IN 2008, when Whitley Bay bowed out of the FA Vase semi-finals in the most gut-wrenching fashion imaginable, Brian Smith thought his boyhood dream of playing at Wembley had gone for good.
Even on returning to Hillheads last summer, after two seasons with North Shields, he considered it way too much to ask for the Seahorses, having won the competition twice in his absence, to get to the home of football for a third year in a row.
They couldn’t, could they? Well, they have, and few deserve to be involved, in whatever way, in Sunday’s Vase final against Leicestershire-based Midland Alliance outfit Coalville Town more than Smith. The colossal centre-back was with Whitley when, undercooked and a man down after Brian Rowe’s sending off, they were beaten 4-0 at Lowestoft Town in 2008’s semi-final, first leg.
Incredulously, or perhaps not given events since then, the Bay were 3-0 up inside half an hour of the return leg, Smith scoring a towering header from a Lee Picton long throw, only for their retaliation to end there.
Sensing his time at Whitley to have gone, Smith left and watched with pleasure, pride but also envy as his former team-mates made reparations while he was a Robin.
Then came injury to David Coulson and Darren Timmons, Leon Ryan left for Spennymoor Town and suddenly the Bay needed centre-backs.
Back came the Brians, Smith and Rowe. Though Smith still struggles to believe it, both have their belated reward. Smith said: “My thinking coming back was that we are not going to do it a third time, but it has come up again and I cannot believe my luck.
“I remember going down to Lowestoft in 2008 and everything which could go wrong did go wrong.
“In the return leg people just thought we were going to get turned over. They thought Lowestoft were going to walk it.
“We just had a feeling we were going to pull it round.
“We were just so unlucky, we should have battered them really.
“Coming to within a goal of them, going so close made it all the more agonising, without a doubt.
“Especially because after we got back to 3-0, 3-4 on aggregate, we had loads of chances. I could have had a hat-trick, Chowy (Paul Chow) could have had three or four. It was hard to take but it spurred you on.
“I honestly thought then that my chance had gone, and even coming back at the start of this season I thought ‘we are not going to do it a third time’.
“Then all of a sudden it starts creeping up on you and you are there.
Smith added: “I had to put a lot of hard work in to get myself fit, but I feel like this is my reward.
“It is something you dream of when you are a kid, playing at Wembley.”
TICKETS (priced £25 for adults, £15 for concessions) are available from the club’s Hillheads ground; a number of outlets around the town; by telephone (0191 402 8888, with a booking fee for credit card charges); by post (cheque payable to Whitley Bay Football Club, and include a note detailing ticket requirements and a stamped addressed envelope preferably DL size - 22x11cm) from Peter Siddle, c/o Whitley Bay FC, Hillheads Park, Rink Way, Whitley Bay, NE25 8HR; online at www.whitleybayfc.com (including £1 Paypal booking fee); and from the Newcastle United FC box office. For further details of all things Vase-wise log onto www.whitleybayfc.com .