Published: 08:00, 10 May 2020
| Updated: 09:00, 10 May 2020
Ebbsfleet United’s Wembley hero from 12 years ago doesn’t like to make a big deal of his momentous moment but hasn't got far to look for reminders.
Chris McPhee sunk the only goal of the game against his former team Torquay United on May 10, 2008 - just four minutes after his penalty was saved.
He celebrated with team-mates and family members that day, some of whom hadn’t seen him play in years, but since then he’s become a friend and work colleague of one of the beaten Torquay team and has even recently moved to the seaside town.
Days after the final he ended up sharing a cab to an England C international with Kevin Nicholson, the man whose last-ditch challenge was in vain as McPhee stabbed home John Akinde’s cross. The two now work together as coaches at Exeter City.
Another player he knows well, Chris Todd, was the player outmuscled by Akinde - then only 19 - as the big forward made the goal that won Fleet the FA Trophy.
McPhee recalls that final, 12 years on, and remembers it vividly.
It was an emotional rollercoaster for the Fleet player who was only with the club for a season.
Torquay, who finished the season third in the Conference that year, were favourites to win the final against Liam Daish’s mid-table team.
“I was fulfilling a childhood dream,” said McPhee, who left the club that summer for a move back to the west of the country.
“We were playing at the best stadium in the world and it was surreal. I remember going up with the team the day before and having a look around and you feel that you should be having your shades on and your camera around your neck, proper tourist kind of stuff.
“I was just walking around thinking, ‘this is amazing’. When you stand in the stadium and look around it feels really small. On the TV it looks so different but on the pitch everything seems really enclosed.
“During the warm-up it was amazing, so many people had come to watch. I had never played infront of that any people, maybe 20-30,000 before. But 40,000 people were there and Wembley was only half full. It was equivalent to Anfield at the time.
“The warm-up was relaxed and because it was such a hot sunny day, it felt like we were having a pre-season game, but once it kicked off, the crowd became a complete blur.
“I could only remember small parts of the game. I could remember Lance Cronin’s (the Fleet keeper) save from Nico’s free-kick.”
The first half was to be a real mix of emotions for the former Brighton player. Torquay keeper Martin Rice managed to deny McPhee from the penalty spot.
Remembering that moment, he said: “I look back at the penalty and think ‘I am more famous for missing a penalty at Wembley than scoring the winning goal!’
“It was harder to actually take the second penalty in the semi-final. I had played with Aldershot keeper Nikki Bull and was friends with him at the time."
Fleet would beat the Shots 3-1 in the semi-final first leg, with McPhee scoring two penalties.
He said: “I scored the first penalty going left and when I was putting the ball down for the second one he was in my ear saying, ‘so are you going the same side or what? come on give me a clue!’ I just thought, 'I am going to smash this down the middle!' He dived fortunately and it was cleanly struck.
"With the one at Wembley I didn’t feel nervous at all. I had scored every penalty I had taken that season, not a problem. I thought ‘let’s just drill it down the middle, nice and clean’ but I slightly struck across it and it went right rather than down the middle.
“Ricey (the Torquay keeper) dived and caught it with his leg. Had I hit it clean it would have been a goal but I suppose it added to the drama, it was infront of the Torquay fans.”
McPhee had moved to Fleet that season after a year with Torquay.
Those fans might well have enjoyed the penalty drama but just four minutes later McPhee was in the right place at the right time to convert Akinde’s cross.
He said: “There is a picture of me sliding the ball it into the net and Kevin (Nicholson) in the background trying to catch up! We have plenty of banter about that goal.”
The two met days after the final and there was no escape for the loser.
McPhee recalls the moment their friendship started.
He said: “As we were doing the build-up for the final I got a call-up to the England C Team. I thought it was a joke at the time, I thought someone was pulling my leg.
"We had to go to Wales and a car came to collect me. The driver knocked on my door, I got my stuff and put it in the boot. I opened the back door and sitting there was Kevin Nicholson! He lived just down the road. He said ‘you are xxx joking!’
“But we got chatting on that trip and we have become really good friends since. I played with him at Torquay and now we work together at Exeter.”
McPhee had his close family there to celebrate at Wembley that day.
He said: “I am so thankful for whoever brought out the Ebbsfleet at Wembley book. Within it is a picture that I would love a copy of.
“The team are lining up before the game and it's taken from behind. You can see all the names on the shirts, and in the background, in the crowd, you can see literally every one of my family in there.
“My sister was in the disabled area, suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. She had been bed-bound for a year and half at the time. That was the first time she had watched me for years and years.
“When I pulled my shirt off to celebrate, I said ‘that was for you!’
“My grandparents were there too and they hadn’t watched me for years either. There was my mum and dad, my fiance in there too and my step son was a mascot. Literally everyone who ever really helped and supported me through that year and my career was in that picture.”
Another of the coaches he now works with at Exeter, Alex Pope, was also in the crowd, supporting Torquay.
McPhee’s goal was enough to win the game, making for another disappointing afternoon for the fans from Devon. They had only recently lost to Exeter days before in the play-offs.”
Fleet’s winning captain was Paul McCarthy. His influence was immense said the Wembley match winner.
McCarthy died three years ago, at the age of 45.
“He was our guiding light, our leader, our captain," he said.
"I know I was only at Ebbsfleet for a year but he was in my car school, he was a rock, a diamond and someone you could talk to about football, talk to about life and he was so humane. He had so much time for everybody, he put effort and work in with the younger players.
"Without him being on that pitch there is no way in the world we would have won that game.
“He wasn’t a man of massive words in the dressing room but he was able to have little chats with people, or if it was needed to be said infront of everybody he would say it, but never in a condescending way.
“Sometimes on the pitch he might have to give you a rollocking, but it was the right words at the right time and the right manner, and you can understand why he had such a good career and why so many people have so many good things to say about him.
“He was a gentleman off the field, someone who was so knowledgeable and supportive on the training ground and someone that helped you every step of the way on the pitch.”
McPhee retired from playing after a spell at Weymouth. He had been back to Torquay for another season after leaving Fleet and had spells at Kidderminster and Salisbury.
He’s just moved to a house in Torquay - spending lockdown landscaping the garden - and is loving his job coaching at Exeter. He is hoping to pass on his knowledge and experience. Not that he boasts.
“I very rarely talk about it unless people bring it up,” he said, of the goal and the triumph.
“When Kev (Nicholson) first came to work for us as head of coaching, he came into the classroom and said, ‘has Macca been banging on about that goal at Wembley?!’
“Half of the boys didn’t even know! New coaches that come in don’t even realise I used to play.
“If I can give help, advise and experience to young players, on a personal level I will, but I am very much a humble person and I don’t go banging on about this that and the other.
“I do try and use a lot of my experiences and I have sometimes used the example of me missing a penalty at Wembley but was able, with support of my team-mates, to put that behind me and carry on. If I hadn’t have done that then I wouldn’t have been in the position I was to score the winning goal.
“What I am doing at the moment I love. There is something in the back of my mind asking that question, could you go onto the next level? Could you go on and be a first team coach? Could you coach and manage in the Football League?
“I was bullied as a young player, I then went right the way up to being captain of a football team and being player/manager of a team and the twists and turns of my life have been quite amazing.
“I now just want to use those experiences so the young players I am working with can get ready for any situation.”
*You can watch Fleet’s big win today (Sunday) in full from 2.50pm on the football club’s official YouTube channel.
More by this authorLuke Cawdell
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