WHEN he settles down in his local to watch the FA Cup Final with his mates, Paul Robinson wants desperately to be able to say: “I played there – three weeks ago.”
Whitley Bay face Lowestoft Town in today’s FA Vase semi-final first leg at Hillheads (kick off 3pm) with the midfielder determined to avenge last year’s defeat to the Trawler Boys at the same stage of the competition.
In doing so, Robinson will rubber-stamp an appearance at Wembley which, for a footballer with only a short-lived spell in the professional ranks, would easily represent the highlight of his career.
It would make up for the “gutting heartbreaking regrets” of last season too.
Then, the Seahorses lost 4-0 in the first leg in Suffolk, so to win 3-0 in the return was ultimately more bitter than sweet.
Not even a night out down South Parade could cheer Robinson up, nor dampen in his ears the sound of Lowestoft’s celebrations. Yet now Whitley have a shot at redemption he never thought would be theirs, and Robinson is quietly confident of realising his dream.
“Wembley would be pretty special,” said Robinson, a former Tranmere trainee who turned pro with Grimsby and also played for York City.
“The FA Cup final is a couple of weeks after the Vase final, so sitting in the pub watching it with your mates knowing you’d played there a few weeks before would be amazing.
“Making my league debut (for Grimsby at Macclesfield), playing professional football, is the highlight of my career so far but getting to Wembley would top it.”
And laying to rest last term’s ghosts would be a welcome spin-off.
“The immediate feeling after the first leg was that we’d thrown it away, we’d blown it and we weren’t going to get another chance like that again,” said Robinson, relaxed enough amid training to be heard discussing the merits of The Apprentice candidates – Anita was a “no-no” – with team-mate Chris Moore.
“We were really confident of beating them in the second leg but we didn’t know if we’d get the four or the five we needed. I don’t think they knew how to approach the game, and we got at them straight away.
“To go 3-0 up, I think we all thought ‘It is going to happen’. When it didn’t it was gutting. I have so many regrets. We were so close but we just couldn’t get that goal and it was absolutely heartbreaking to let yourself down so badly and then to get so close. To have to listen to them cheering at the end was really hard to take.
“A few of us went out in Whitley that night but it wasn’t the best night I’ve had. We were pretty down but I just had to get out of the house and have a few beers with the lads.”
Turning his attention to today, when a crowd in the region of 3,000 is expected, Robinson added: “We are confident, there’s no point going out on the pitch if we’re not. We know they’re a decent side, I think they’ve got a pretty similar team but we’ll just go and play our own game. After the experience of last year everyone knows how big this is, with so many people being there and that’s another thing to look forward to.
“When you drop into non-league you don’t really expect to be playing in front of these crowds, so it’s really nice to be involved in this sort of game. We’re all focused now and we can’t wait.”
Whitley will be without Chris Fawcett (ankle) and Darren Timmons (knee) but have signed Adam Johnston from Durham City in time for the striker to figure this afternoon.
Tickets for the game remain available from various outlets around the town, and turnstiles will also be open.