Year of the dragon

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Sunday March 24th 2013, kick off 3pm at Wembley Stadium.
FA Trophy Final, Grimsby (Black/White Stripes/Black)v Wrexham (Red/White) 1-1 AET, Wrexham won 4-1 on penalties.
Attendance 35,266, admission £30 (£20 for me), programme £4, badge £3. coffee £2.10.

Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer
Pilgrim through this barren land
I am weak but Thou art mighty
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more (I want no more)
Feed me till I want no more.

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True, I would want no more than I got today, I was a pig in muck.
I got lucky today. As a rule I do not blog about venues I’ve previously visited, with this being my eighth visit to the ‘rebuilt’ Wembley since 2007.
Having decided to buy a ticket on the day of the game rather than pay the two fifty booking fee chargeable via the FA website, I arrived at the west box office to buy a ticket in the Wrexham end of the stadium. As I approached a small queue I was approached by a guy who advised he had a spare, 20 pounds he said, hmm, 10 pound saving on the set price, for today it was 30 quid all round the stadium. He looked genuine, the ticket looked genuine, so yes I said, thank you very much.
It’s next to me he said, ok, I’ll see you inside I said.

As he walked away, I looked closer at the ticket, gate 101, row 1, eh what, row 1, by the pitch, damn blast, have I been sold a dud? Then I saw the word complimentary, my initial thought was, hang on, he didn’t have to pay for this ticket, it’s in row1 and, hmm, hang on think again, complimentary, hmm. In all my years of watching football, I’ve never known complimentary tickets to be in anything but pretty good areas of stadiums.

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Entering through the gate G, my block 101, was not evident, block 102 being the closest to it. Asking a female steward manning some double doors, it seemed that I had to enter through there, which led into a quieter bar area and concourse. Approaching another steward manning more doors down into the stadium seats, I asked about row1, at the front I assume? “Yes it is he said” “but we don’t expect to be full today if you move seats it’s not a problem” Peering over his shoulder I could see the seats were located on the half way line, and slowly the penny was starting to drop, especially as I saw another entrance to the Bobby Moore bar and restaurant, my ticket wouldn’t seemingly get me in there, but I’d suddenly realised, I was in the club Wembley area, you know, that block on the half way line that always looks embarrassingly empty when you watch on TV, directly opposite the camera gantry.

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Some weeks back I’d mentioned this game to a friend, not interested it looks like a JPT trophy final he said, and I couldn’t argue. Two teams with history as league clubs, recently fallen on hard times, and now playing in the top-tier of non league football. It was only ten or so years ago that Grimsby were playing my team at the second level of league football. So, I had wondered how much the teams and fans would take to this final. As an experiment, and to ease a busy end of season at Wembley which hosts the FA Cup Final, 2 Semis, 4 play off games, 1 Eng game, and the real profile game the money making Champs league final, so this game was moved from its normal May date to late March.

On a bitter cold day the teams delivered a very enjoyable spectacle, both clubs arrived with 16/17,000 fan. And with the Conference play off final now of major importance to all clubs in the top eight of the conference, having both that play off final AND the conference play off final in the same month within weeks of each other, when potentially a club could be involved in both, as York were last season, would seem nonsensical for reasons of focus and expense for the travelling fans.

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The game itself became absorbing. Grimsby settled first, but before long Wrexham had started to dominate the midfield, with Keats/Harris and Thornton in particular pulling the strings. Any doubts I had about the fans not having enthusiasm for this game were dispelled as Wrexham fans on their first ever visit to Wembley giving some impressive choruses of ‘bread of heaven’ with the retort from the other end of ‘Mariners, mariners’ equally belted out into the cold Wembley air, in my padded seat on the half way line I was like a kid in sweetshop as I enjoyed the battle.

equaliser from the spot
equaliser from the spot

The breakthrough when it came was surprisingly from Grimsby, on seventy minutes a good move down the right, was finished by Andy Cook, after the Wrexham keeper Maxwell had initially parried his first shot.
Wrexham responded well and went close a couple of times before on 81 minutes they were awarded a penalty after Keates was tripped by Shaun Pearson in the area. Thornton stepped up to take the kick and sent McKeown the wrong way to level the scores. On balance of play this was thoroughly deserved. In fact, had it not been for McKeown, the Mariners keeper and my MOM then it’s unlikely the tie would have gone to extra time.

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Wrexham again exerted more pressure in extra time, but couldn’t get that crucial second goal, Grimsby had like they had for most of the game, created a few half chances mostly from set pieces.
I’d thought to myself at the time that if Wrexham lost the shootout that it would have been real shame.
I needn’t have worried, as Grimsby in front of the Wrexham end fluffed their lines.

Cieslewicz, Danny Wright, Westwood all found the net for Wrexham, but Hatton hit the post with Grimsby’s first effort and Brodie blazed over.
Joe Colbeck kept his head to open Grimsby’s account but it was too little, too late as the responsibility for Wrexham’s fourth penalty fell to 22-year-old Hunt and he converted confidently to secure the trophy for the north Wales club.

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It had been the third time within the last year that a Welsh club had visited Wembley, twice successful. As I walked away down Wembley way toward the tube, a smirk still played around my cold lips, I'd been glad to see this game, and loved the Club Wembley experience.

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