The wait is over and match day is here. I first wake up at 2.00am and am up soon after 5.00am. The first thing I do is check the weather and am alarmed to see it is raining quite hard. Does this mean we will not be able to use Butts Close after all the hard work to secure it? I checked the forecast which did promise a big improvement so fingers crossed.
I then bought the Non-League Paper which included a review of the Hitchin game. While reading it I received an email from Stuart Hammonds our ex player who is now working for Luton. Typical of Stuart he passed on his best wishes for the game. He had even arranged a video message from Luton manager Nathan Jones on Friday in which he spoke of the close relationship between the two clubs and wished us all the best. I left for the ground at 8.45am as I was too fidgety to stay at home. All preparations were now in place and it was fingers crossed that everything would go to plan. Len had already been at the ground some time as he had to let the TV company in to set up for the afternoon.
Time passed very slowly but the ground staff were very busy as they put the finishing touches to the pitch and moved the portable toilets in to place. Len had various security briefings and having delayed the decision on whether to use Butts Close for an extra hour he decided it was dry enough after all—a great relief!
There was a general security briefing for all match day stewards and personnel in Canary Club ahead of the turnstiles being opened. The security guards were told where they would be positioned and what was expected from them. Meanwhile our own team of helpers were allocated to specific turnstiles and had their final training for accepting the online tickets.
I now waited for manager Mark Burke to arrive so I could fill in the team on the FA forms. I had to give the team sheet to the match referee 75 minutes before kick-off—for a league game it is only 45 minutes. Mark seemed relaxed while the players were also looking forward to the biggest game some of them would ever have played.
I was fascinated watching Top Field fill up as the sun shone down—what a great sight it was and there were so many family groups and young supporters. I found myself thinking back to the protest march that helped save Top Field. Just imagine there could have been a Tesco supermarket instead of our iconic ground and days like today brought home how vital it was that we won the battle to save Top Field.
As kick off approached I felt really proud—of the team, the supporters, the management and helpers. We had pulled it off and were hosting our biggest game for 23 years. Seeing the mascots was really good with young Teddy Donnelly, Elvis and the youth team players adding to the feelgood factor. Top Field really was full and I actually felt very emotional as the game started.
The team really did us proud and we matched Solihull all the way until what seemed a very dubious penalty changed the game. Tim Flowers the Soluihull manager told Mark he was happily settling for a replay before the penalty. So the dream was over and normal obscure life will now return after our time in the spotlight.
But what an experience we have had. If you had told me in August we would net £70,000 plus from the F A Cup, host the draw for the First Round, appear on BBC TV, have a sell- out game at Top Field and put the town of Hitchin on the map as well as the football club I would have wanted you sectioned! But it really happened.
It was good to hear so many people complement us so favourably on the way we staged the game and I have to say that everything really did go better than we dared hope. The police were really happy as were the local authorities and our reputation has been greatly enhanced. I must particularly thank Len Leroux, Chris Newbold, Mick Docking and Stewart Curtis for work above and beyond what could be expected together with so many others who were all vital parts of the operation.
I hope my diary has given you an insight in to just what goes on behind the scenes. For my part I now hope to resume sleeping normally once more!