you can read the match report HERE but the most notable thing was the volume of noise. The crowd was just over 9,000 and it was certainly up there with recent visits to Wembley involving the, supposed, biggest teams in England in terms of atmosphere.

After the match it was a dash down to the mixed zone where we had the unenviable task of trying to interview players who’ve just lost the biggest game of their lives whilst Martin attended the press conference.  Glossop goalkeeper earned his way into the future Podcast Hall of Fame by snubbing ITV to talk to us first! He then proceeded to give a superb account of himself whilst he had every right to walk straight onto the coach without comment.  I temporarily lost my Mancunian cool whilst Buxton hero Mark Reed walked past and probably committed the biggest journalistic faux pas by having my photo taken with him.  If it had been Sergio Aguero I’d probably have just nodded to him, but this was MARK REED, Buxton hero!  Finally there was an interview with Lee Blackshaw that was so poor on my part I begged Martin not to use it in the podcast and for that I can only apologise Lee.

Extra time and penalties had set the whole day back an hour so we made the decision to race back to Wembley central before all the players came out and head back to Euston Station.  The beauty of London transport was that just having missed a train back to Manchester there was only a short wait for another and filled the time paying an ungodly sum for a burger.  I said goodbye to Martin with his Runcorn mates in tow and Gary to find an unoccupied drivers cabin to stow away in as they headed for Liverpool.  Having boarded the train with my burger I subsequently found myself surrounded by the only three North Shields fans on the train (they were heading back to Nuneaton). They turned out to be top blokes as we whiled the hours talking about the best British television such as Phoenix Nights and Early Doors.

As I approached Manchester I found myself talking to a Glossop fan who really summed up the beauty of non-league football as he told me; “I’ve grown up and lived in Glossop all my life, I thought I didn’t know anyone left in this town as people have moved away or passed on but when I went down to Surrey Street for the quarter final, I saw people I’d known for years and realised I still had friends in this town!”

A terrific day and one where the effort of the players and the spirit of the fans won’t let the result overshadow the memories.