In a new series for this blog, I’m going to be detailing what it’s like reporting at the different grounds I visit. This week’s edition features Wembley Stadium.
As a reporter heading to cover the double header of the FA Vase and FA Trophy final, it would be an understatement to say that I will have a lot to say about my experience at Wembley. So, grab yourself a tea (or any other kind of beverage), take a seat and – hopefully – enjoy!
The first thing to note when travelling anywhere new is how to get there. From which route you need to take, the time of your train, whether you need to change anywhere. Travel arrangements are one of the most important elements of a journey.
With regards to Wembley Stadium, I was relatively pleased with how simple it was to get there. Travelling from Chelmsford train station, I boarded the Greater Anglia train to Liverpool Street before changing onto the Metropolitan Line for a nine-stop journey to Wembley Park station.
My reason for attending Wembley Stadium was to cover Non League Finals Day, a non-league event which features a double-header of finals for Non-League’s top competions – the Buildbase FA Tropy and FA Vase.
Therefore, with the first game scheduled to begin at 12.15, the media entrance would be open from 10.15am. So, having arrived in London around 8am with plenty of time to spare, it would be fair to say that I was pretty hungry. As the underground station had not yet been opened, I took a quick walk to the McDonalds situated at one end of the station.
Once I’d ordered and collected my breakfast, I headed back towards the station – by which time the underground station had been opened. Having met up with a good friend and local photographer, Andy Wilkins, we jumped onto the next train on the Metropolitan Line.
As I walked down Wembley Way ahead of what was likely to be a memorable for all of the supporters attending – whether they end up on the winning or losing side – it made me think what it must be like heading down for a game of higher magnitude, especially as the FA Cup final had been held less than 24 hours before.
Upon our approach to the Stadium it was nice to see how well the grounds team had done, removing the FA Cup promotional material and swapping them for the usual Buildbase content. It must have been one late night for the operations team, but what a superb job they had done.
Once Andy and I arrived at the Stadium, we still had a fair amount of time before the media entrance opened. With the weather being glorious and no clouds to be seen, we opted for a walk around the Stadium. Once we had completed this and taken the traditional photo of the Bobby Moore statue, Andy was feeling rather peckish as he had not eaten since boarding his 7am train so we went on a search for a nearby McDonalds.
We knew that there would be a restaurant in close proximity to the Stadium but, with around 45 minutes until the media entrance opened, we decided to avoid using Google Maps and walk in the rough direction of where it was.
After around ten minutes of walking with no success, we eventually turned to our phones and realised that it was just five minutes away from us. Although, the more annoying thing was that we had walked almost directly past it as we headed up Wembley Way!
Having taken a quick food stop – and met with Andy’s friends from The Bootifull Game – we decided it was time to go to the Stadium.
Inside the Stadium
Upon my arrival, I was welcomed by a number of stewards who swiftly provided me with my accreditation, went through the usual security protocol of a bag search before then directing me towards a lift which would take me through to the Media Areas.
Having previously eaten at a McDonalds, I was incredibly disappointed when I opened up the door to the media lounge to find trays of baguettes with either a sausage or bacon filling at my disposal. Although, I must admit, despite eating just a short while, the temptation to have what is arguably one of my favourite snacks was overcome.
I now found myself with just under two hours to wait until the FA Vase final between Stockton Town and Thatcham Town got underway. So I made use of this time by having a number of different conversations with various people, including those of the media operations team attending from the FA as well as Richard Scott.
I then chose to take my seat in the Wembley press box, above. What it a view it was. For someone who has only ever been to one live game at the National Stadium, from which I observed a lacklustre England 1-0 win over a ten-man Portugal side from the clouds in June 2016, it was an incredible view and I remainded hopeful that my time would prove more entertaining than my last visit.
Once I’d sat down I began going through my final preparations ahead of the first game of the afternoon. This involved setting up the live blog and making sure everything was working as it should, shortly afterwards I was handed an official teamsheet.
During the game proceedings went pretty well. My live blog never dropped out and we had a consistent number of people following the coverage on my website and through my coverage on Twitter.
A 20th-minute penalty from Shane Cooper-Clark sealed the Kingfishers’ triumph – with the striker adding to his preposterous goals tally with his 63rd goal of the season – although the Berkshire side were made to work hard to retain their lead until full-time.
Another key moment to note during this game was the use of goal-line technology. The Kingfishers thought they had doubled their lead when they had a header crash against the bar and floor, although the TV screens upon our desk provided us with the all-important replays to show that the ball had not fully crossed the line.
Once Thatcham Town had been presented with the new addition to their trophy cabinet, myself and the other members of the media in attendance made a rather quick dash down numerous flights of stairs in order to hear the full-time reaction from the Vase winners.
We had settled in the Press Conference room ready for the managers of either side to arrive, however we were advised that they would be brought to us – with any players that we wished to speak to – in the Mixed Zone (below). It was here that we spoke to Danny Robinson and Tom Melledew of Thatcham Town.
The duo revealed their delight at winning the Vase, stating that it was days such as this that makes football worthwhile.
Having finished speaking the Berkshire-side’s pair, I returned to the media lounge. It was at this point that I took advantage of the interval between the two matches to finish my match report, which you can read here.
I then chose to utilise the food voucher provided as part of my media accreditation, choosing to enjoy Wembley’s beef lasagna with garlic dough balls. By the time I had finished, it was time to head back out to the press box to observe the Buildbase FA Trophy final between Brackley Town and Bromley.
Time for the second game
The usual coverage of the game was going perfectly fine until Brackley scored an equaliser with fifteen seconds of second half added time remaining. Queue scenes of jubilation from the Saints supporters. It was at this point that I had my camera in hand, ready to capture what I thought would be over 15,000 Bromley supporters celebrating but in fact I had to turn my view rapidly to focus on the drama which had just ensued.
Very little happened during extra-time and so the game headed to a penalty shoot-out. This proved to be just the second time I had seen a penalty shoot-out live – with my first coming in a play-off game between Hemel Hempstead and Braintree Town just a few weeks before.
Bromley took an early 4-2 lead in the shoot-out, but consecutive misses allowed the Saints to draw level. Up stepped 32-year-old substitute Andy Brown, with the experienced front-man successfully converting his spot-kick to seal quite a dramatic win for the little town from Northamptonshire.
I wandered down to the disabled seating area positioned slightly in-front of the media area, allowing me to have a superb vantage point of Brackley lifting the FA Trophy.
Post match episode two
Another trip to the post-match media areas had us informed that the managers would be brought individually into the Press Conference room in order for them to be questioned by the media.
As is with Wembley tradition, the losing manager – Bromley’s Neil Smith – was the first to enter. Positioned in-front of the wall of Buildbase marketing material, the former Fulham and Reading midfielder was clearly disappointed at the manner in which his side had thrown away the lead – especially as fine margins denied the Ravens a second, moments before Brackley levelled.
Time to go
With the time already reaching 7.30pm, I made the decision to say a few goodbyes and depart Wembley in order to get back to Liverpool Street in order to catch the 8.32pm train home.
Making my way back towards the media entrance, I deposited my media access pass with the stewards and headed for Wembley Way so that I could get to the underground station. A couple of minutes after arriving the train I required turned up, I jumped on and began my journey back to Liverpool Street.
I finally arrived at Liverpool Street around 8.30pm. By this time I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to get to the 8.32pm train. I had a quick walk to the nearby McDonalds so that I could grab some dinner before I got the next train, at 9.02pm.
Shortly afterwards, the platform that I required for my return journey was announced so I headed towards my home-bound train. I finished eating my dinner on-board as we departed Liverpool Street, eventually arriving around 9.45pm.
Overall it had been a great experience. If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be reporting at Wembley with media access I would have laughed. Despite being two non-league fixtures, it was still a surreal experience. One which I hope to experience again.
There’ll be a short break as we head into the interval between seasons but do not worry – as soon as Chelmsford City’s 2018-19 campaign gets underway I’ll be back with this series. And who knows, maybe I’ll throw in a few pre-season trips.
For now though, have a good summer and enjoy.