Published: 06:00, 06 May 2020
| Updated: 09:59, 06 May 2020
Deal Town clinched the FA Vase two decades ago yet former boss Tommy Sampson never grows tired of watching that winning moment.
Sampson has watched Roly Graham’s 87th-minute winner daily, every day, for the past 20 years. It was a goal that clinched Deal the ‘non-league FA Cup’ against Chippenham Town and a goal that has gone down as one of the most historic in Kent football.
It was an achievement Sampson had worked many years towards and one he has celebrated ever since.
But since that glorious sunny day under the old Twin Towers, the former Deal boss has been on a different kind of journey, overcoming a stroke that nearly drove him to suicide and an illness that also took him close to death’s door.
The 65-year-old may have had his torments and troubles since that fabulous single-goal victory on May 6, 2000 but his memory hasn’t diminished one bit.
“The raw from the crowd was unbelievable”
Recounting that moment when Graham’s volley hit the net, he said: “I was used to playing games infront of 200 people but I remember the roar from the crowd, it was unbelievable.
“I have got the goal on my ipad. Not a day goes by that I don’t watch it. I have a four or five minute clip. I remember back then my heart rate went through the roof. It still gets me now.
“Winning the FA Vase is my badge of honour. I have seen people call me a Kent football legend but I shouldn’t be. I am just an ordinary guy who has worked hard and done the best that he can.”
After Deal, Sampson had gone onto manager at Redhill. Deal beat them 4-1 in an FA Vase second qualifying round match in 2007 at the Charles Ground.
“That was an emotional day,” he recalled. “I remember a little girl coming up to me at the end of the game and telling me how she was there that day at Wembley.
“It was lovely to talk to someone about it and to know that I had touched the lives of people I didn’t know.
“I had got Deal there. I touched people’s lives and there must be some people thinking now, ‘I wonder how Tommy is getting on'."
“He expected a lot and I won him the FA Vase”
Sampson had done wonders with Herne Bay before arriving at Deal Town, taken on by ambitious chairman Roy Smith.
He had clinched back to back titles before his seven-year spell at Winch’s Field was ended.
“Herne Bay had sacked me,” he recalled. “I had won them the treble (the season before) but got a fax on New Year’s Day to say their main sponsors had withdrawn their money and as of April 1 I would be a free agent.
“I was free to talk to anyone I wanted. The Deal chairman had seen what I had done there and asked me to come and manage them. I could see they were going sideways.
“I asked what he wanted of me. He said ‘just make sure you are always available to play golf’ and I was. He always said to me, ‘don’t bring me problems, only solutions.’
“I was on fantastic money but he expected us to win things and we did. He expected a lot and I won him the FA Vase.”
“I didn’t mess around with negotiations...I just told the players I would double what they were on”
Sampson built his success at Deal around a team which he had put together from his former club Herne Bay.
Twelve of his old players followed him to the Charles Ground in the summer of 1998. Seven of those remained ahead of the Wembley final in 2000.
He said: “Herne Bay were the best team in the league and I encouraged all of my players to come with me. I don’t think they have forgiven me.
“I didn’t mess around with negotiations, I wasn’t prepared to nitpick, I just told the players I would double what they were on and that I wanted to win the FA Vase.
“I remember giving Jason Ash an extra £10 but I told him not to tell anyone. He travelled by train from Bexleyheath but never missed training, he was so committed. I knew if I got my three centre-halves at Deal we would have a chance.
“The team I had at Wembley were the most disciplined football team, like a machine. My relationship with the players was a big thing for me. They trusted me.
“If you don’t love your players you are not going to get anywhere.
“They could tell me anything and they would tell me everything, from affairs to whatever. Someone could be going through a bad time and I would tell people they were injured, I would try and look after them.”
“He said we’re going to Wembley and wanted me to be part of it”
Tommy Sampson’s big signing that summer was Steve Lovell.
He recalls the moment he realised the former Welsh international was available.
“I had seen in the Evening Post that he had left Tonbridge Angels but he said he didn’t want to play in the Kent League.”
Lovell takes up the story.
The Welshman said: “I wasn’t going to play that season but Tommy persuaded me on the golf course. He said to me ‘we’re going to go to Wembley this year’ and he wanted me to be a part of it.
“I never thought I would get to Wembley but it was the pull of it with Tom trying to persuade me and he did, we had some great times, I was really pleased for Tom, he wanted to do it badly and he did it.”
Lovell’s striker partner was to be Steve Marshall. It was his cross that led to Graham’s winner.
“Steve was 6ft 1inch and was quick as lightening,” said Tommy.
“We could play the ball and Marshall would run in behind. Lovell was brilliant.
“He has been fantastic to me. He has come around to visit me many times for a cup of tea and is the best professional footballer that I have ever worked with. He’s a great fella, he has seen me cry, depressed, he has been a great help to me.”
Read part two of our three part feature tomorrow, where Tommy recalls the moment that nearly cost Deal Town the FA Vase and the best £5 he ever spent.
More by this authorLuke Cawdell