It’s a couple of days away but the excitement in anticipation for Saturday’s trip to Wembley for the League Two play-off final is increasing at a steeper and steeper rate as we get closer to the big game.
Ever since the final whistle blew at Forest Green on Monday 13 May, this has been something myself and the rest of the Super White Army have been eagerly anticipating and it’s just around the corner now.
But it’s nothing new for us. Saturday’s play-off final will be the third season in a row Tranmere have contested such a fixture, losing to Forest Green Rovers in 2017 before triumphing and regaining Football League status last year against Boreham Wood.
So a big game at Wembley is not an unusual experience for the club or the core of the squad who have been through those emotions of winning and losing at the National Stadium.
Six of the starting XI against Forest Green Rovers in this year’s play-off semi-final featured in last year’s match at Wembley; Scott Davies, Manny Monthe, Liam Ridehalgh, Connor Jennings, Jay Harris and James Norwood. Others in the squad have been part of those Wembley experiences for Rovers too such as Adam Buxton and Steve McNulty.
That experience can only be seen as an advantage. They’ll know the surroundings, the type of atmosphere to expect, the feelings of being involved in a Wembley final.
They have also had experiences at both ends of the scale.
Losing a cup final at Wembley is the worst feeling, and those players who were involved in that defeat in 2017 will tell you that they don’t want to experience that hurt and dejection again.
Winning a cup final at Wembley is the best feeling! To be at a fantastic stadium like Wembley, in front of a big crowd and lift a trophy, there isn’t much better a feeling within football.
The aforementioned hurt and dejection from 2017 certainly, in my opinion, helped the following year. As I said, the players didn’t want to go through that kind of experience again and I’m sure they won’t this time either.
This group of players has a steely determination about it. You can never write them off. There’s a calmness about them alongside the desire, hard work and will to win.
All those qualities and all that experience needs to be used in the right way in order to get the right result, but Micky Mellon and his management staff know all about that and don’t need me to tell them how to do things.
There was, perhaps, an over-excitement about things ahead of that 2017 final against Forest Green. It was the first time many of the players had played there, the stadium is huge and maybe it was a little bit over-whelming.
As shown last year, it was a much calmer preparation, everyone knew what these types of games were all about and, despite going down to 10 men after just 47 seconds, they found a way to win and weren’t ‘in awe’ of the surroundings.
I have no doubt that the preparations will be similar this time around. And recent experience of finals at Wembley is an advantage we have over Newport, who haven’t appeared in a final at the National Stadium since 2013.
That said, they did play against Spurs at Wembley last season, in front of a big crowd in the FA Cup, so perhaps that negates the advantage somewhat, who knows?
What I do know is that the team will give it everything they have to get the desired result on Saturday. No stone unturned, no blade of grass uncovered. They’ve done us proud in getting this far. One more game, one more big effort, one more victory and we can be back to League One.