Matt Bass 'forever grateful and appreciative' as Road to Wembley concludes

Tuesday 28 May 2024

It’s no exaggeration to say that I had been dreaming of this day for as long as I can remember.

At the tender age of eight, I sat glued to my TV screen and absorbed the entirety of the occasion of the FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. I wasn’t entirely sure why I needed to see a group of footballers leaving a hotel and climbing aboard a coach, but I was all in for it.

Manchester City 1-2 Manchester United

And now, after a season of living out a personal dream of attending a game in each round of the competition, I was about to experience the Emirates FA Cup Final for myself.

Things have a habit of conspiring against me and so, even at my most optimistic, I was convinced this day would never come. There was bound to be a bump in the road or perhaps a monumental and impassable pothole.

Way back in September, I feared I wouldn’t make the first qualifying round between Flackwell Heath and Farnham Town after my car was taken out of action when it was seemingly parked in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

For the following round, I was eternally thankful for a geographically friendly Friday night home draw for Ascot United when they welcomed Lewes. Saturday would have been impossible for me owing to an important family commitment while Sunday could have been equally tricky.

And even for the third qualifying round, I nearly didn’t travel at all when my ever-supportive wife, Charlotte, was struck down with illness. The trooper that she is, she forced me out of the door and assured me she would cope looking after herself and our two children.

Of course, there were other hiccups along the way (spending half an hour driving around a car park in Coventry looking for a space springs to mind) but these things are sent to try us and, with the support and encouragement of many around me, I was able to fulfil my dream. To every single person who has helped me out on my quest, a huge and immensely heartfelt ‘thank you’.

Aside from getting to a fixture in each round, my goals this season were to meet new people and get more of a feel for the goings-on at other clubs from as many perspectives as possible.

I’ve met some fantastic individuals and it seemed fitting that my cup final day began in similar fashion. 

Changing trains at Ashford, I met father and son duo, Peter and Joe Cox. City fans their whole lives, I enjoyed their company greatly and was to spend much of the day with them. 

Upon arrival into St Pancras, they immediately invited me to join them in the pub to continue sharing stories from memories past. Such warm company, they took a huge and welcome interest in my challenge and quizzed me on my favourite moments from the journey. Joe asked for my top three matches I had attended. I genuinely struggled with this one!

Further evidence of how small our world is though was unearthed when I recounted my adventures with Ramsgate this season. At this, Joe asked if I had met prolific striker Joe Taylor. Upon my confirmation, he was delighted to tell me that he had attended nursery with Taylor and that this pair of Joe’s had joined forces with a third Joe to take on the roles of the Three Kings in the nativity. This is the kind of content I was here for!

As we arrived at Wembley, we headed in separate directions as I met up with some like-minded adventurers at Boxpark.

I have followed the journeys of others this season and have connected with some through ‘My Road to Wembley’, a group where those undertaking this challenge can unite to share experiences and advice. I reunited with Jamie and his son Mikey here who I had first met back in the extra preliminary round. I was so thrilled to see they had both lasted the course and seen the journey through to completion together.

With kick-off approaching, there was only one place to be and so I made my way under the Arch.

Hearing Wembley packed to the rafters with those in attendance belting out ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘God Save the King’ was magical. I had the chills and I could almost feel a tear forming. I just about held it together.

In the build-up to the Final, I’m sure I would not have been the only person to have expected a City win and a trophyless season for United. Supporters from the red half of Manchester though were not prepared to let this great contest become a formality though and the atmosphere at their end of the stadium, in particular, was electric.

City pressed but the organisation of United was exemplary as they kept their title-winning neighbours at arm’s length. Sofyan Amrabat had a fine game in the middle of midfield while Raphaël Varane was a rock at the back.

Kobbie Mainoo also looked impressive - more on him shortly.

Despite City’s efforts in pushing forward, it was United who opened the scoring as Alejandro Garnacho benefited from a mix-up between Stefan Ortega and Joško Gvardiol to fire into an empty net.

That wasn’t in the script!

Whatever script there might have been though was truly torn apart as United doubled their advantage just before the break when Mainoo slotted home following an instinctive pass from Bruno Fernandes.

City’s efforts in the second period were admirable but ultimately in vain as, despite Jérémy Doku pulling one back, it was joy for the Red Devils.

Watching the celebrations and seeing the Cup raised aloft high on the balcony completed the day for me. My journey was over. Challenge completed.

Joining the masses of Reds on Wembley Way heading for the station, I couldn’t help but wonder if I will be back. Time will tell, I guess, but if this was it for me, I will be forever grateful and appreciative.

I found Peter and Joe again and enjoyed a final drink with them. While obviously disappointed, they had taken defeat graciously and had shaken many hands to congratulate their cross-city rivals.

My journey home was one of reflection. There are too many people to list here who have been supportive and helpful throughout the season. I think back fondly to my first meeting with those at Bearsted FC before even attending the opening match and how they had agreed to open up to me and welcome me into their world.

From those early steps, I have met so many people and made so many friends. This season has been everything and so much more than I hoped it would be.

Long live the FA Cup!

Matt's Road to Wembley in full....

Semi-final: Coventry City 3-3 Manchester United (AET, Man Utd win 4-3 on penalties)

Quarter-final: Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United

Fifth round proper: Coventry City 5-0 Maidstone 

Fourth round proper: Ipswich Town 2-3 Maidstone 

Third round proper: Middlesbrough 1-2 Aston Villa 

Second round proper: Maidstone 2-1 Barrow 

First round proper: Ramsgate 2-1 Woking & Sheppey United 1-4 Walsall 

Fourth round qualifying: AFC Totton 0-1 Ramsgate 

Third round qualifying: Gorleston 0-1 Hemel Hempstead Town

Second round qualifying: Ascot United 1-2 Lewes

First round qualifying: Flackwell Heath v Farnham Town

Preliminary round: Lordswood 1-1 Cray Valley (PM)

Extra preliminary round: Wembley 1-1 Bearsted

By FA Staff