So, let me tell you about my day. Sunday 14th may 2017. I never even had the chance to turn the alarm clock on, I’ve been up since 3.30am after a terrible nights sleep. Tossing and turning, sweating and drifting in and out of a light sleep is bad at the best of times, but when you add the nerves off a play off final to the equation, its almost unbearable. Id finally got the chance to go and see my team, Tranmere Rovers at the home of English football, Wembley Stadium. I’ve been buzzing about this game since before we had even confirmed our place in the final. I knew that we had the quality to at least make it to the final, and from there it was just a matter of who turns up on the day.
7.30am, I wake up my partner who gives me that look, as if to say “why the hell are you up this early on a Sunday” but she knows the deal and like the loving fiancé that she is, I manage to make the short journey to my parents where we swap cars and meet up with my dad and sister, who has fantastically agreed to drive us down to take the pressure off and let us enjoy the day. 8am rolls past on the clock as we set off down the road towards the m180, at this point the nerves have disappeared for a while, I’ve been listening to talk sport and the talk is mainly about Tottenham’s send off to White hart lane, taking my mind of the big game of the day of course.
I’m quietly confident on the trip down, and manage to grab a power nap just before we reach the stopping point at Peterborough services. This has almost become a ritual now on any trip south. Everyone I speak to notices the white shirt, and they wish us luck on our big day out to Wembley. “You deserve to be a League Club” is something I’ve become accustomed to hearing on this journey through the national league. I’m sure that il hear it a few more times as the day goes on.
We arrive at Bishops Stortford station as we begin our final part of the journey to Wembley around 11.20. Funnily enough, the ticket guy is a York fan, living in our home town of Bishops Stortford and asks us what we are doing this far out.. I won’t bore you with the details of that story this time. But if you are reading this, Good luck next week on finals day and enjoy the day. We catch the 11.39 train to Liverpool Street to change onto the tube. We are in London in what seems like a few minutes, the excitement is starting to build and I’m starting to see the familiar sight of Rovers fans all heading in the same direction.
About a half hours journey on the tube sees us arrive at Wembley Park in good time. As we walk up Wembley way its becoming quite obvious that this could well be Tranmere outnumbering Forest green fans by about 10 to 1. Fantastic support by our fans as usual, but I’d be worried if my club could only pull in around 4000 fans to a play off final. Plenty of merchandise on sale as we walk up towards the the stadium, program is only a fiver and I decide to get a scarf to remember the occasion, as this is quite a big one. Time for a walk around and see what’s about, this is my third trip here, it’s almost changed completely again since I was last here watching Scunthorpe Vs Millwall in the league one play off final. (For those of you that don’t remember that was THAT season, you know the one where we got knocked out of the play offs by a late equaliser from Cliff Byrne)
As I look at the clock it’s starting to move on, 1.30, about an hour and a half to kick off, time to visit the fan park. Tranmere fans you are amazing. I can hear the sounds of a few hundred people before I even reach the steps, no need to ask for directions. I won’t even bore you with the details of the forest green fan park, from what I can see did they even bother? Time to grab some food as I’ve realised I’ve not actually eaten yet, and the sick feeling I have isn’t nerves. McDonalds it is then, where I happen to meet a FG fan who again tells me we deserve to go up, and that FG didn’t really expect to be at Wembley for a second season and they’d be lucky to get a win over us today. He wishes us luck as we decide it’s time to head towards the entrance and get in the stadium in good time.
As we approach Gate H there’s a fairly big queue to get in, although it seems to be moving steadily. Rovers fans are in good voice before we even get in and a few renditions of “we’re on our way” help to pass the short time it takes to scan tickets and get searched on the way in, although I’m just guessing as the 2 members of security just seemed like they were On a different planet as I breezed straight through to the concourse. Well done fellas, luckily for you I’m a pretty decent guy and had nothing untoward on me other than a useless portable phone charger, which bottled out just before I managed to get to my seat.
We manage to get in around 2.15 and watch the build up to the game. There’s some stuff going on like always, some guy singing some opera stuff, not bad. The stadium is starting to fill now as people filter in, starting to wonder if the Forest green fans are turning up at all, but they manage to filter through and all move behind the goal fairly quickly as kick off edges closer. 2.55pm and the teams emerge from the tunnel onto the red carpet to massive cheers from the Super White Army. There are scarves, flags, beach balls, balloons, ticker tape and all sorts, what a welcome. By this point the nerves are building even more and I’m shaking like a leaf, a few messages of support have come through and my voice has already gone.
Onto the game, we don’t look confident after a few minutes, forest green playing out from the back, physical and imposing on our front line. Every time Cole gets a ball through he’s being held by the defender and the ref seems oblivious to it. 6 minutes in and stockton manages to break through on the right just in front of the SWA, his cross is aimed at Norwood but misses. Not 2 minutes later Forest green have won a free kick within shooting distance of Davies goal, the result of which ends up with the forest green fans behind the goal. Rovers don’t learn from the previous mistake and a 20 yard strike finds the back of the net and forest green go 1-0 up. Not a good start but I’ve still got high hopes for the boys, we always do things the hard way.
This doesn’t look good, and I don’t like the way this is going, forest green have another chance from a throw in which lands on the top of the goal, could easily have been 2-0. We manage to break down the flank again, this time on the left through Liam Ridehalgh, but his cross misses everyone and disappears out of play. Then the moment we’ve all been waiting for, that release of energy, frustration, the tension in the air, the Tranmere fans almost break the sound barrier as Connor Jennings breaks through in the middle, looks up, and smashes home a 30 yard strike, what a finish as Wembley erupts. Suddenly there’s a bit more fight in the team. We’ve woken up.
Just after the half hour mark we are at it again. Norwood is played through, whilst being flanked by a forest green player on either side, the keeper comes rushing out and Nors only manages to smash the ball straight at the keepers legs, should have had that dead and buried, the forest green defence learnt from the first time and Norwood breaking forward again is stopped by all 4 players he faces. Forest green break from the resulting play and a lob comes in from the right hand side of the box, Davies pulls off a super save by palming the ball off the line. We are still in this but need to wake up again and press on the FG team with a bit of pace and urgency, they look dodgy at the back and don’t like it when we challenge them. 2 minutes later my point is almost proved as a cross from the left by that man Jennings is whipped in only for the oncoming Andy Mangan to slide in and narrowly miss putting the ball in the back of the net.
Here we go again, doing things the hard way. 2-1. We stand off the midfield and the ball falls to the FG top scorer who breaks through just outside the area and smashes the ball past Davies who looked like he had no chance. The only way is up from here. But a goal just before half time can be a killer. 3 minutes added time goes up as the ball goes down the right wing towards Ridehalgh, who appears to slip and gives the ball away, this game is potentially over now as FG slot home goal number 3 after a stupid mistake. Suddenly the forest green following can be heard and the rovers fans have gone very quiet, a few are standing trying to get fans to believe but it’s nearly half time and most people’s minds have turned to the toilet or another strong drink already. Half time and Forest Green Veggies lead 3-1. Struggling to believe now.
The rovers boys are out slightly early and it appears there’s no changes yet. I’d have potentially brought on Andy cook for a bit more presence up top as Stockton is being bullied off the ball every time it comes to his feet. But in Micky we trust. At least we appear to have come out fighting. We seem to being pressing more and attacking the ball. Buxton puts in a cross but the ball ends up out for a corner, stockton manages to get a touch towards goal but his effort is well saved by the Forest green keeper. Time for our first change and it appears Andy Mangan is coming off for Jack Dunn, he’s had 1 chance but not really done much else in the game if I’m honest. Bit of a surprise that he started in my opinion.
The ball finds its way back to the forest green keeper who is being pressed by Norwood, who almost manages to steal the ball off him, Stockton is the next one to attack him and grabs the ball with a great tackle, he stays on his feet, turns and all he has to do is bury the finish into
Then awaiting open goal. Somehow he manages to fire over in what I believe could have been the turning point had we scored. If we get one, I fancy us to go on and get a second. Forest green again bring the ball out and we give them a 20 yard head start before Jack Dunn puts in a tackle, turns and hits an ambitious shot from the right wing, amazingly it just misses the top right hand corner and goes out for a corner after a deflection. Can’t see who hit the shot from the corner but how it didn’t go in the bottom corner I don’t know, this is beginning to look like one of those days.. again.
Just after the hour mark and Micky decides it’s time for another change. I can see why we haven’t taken Maynard off for his aerial presence, but he’s lucky to have stayed on the pitch. It’s time for Super sub Andy cook to restore some pride. He doesn’t mess about and straight away wins the ball, cuts inside and puts the ball through. It appears we now also have a new tactic, lets hoof the ball down the right wing, cross it, not hit anyone and let their keeper collect the ball with ease. Not only is Buxton putting the crosses in, but he’s having to sweep up the mess in defence as Forest green break forward, McNulty ruins the effort but Buxton has to put in a decent challenge to put the ball safe.
This game is now starting to turn. Someone’s getting sent off before the end of 90 minutes. The forest green players every time a challenge goes in, they hit the deck like they have just been picked off by a sniper on the arch. A bit of an argument erupts on the far side after Buxton puts a challenge in, wins the ball, and as the ref plays the advantage, the FG player again hits the deck but a quick thinking Hughes grabs him and hauls him to his feet. The FG player is not happy, to say the least. The ref has lost control of this game.
Again the forest green players are showing a lack of professionalism towards the end of this game. There’s a foul on the far side of the pitch, the ref appears to have given a drop ball and told the FG captain to give the ball to Scott Davies but he plays it out for a throw in by our corner flag instead. This enrages the rovers players and fans and another argument breaks out. It appears someone has hit the deck off the ball aswell. The ref again tries to play the drop ball but the FG player just will not back off, is subsequently booked and is eventually dragged away by one of his own team mates. How the ref has only given 5 minutes added time baffles me, should be at least 10 If not 12 because of the amount of time the forest green players have spent on the floor rolling around with broken legs.
It doesn’t matter how many added minutes in all honesty, we could be here until next week, when everyone else has gone home, and we still wouldn’t score a 2nd. As the full Time whistle goes the heartbreak hits home. Our 90 minutes has come and gone and we haven’t lived up to the billing we put ourselves on. We didn’t turn up on the day, we looked a yard off the pace, tired and lacking the passion we have shown in other games. I wouldn’t even go as far as saying forest green really won the tie, we lost it. They came with a game plan, we didn’t. And it worked for them. Thats why they’ve been promoted and we haven’t.
Today will take some time to get over. This season has been a little weird. Better off on points, finish 2nd in the league with a club record tally and still not get promoted. Unfortunately that means another year in this tin pot League, but the pain and the experience will help next season. We won’t want to go through this again. Next season there has to be one aim. Automatic promotion or bust. Spend too long in this league and it becomes harder and harder to get out of, you only have to look at the teams coming down. We build on this and go again. We’re Tranmere Rovers.