By Shaun Webbley

As the famed saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This Saturday will mark the final game of a fantastic season for Lichfield City. There have been many highs and some lows, a season these band of brothers will never forget.

Last night’s cup semi-final defeat was gutting for the players, the look on Dan Lomas’ and Jack Edwards’ faces said it all. Sadness was strewn across their faces, assistant manager Wayne Chapman looked shellshocked, these players deserved more.

For me on a personal note, this has probably been the best few months of my life, from my first game against Graham Street Prims in the FA Vase to the final game of the season against Highgate on Saturday, it’s been a delight to cover this team from Staffordshire. Next season will be monumental for these players, promotion must be the aim, but they don’t need me telling them that, they know the task at hand.

The famed 22-game unbeaten run which really catapulted these players to local heroes, ultimately leading to arguably the biggest game of some of their careers against Nuneaton Borough, live on the BBC was special. Being a fly on the wall with the players has been a joy, they’ve been nothing but respectful with me and always willing to help wherever they can.

Whether it was the 9-0 win over Uttoxeter, the fantastic late win over Stone Old Alleynians, the fantastic 3-0 win over Chasetown, who are in step 4, or the comfortable win over Wolverhampton Casuals. The club were on easy street during my first few months there.

However, the harsh winter months meant harsh results followed. The team hit a rut, a tough to take 3-2 defeat to Boldmere St Michaels was the pick of the results. Having led twice in the game, a late winner from the hosts seemed damning. The peak of the poor results came in Warwick, a 4-0 defeat followed much to my ire, but to the opposition director’s obvious enjoyment.

A poor run of results meant my match reports became more of a post-mortem examination of just where it went wrong. Dissecting each result, chewing over just what had happened. The harshness and brutality of the season spares nobody, an unfortunately timed injury crisis seemingly stopped them in their tracks.

A damning 4-1 defeat to Whitchurch Alport followed, the results almost became a fait accompli, the teams’ promotion hopes looked dead. It looked like the club may be meandering to a quiet end of the season, or that I was simply the bad luck charm.

However, a phone call flipped everything for me personally and I hope for the players on its head.

A Brummie accent was on the line: “Hiya Shaun, I was wondering whether you’d like to come in and have a sit down with the gaffer, to try and increase the mood a bit.”

The man on the other line was influential assistant Wayne Chapman, of course, I accepted and came down to film the interview, I didn’t know what to expect. Having interviewed Ivor Green before, he seemed like he had 1000 thoughts on his mind at once. A man with places to be, things to do, people to see and games to win. Having spent a couple of hours in his company this season, I still hold that same belief.

The interview ends and that’s when I truly became embedded with this wonderful family. I then interviewed top goalscorer, Jack Edwards, the following Saturday, despite being stopped 53 seconds in due to loud music of a perpetrator who STILL remains unknown. The players have warmed to me (I hope).

I’ve sat on a rather comfortable chair in the dressing room, as Ivor Green and Wayne Chapman, look at tactical adjustments. I even was entrusted to try my hand at moving around a player on the whiteboard, as I pick their brains on why X player works and why Y player wouldn’t.

I’ve learnt more about the game we all love, I’ve learnt how to frantically write in my notebook as Green speaks a 1000 words a second in the changing room, ahead of a big match.

I’ve watched on as chairman Darren Leaver, and vice-chairman Liam Heath, tell their tales of club ownership and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome. I’ve listened to Leaver explain some of his bizarre stories from the world of football.

I’ve been in a car with goalkeeper James Beeson, who asks jokingly whether I’m going out that night like I’m a night owl who loves the nightlife. In reality, I’d be writing about this fascinating establishment in my spare time.

I sat unassumingly and sometimes awkwardly as the directors would shake hands, relive memories, drink beer, eat their sausage rolls or their pork pies and talk about a refereeing decision that went against them, or something of the like.

The smell of beer would often reach my nostrils on a match day, it’s a smell I’ve come to love, it’s football in its purest form. I have traipsed onto the pitch with the players as they discuss the playing surface before kick-off, which usually culminates in left-back Joe Haines being confident about something or other, and then Dan Lomas shooting him down, which leads to a war of words.

I’ve stood on the sidelines of a late-night training session, before being excitingly encouraged to wander onto the beautiful clean pitch, to get the inside track on how the great minds of the famed coaching staff work.

I’ve watched coach Jack Longmore excruciatingly get all the equipment set up and try to place all the balls in the right places, just for the players to smash them into the goal anyway as they jog past.

I’ve been trusted to come into the changing room with the players and be jovially told off for going on my phone, “I’m doing work,” would be my reply. I’ve been in the clubhouse and witnessed the players encouraging the very shy Jonathan Gould to sing his initiation song, but he would politely decline the offer, much to the squad’s dismay.

I’ve seen joy after a win, I’ve seen anger and questions after a defeat. These players just accept me, and I like it that way. They’ve never kept me at arm’s length, they’ve always encouraged me to get involved. They know what I’m there for, the looks of confusion when I’m scribbling down a phrase a player has said or something a player has done, always tickles me.

I’ve greeted Green and Chapman, and I have witnessed first-hand the confidence that Chapman has in himself. “We’ll win this game comfortably,” he’ll say to me as he’s nodding his head in solemn agreement with himself. I’ll laugh and nod and agree, oftentimes he would be right, Mystic Meg he likes to call himself.

I’ve stood alongside Green putting his arm around players and giving them confidence, gesticulating his arms with the speed of light. I’ve seen Chapman taking the mick out of certain players, usually Jamie Elkes, but the defender who has been superb this season taking it in good faith (I think).

I’ve been in the presence of the great men for a mere 10 seconds before they go into a ramble about a tactic they are trying or a player who can’t play. I’ve had the pleasure of conducting over 20 interviews with players, coaching staff, and the two chairmen. There’s been banter, there’s been fun, there’s been thrills, there’s been spills, this is football and they love every second.

It’s not only the management who has accepted me in a warm and welcoming way, the players have embraced me and my musings in the dressing room for months now.

Following Lichfield’s 3-0 away defeat against Leek in the Staffordshire Senior Cup, I had no ride back home. Beeson the boisterous goalkeeper, gave me a lift, not only did he give me a lift, but he took me to my flat in Derby and not Tamworth, which could have been easier for him.

So, when the winning penalty hit the back of Beeson’s net, the devastation amongst the squad was obvious, the football pitch can be a lonely place, but the team were consoling each other after the shootout.

These group of players are a big family, the banter and laughs they have with each other are infectious. The look of sadness on the players faces really just highlighted the squad’s belief that they had in themselves.

I speak from an outsider’s perspective, but those group of players will be back and next season they will push on, they deserve to. Everyone within the club deserves every bit of success that they get.

As Saturday’s game against Highgate brings the season to a rather mellow close, those players should hold their heads up high when they look back at what they’ve achieved in this monumental season.

I can’t wait to be back in the summer to do this all over again.

April 22, 2022

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