Its Christmas Eve All Over Again

Its Better/ Worse Than Christmas Eve

Remember when you were a little kid and Christmas Eve was such an exciting day.
> You couldn’t think of anything but the following day.
> The day seemed to drag
> You thought the big day would never come.
> You were so excited about what you might get the next day?

Well, that is how I feel today. The day is already dragging and I’m wishing the day away. This is perhaps a bit stupid as it’s a glorious day and perfect for being outside and cycling.  (Sadly, I’ve got a totally unreasonable employer who expects me to be at work and not out on my bike.)

So, why am I so excited? Well, it’s threefold:

1. Michelle and Josh are coming down for the weekend this evening. It is always a pleasure when they comes down, so I’m really looking forward to that. Especially as the weather forecast looks good, so we can get out on Sunday and explore some of London – probably down to the beautiful riverfront and park in Greenwich.

2. Today is my last day at work for a couple of weeks. Yes, I’m off to the USA for my 4th Police Unity Tour ( This is a series of bike rides that converge on the outskirts of Washington DC and culminate in a parade through the streets of the Capital city to the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial.
The ride is to raise funds for the memory of those police officer’s killed in the course of their duty. Already in 2013, there have been 39 officers killed in the USA. This is a shocking total and it is worth remembering that each officer is someone’s spouse, brother/ sister/ child/ parent.
Having done the ride for the last three years, it is a case of meeting up with old friends and meeting new friends. The ride is some 300 miles over four days, so is a good opportunity to chat whilst riding. The usual opening topic of conversation is the fact that our officers in England & Wales are not armed.

3. The main reason for my excitement however, is that tomorrow is the FA Vase Final at Wembley Stadium. This is the national knockout cup competition for sides at Step 5 and below in the FA pyramid. Step 5 is EIGHT divisions below the FA Premiership.  This year the final is between Tunbridge Wells FC and Spennymoor Town FC.

Some of you may have worked out my interest in Spennymoor Town. I grew up following them and still remember the injustice of 1978 when Spennymoor lost in the semi- final of the FA Trophy ( more senior non league cup competition) to Leatherhead. The heartache that day was partly due to the fact that after losing the 1st leg away 2-0 the team were outstanding at home and easily pulled back the 2 goal deficit only to concede a late goal (in my recollection) against the run of play after a defensive mistake at a corner.

At 11 years of age, the dream of being so close to seeing my team play at Wembley was so cruelly taken away. Indeed it was so painful, that despite living in the South East for many years, I only saw Leatherhead play this season for the first time since that fateful day in 1978. (Perhaps if I had gone to see Leatherhead earlier, then Spennymoor would have got to Wembley earlier?)

Indeed, my nickname of “Spen” comes about as a result of taunts at school over the football. I went to a school outside of Spennymoor and was the only Spennymoor fan there. The nickname stuck and to many people I am known as Spen rather than by my Christian name. Its  a badge I wear with pride.

I used to hate the mention of Leatherhead and in the bar at Spennymoor’s ground is a frame of newspaper cuttings and pictures etc from the Leatherhead game. It used to haunt me, and despite reading the same, it always brings back those memories.

After the semi final win over Guernsey, that all changed. I was in the bar last Saturday and strangely the display seemed to be just a footnote in history.

Tomorrow is the day I never thought would come. The chance to see Spennymoor Town play at Wembley. I have been to Wembley many times to see Newcastle lose in 3 cup finals, an FA cup semi final and in the Charity Shield. I have been to FA Vase and FA Trophy finals watching other teams and have been twice to the Championship Play Off Finals as well as seeing other FA cup semi finals and numerous England games, including the 1996 win over Scotland when Gazza scored THAT goal.

All of those pale in insignificance compared to the chance of watching Spennymoor at Wembley. Its fantastic to see a town with a population of 18,000 have apparently already sold 5000 tickets for the final and many more will be doing as I am and paying on the day. We will be outnumbered at least 2:1 as Tunbridge have sold 11000 tickets. However it must be considered that Tunbridge is only a few miles from Wembley rather than the 600 mile round trip from Spennymoor and the borough of Tunbridge Wells has a population of 108,200.

To see those players in the famous black and white stripes coming onto the pitch will be an emotional moment. I remember being at the FA Cup Final in 1998 when Newcastle lost to Arsenal and having a lump in my throat at the playing of “Abide With Me” and realising that my team had actually got to the show piece occasion of a major cup final.

Win lose or draw (in which case its extra time and then penalties) it will be a fantastic day out. The club provided fans coaches are setting off  at 06:30 tomorrow, so I’m going to be having an easier day than them as I live circa 20 miles from Wembley.
I should make a mention of the club Chairman Bradley Groves who has negotiated a deal with a coach company so fans can travel for only £20 return. This is an incredible price when it could cost £50 or more for a coach trip to a London game if you were following Newcastle or Sunderland. On many occasions he has himself subsidised coach travel to big away games. A football club chairman who is a shrewd business man and remembers to look after his customers (the club’s fans).

I must just mention the club’s captain, Daniel Moore, who has suffered the unbelievable bad luck of breaking his ankle 9 days before the FA Vase Final. It must be heartbreaking for him to miss out on the opportunity to play at Wembley in a national cup final. I can’t imagine how devastating it must be for him, but hopefully the rest of the team will ensure he will get to lift the Vase on Saturday afternoon.

The final words in this blog are about Jason Ainsley, the manager. A couple of season’s ago, I wrote a blog post about a game away at Sunderland RCA and commented on the foul mouthed rant he had after a player got injured. The rant was in the heat of the moment and came as a result of his concern at seeing a player needlessly injured. In his manager’s blog on the club website after the game, Jason took the time to mention my blog and apologised for his language. It was a clear heartfelt apology which contrasted with the pathetic club statement claiming to be an apology from Wayne Rooney for his swearing into a TV camera during a Man U game the same day. Why pathetic? Well it was not delivered by Rooney and the language was that of the club lawyer/ pr man and not that of Rooney.

Well Jason, win tomorrow and in my view you can swear all you like. You will have earned the freedom of the town.

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