The pleasure & pain of playing at Wembley
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 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.
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.
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."
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.
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."