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The pleasure & pain of playing at Wembley

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Paul Fletcher | 09:51 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

League One rivals Brentford and Carlisle meet in Sunday's Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley.

The Cumbrians are set to appear in a record sixth final, the most recent of which was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Southampton last year.

That match was played on a hot spring day in front of 73,476 supporters at the new Wembley. Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and Carlisle counterpart Adam Collin explain the contrasting emotions of winning and losing at the national stadium.

Counting down the days

The Carlisle squad travelled down on Friday - two days before the final - and stayed at the luxurious Sopwell House Hotel in Hertfordshire. They trained at Watford's London Colney training facility on Friday and Saturday and also took in a tour of Wembley.

"We went to try to get a feel for the place," said Collin. "It was just unbelievable, the sheer size of it all. Our dressing rooms at Brunton Park are not bad for a League One club but it was like a different world at Wembley."

Collin returned to the hotel on Saturday with the rest of the squad after their tour and had an early night. About 40 of his family and friends had come down for the match and they enjoyed a very different sort of evening.

Southampton trained on Saturday morning before driving to their hotel. Saints, one of the wealthier third-tier clubs, also paid for wives, girlfriends and children of the squad to travel up to London and stay overnight before the final.

Southampton supporters at the 2010 JPT final.

Southampton and Carlisle met in front of 73,476 supporters at Wembley. Photo: Getty images

"It would have been nice to have a cuddle the night before but, probably wisely, the players stayed in a different hotel to their loved ones," explained Davis.

Instead, Saints players relaxed with a tongue-in-cheek presentation evening. The team's video analyst put together a series of clips that formed the basis for awards such as worst tackle, poorest pass and goal conceded.

"It lightened the mood of the evening," added Davis. "I do not recall any nerves. We had won five of our previous seven games, scoring lots of goals and we were looking forward to the final."

An early start

The final kicked off at 1330 BST so Collin, something of an early riser, was tucking into his breakfast by 0800 BST.

"I always eat breakfast but the same cannot be said for several of my team-mates, who opted to stay in bed," said Collin. Davis also got up for breakfast but, as with Collin, the Saints keeper noticed that many of his team-mates had opted for a different strategy.

The whole Carlisle squad met for an unusually early pre-match meal between 1030 and 1100 BST, with Collin tucking into some pasta, chicken and baked beans. Afterwards there was a brief team meeting during which manager Greg Abbott named the starting XI.

"We left slightly earlier than we would normally and got to Wembley two hours early so we could soak up the atmosphere and see what it was all about," added Collin.

"As the coach pulled in at the stadium, there were a few nerves but it was more excitement than anything else."

Davis made a few phone calls as the Saints squad headed to the stadium but his overriding memory is of defender Radhi Jaidi standing at the front of the coach filming the journey.

"Radhi is a big bloke who has a very big camera and he has some great clips of the day," said Davis. "You don't feel that little things like watching him film the coach ride are important at the time but they become part of the memories that make the day so special."

Counting down to kick-off

Davis has a set warm-up routine. It starts exactly one hour before kick-off and the 34-year-old knows every movement, twist and turn from start to finish. He has timed it. Alas, at Wembley he was not allowed to go out on to the pitch as early as normal because of the pre-match entertainment.

"It messed me about a bit," he said. "The warm-up was probably the worst preparation I have done for any game. I spent most of the time trying to spot my wife and kids. In the end it only lasted about 10 minutes, just a few shots and crosses and then back to the changing-room."

Collin engaged in the time-honoured tradition of reading the match programme as he sat in the dressing room, although as with many other aspects of his first trip to Wembley, everything was on a slightly different scale.

"It was more like a small book than a programme and took a bit of getting through," reflected Collin. "I had a quick read of what was said about me and then headed out."

Collin had to dodge his way around several five-a-side games involving junior teams. The Penrith-born goalkeeper said a quick hello to several of his mates who were sitting in the area behind where he warmed up and then it was into the dressing-room for a few last-minute words from Abbott, who ran through a few set-pieces.

Alan Pardew was in charge of Southampton at the time and had gone through his pre-match thoughts before the team left their hotel. Pardew, now in charge of Newcastle, hardly ever said much in the minutes before a match.

"With the big games everybody is so focused that you very rarely need to say anything," said Davis. "It is the less glamorous games when you need your leaders to raise their team-mates."

Into the action

Collin had spent five years at Blue Square Bet North side Workington before joining Carlisle in 2009 and had experienced nothing like the thrill of emerging from the darkness of the tunnel into the cacophony of a vast arena like Wembley.

"I was trying to take it all in. The best thing about the day was lining up to listen to the national anthem, it was a mind-blowing experience," added Collin.

Carlisle kept it tight at the start of the match but a needless handball from Peter Murphy gifted Saints a penalty after 15 minutes.

"I had saved a couple of penalties in the shoot-out in the northern area final against Leeds and I had done my homework a bit on Southampton striker Rickie Lambert," said Collin. "I dived the correct way but to be fair he struck a good penalty and I had no chance."

Southampton's grip on the final tightened when Adam Lallana headed beyond Collins after a long throw from Michail Antonio unlocked the Cumbrians' defence shortly before the interval.

Mixed emotions

Collin went in at the break reasonably pleased with his performance in the opening half. He had been far busier than Davis, who does not remember having much to do, but Collin could not be blamed for either of the goals he had conceded.

Carlisle manager Abbott was not so pleased.

"The gaffer was very unhappy that we had conceded a second just before the break," said Collin. "We knew it would be uphill from then but the manager told us that we had nothing to lose and we left fired up."

The Saints dressing-room was a calm and relatively relaxed place. Davis went through his usual half-time routine. He took off his shirt, boots and gloves and loosened his shin pads. He had a wash, drank some fluids and put on a fresh shirt.

"I do that to help me focus on the importance of playing the game in two halves," said Davis. "I find that it helps me mentally."

Before returning to the pitch he recalls Pardew stressing the importance of scoring the game's next goal. If Saints did that, the game would be over.

Three nil - and it's game over

Pardew got his wish five minutes after the restart when Papa Waigo headed into an empty net following a defensive mix-up.

"As we came out of the tunnel I was focused on keeping my own game in order and hoping that the outfield lads did the business but five minutes after the restart we were dead and buried," said Collin.

Southampton celebrate winning the 2010 JPT final.

Winning at Wembley was a huge moment in Davis's career. Photo: Getty images

In a similar situation some players might have hoped for the final whistle to end the misery of a final defeat but the Cumbrians keeper was savouring his afternoon on the big stage. He was in front of the vocal Saints fans during the second half. "I know it sounds silly but I was enjoying myself," he recalled.

Davis's most distinct memory of the match came when Antonio struck Saints' final goal of the match with a crisp left-foot strike.

"As I looked up the pitch all I could see was Saints fans jumping up as the ball went in the net," said the former Luton, Wimbledon, Ipswich and Sunderland keeper. "I had hit the long ball up field that Lambert flicked on. To be part of that goal is something that will stay with me forever."

Aftermath

Abbott tried to console his players in the dressing-room after the match. His team went into the final sitting in mid-table, too far from the drop zone to worry about relegation but 15 points adrift of a play-off spot, and the manager was concerned that his team's season might tamely peter out.

The Carlisle players got changed and had a drink with family and friends at Wembley, before travelling back to the hotel to continue their period of reflection.

"If I'm being honest I cannot remember what time I went to bed," said Collin.

Davis was sulking slightly when the final whistle sounded; annoyed that Gary Madine's 84th-minute consolation goal had ruined his hopes of keeping a clean sheet.

The Saints players stood around on the pitch for a few minutes shaking each other's hands when Davis noticed Paul Wotton racing off to a section of Southampton supporters.

"Paul is at Yeovil now and I had a chat with him about the final when we played them recently," said Davis.

Carlisle celebrate their semi-final victory over Huddersfield in the 2011 Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

Collin (second left) is determined to leave Wembley a winner this year. Photo: Carlisle United

"He was not meant to play but Morgan Schneiderlin failed a fitness test. We had been standing around feeling almost a little subdued but his charge towards the crowd kind of sparked off the celebrations, reminded us that we had to savour the victory."

Southampton's players enjoyed a meal with their loved ones at a restaurant after heading back to the south coast. Davis kept his winner's medal on all night and was still wearing it when he woke up the next day.

Memories are made of this

The trip to Wembley had such an impact on Davis's son that in the months that followed he constantly asked his dad if they could recreate the match in the back garden at home.

"He would say 'let's play Wembley, I'll be Carlisle and you can be Saints'," chuckled Davis. "He pestered me to buy him a Carlisle kit until in the end I got in contact with Carlisle skipper Graham Kavanagh, who very kindly arranged to send one down."

Davis reckons that he will watch Sunday's final on television and will cheer on Carlisle, who have won just one of their previous five finals in the competition.

Not many of last year's Carlisle team remain at the club and a few of the new faces have been asking Collin about the experience of playing at Wembley.

"I think you have got to treat it like your very last game, as though you will never play at Wembley again," said the Carlisle keeper. "Getting there is brilliant but I am just desperate to win this year."

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I know many fans will think that this competition is a bit of a waste of time, the unclassy 'paint pot trophy' but I have incredible memories from last year. After years of pain for us saints fan it was a welcome change which brought with it an incredible atmosphere which I will savour for a long time.

  • Comment number 2.

    s a Carlisle fan making his pilgrimage to the National Stadium for the 3rd time in 16 years this Mickey Mouse Cup has given me some incredible memories that I never once thought I would get following United. I am sure I will still get that special tingle down my spine walking down Wembley Way again on Sun afternoon, the thrill never leaves you. 6 finals in 16 years is an incredible achievement but 1 victory so far is a poor return, so let's hope this years side can actually turn up and produce the goods after last year's debacle and finally bring the trophy back to Carlisle for the first time since 1997.

  • Comment number 3.

    The JPT is treated by lower league clubs in a similar manner to the way PL clubs treat the Carling Cup i.e. an unwanted distraction in the early rounds but by the time Wembley comes on the horizon it suddenly develops importance because I think regardless of which level your team (player or fan) plays at the ultimate ambition is to play at Wembley.

    I know its because of the glamour CL Final at Wembley but I do feel that the L1 and L2 play-off finals have been diminished somewhat by being played at Old Trafford. Having been to both grounds on a couple of occasions the atmosphere around Wembley is so much more special than that at OT.

    Good luck to Brentford & Carlisle.

  • Comment number 4.

    It was a great day and something that will stay with me forever.

    From that day I, and many other Saints fans have a soft spot for Carlisle. Their fans never stopped singing, especially with Elvis in the crowd getting them going the whole game, Wembley was rocking.

  • Comment number 5.

    6 years ago Wrexham were in League One and went to the LDV (JPT as it is now) final at the Millennium, and what an awesome day it was. This competition definitely means something to lower league clubs once you're past the initial couple of rounds. Unfortunately, fond memories of winning that day and of the club surviving administration at the same time only bring it back how far we've fallen since.

  • Comment number 6.

    Good luck Carlisle. I think most Saints fans are hoping you'll win.

    It was such an awesome day 12 months ago, one that I will never forget. For that alone, the JPT is worth it - no matter what anyone says. Without it, it would be very hard for a L1 or L2 club, and their fans, to experience a day out and Wembley and a Cup Final.

  • Comment number 7.

    Now then,

    Thanks for your thoughts so far. The JPT competition might be much maligned in some circles but it provides supporters of clubs that might not otherwise reach Wembley with a great day out at the national stadium.

    And judging by what Kelvin and Adam had to say, the same goes for players as well.

    I know a few Brentford fans and it would be fair to say they are mega excited about Sunday. I'd be amazed if the same did not apply to Carlisle supporters as well.

  • Comment number 8.

    My big memory of the day was passing the team bus parked outside an "offie" in Richmond, Watching Dean Wilkins and Dean Hammond struggling out carrying boxes to celbrate with. Good Luck to them thet deserved it...

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks Paul, another good article.

    As a Saints' supporter, I can admit to our interest in the JPT increasing through the rounds; but this year disappointed by our early exit. Most Saints's fans were particularly made up for Kelvin, who turned down a move to a Premiership club, to play each week with Saints; to see him with the Trophy was my highlight.

    Having been to the Millennium Stadium with the FA Cup relatively recently, we can compare the two finals; the anticipation and excitement were similar, with the fans in party mood for both (though it was a celebration of being there in 2003, more in expectation of winning last year). Very few were suggesting it was only the JPT.

    Tomorrow, I'll be torn. The Carlisle fans last year were tremendous; really warm and friendly both before and after the match. I've kept a much closer eye on their results since. However I live a few miles from Brentford, visiting occasionally, a family club epitomised by their main Bill Axbey stand being named for a long-standing supporter. Good luck to both; hoping you enjoy the day.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a Torquay United fan who's been living in Korea since 2007, I must say that the two occasions when the Gulls made it to Wembley (2009 FA Trophy final and 2010 playoff final) are the two times when I've most fervently wished I was back in the UK. Any competition which gives a club, its players and its fans the chance of a day out at Wembley (provided said chance isn't too easy to attain thus cheapening it) is no Mickey Mouse cup in my eyes.

    Cheers for a great article.

    Had a soft spot for Carlisle ever since the Jimmy Glass goal, but I have no cause to bear ill will towards Brentford; hope everyone involved has a top notch day out, and may the best team win and all that.

  • Comment number 11.

    My comment's awaiting moderation so I can't double-check, but I think I got my years muddled up. I meant 2008 FA Trophy and 2009 playoffs. It's possible that I put both as one year later by mistake. Whoops.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good stuff, Paul.
    How much is the JPT final worth to the clubs? It must be an unbudgetted bonanza to the lucky CFO's??

  • Comment number 13.

    We made it to the final sometime around '97 or '98, losing 1-2 (Golden Goal) against Grimsby. One of the two goals we conceded was a Jimmy Glass abherration of an own goal, something that convinced Mel Machin to let 'that clown' go. A year later he was Carlisle's hero.
    Some incidental memories:
    - The player who scored the goals which got us there (Franck Rolling, a French midfielder) brought his entire family over to watch him play in the final. He was an unused substitute. He left the club and the country in disgust at the end of the season.
    - The money from that cup run financed the promotion push the following season. It failed. The replacement French midfielder was one of the main reasons.
    - Grimsby were promoted (via the playoffs?) that season. They stayed up a few seasons and then slowly imploded.

    We'd love to return, although the 5-2 playoff win over Lincoln at the Millennium Stadium eclipsed that game. One of the best days ever as a Bournemouth supporter.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi to you all,

    Last night I went to watch the big game of the weekend in the Turkish Super league, Fenerbahce v Bursaspor, mainly to see Kenny Millar and to see how he is doing in Turkish football!

    Well I can assure you all that although there is plenty of effort on Kenny's part, that's about all there is. He didn't get a lot of chances, but when he did, he fluffed his lines as they say.

    His best chance came when he was through on goal, having been put through by a lovely defence slitting pass, only for Kenny to trip over his own feet and the chance was gone.

    I am not sure Bursaspor thought they were getting when they signed Kenny Millar, but since he has been in the side they have become a poorer side. And it has underlined what I always thought about Kenny Millar, which is that he is overrated and coundn't hit a barn door from 30 paces.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 15.

    Do not forget the late, great Markus Liebherr in the crowds happily snapping away with his camera.

    RIP Markus Liebherr.

 

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