(Thames Water and Thatcham Town's Harrison Bayley)
It is every young footballer’s dream to play at Wembley, the home of English football, and that is set to become a reality for one Thames Water worker.
Harrison Bayley, 28, a technician at Bourne End water works, is gearing up to play at the iconic stadium after his team Thatcham Town made it to the FA Vase final.
The Vase is seen as the non-league FA Cup, and thousands of fans will flock to the game on May 20.
Bayley, a tough-tackling box-to-box midfielder, used to play for Reading until the age of 18 and since then has enjoyed a varied playing career – plying his trade in Cyprus and at various non-league clubs.
Nicknamed ‘superstar’ by his fellow workers, he has been juggling his day-to-day job with training and playing for Thatcham, but admits he can’t wait for the final.
“It’s so strange, I don’t know whether it’s sunk in yet,” he said. “It’s probably the best team I’ve played in, in terms of the bond we’ve got and the team morale and we’re all just buzzing for it.
“It’s going to be the highlight of our careers but we’re determined to go out there and put a good performance in and win it.”
Thatcham have had a remarkable season by anyone’s standards. They’ve gone 40 games unbeaten in the league, securing the Hellenic League title and promotion to the Southern League, and have also made it to three finals – the FA Vase, the Perpetua Press Floodlit Cup and the Bluefin Sports Challenge Cup.
It’s meant Bayley has had to sometimes play three matches a week, plus training every week, as well as his normal job.
To get to the Vase final, Town beat 1874 Northwich 4-2 over two legs. They took a 1-0 win into the second leg which was away from home, but raced to a 3-1 lead just after half-time and despite a late rally from Northwich, they held on to secure the club’s first ever appearance at Wembley.
He said: “At times it’s been tough but Thames is a great company to work for and I love playing football so it’s just something I have to do.
“It’s been an incredible season. We’ve managed to get ourselves on a run which has kept going and going and it’s kept momentum up really well. We keep calling ourselves the non-league Man City!
“I don’t really get nervous but I’m sure I will be at Wembley. All our families will be there, it will probably be the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of and everyone dreams of playing there.
“During the semi-final, it just hit me when we were 3-1 up just after half-time that we were going to Wembley and it was so strange. We managed to hold on and it’s great – now we need to go on and win it!
“We’re used to playing in front of 200 people, whereas there’ll be at least 20,000 at Wembley – so it’s exciting.”
Natalie Stearn, field operations manager at the company, is also the team’s physio and is busy preparing for the final.
She said: “As physio for the team I am incredibly proud of how far the team have come.
“Wembley will be a big challenge for the boys and hopefully we will be able to stick to routine as much as possible leading up to and on the day.
“Like all the players it is often a challenge to juggle a full-time job and a very full-on part-time job with Thatcham Town FC but I couldn’t be prouder than I am to be a part of this amazing adventure.”
The game, which kicks off at 12.15, will be broadcast on BT Sport and tickets are still on sale. For more information visit https://ticketingcontent.thefa.com//NLFD%202018
(The Thatcham squad with the trophy in the pre-match photo shoot)