WHEN Garry Thompson first played at Wembley, he was followed to the capital by four coachloads of family and friends all intent on sharing in his big day.
Six years have passed since the Kendal-born midfielder marked that first visit to the rebuilt national stadium by scoring as Morecambe clinched promotion to the Football League by edging out Exeter City in a thrilling Conference play-off final.
Since then, Wembley has become something of a second home for Thompson, who has been back twice with Scunthorpe United and once sporting the colours of Bradford City.
On each occasion, north London hosted a mini-invasion from the Cumbrian’s hometown but all that will change today thanks to an unfortunate clash of dates.
“This weekend is my best friend’s stag do and all my mates are going to that,” explains the 32-year-old to the Yorkshire Post with a smile. “What makes it worse is I am the best man and have had to organise the whole weekend. My mate is called Stuart Reid and he was best man at my wedding. We’ve been best mates since we were kids so it is unfortunate that I can’t make it.
“A trip to York Races (yesterday) was the first bit and then they are all off into Leeds. Fifteen or 16 were going to the races with a few more coming through (on the Saturday). This was the only weekend when everyone could make it.
“They are all gutted I can’t make it. Or so they say anyway! At first, we were going to try and factor the play-off final into the weekend but arrangements had already been made and it proved impossible to change.
“Fair play to Stu, he was the first to ring me after the Burton semi-final to congratulate me on getting to Wembley. He knows I am missing his stag do for the best possible reason. And if he is still compos mentis, I am sure he’ll be the first on the ‘phone after the final whistle.
“He has said they’ll all watch the final in the pub and celebrate when Bradford win. I’m still hoping to see Stu at some stage over the weekend.”
Thompson is yet to write his best man speech, having been too focused on the challenge of helping City into League One.
If Phil Parkinson’s side can make it three victories over Northampton Town this season, it will be the third time Thompson has celebrated promotion via the play-offs at Wembley.
In 2007, he was part of the Morecambe side that, after edging past York City over two legs in the semi-finals, came from behind to beat Exeter City in front of a then record 40,043 crowd.
Two years later, he was on the bench as Scunthorpe United edged out Millwall in a five-goal thriller to clinch a place in the Championship. Seeing off Aidy Boothroyd’s Cobblers today, therefore, would be enough to earn Thompson a notable treble.
The Bantams midfielder, also part of the Iron squad that triumphed in the 2009 JPT final, said: “Everyone is excited. It has been a while since our last game against Burton. This season, we have been used to playing twice a week so to have almost a fortnight between matches has left everyone chomping at the bit.
“We had a couple of days off to spend with our families earlier this week. That was nice, as it allowed us to recharge our batteries and I have already felt the benefit of that since we returned to training.
“The big thing about play-offs is how you perform on the day. There is expectation through being touted as favourites. That brings a little bit of pressure. But we know what it is all about and it would be great to win another promotion.
“In 2007, the build-up was a little bit frustrating because I had a sore hamstring and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be fit. I’d missed the semi-final second leg after failing a fitness test.
“I’d had an injection in my hamstring to try and settle it down. But it didn’t work. Of course, once we got through, I was delighted. But I was also worried if I would be fit or not. Thankfully, I managed to play as it turned into a brilliant day.”
Thompson’s big moment came three minutes before half-time with Morecambe trailing 1-0. A long ball foward by Jim Bentley prompted a mistake in the Exeter defence and Thompson capitalised in fine style with a left foot shot that cannoned into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
“For the next few minutes,” he says, “I was a bit ‘wow’ and it took a while to get my head back. But, eventually, I did. We really dug in as a team and then, near the end, Danny Carlton popped up with the winner. We got what we deserved, as we’d been the better team and created the most chances.
“But it was still a brilliant feeling when that final whistle went. I’d been at Morecambe for nine years, so to get the club into League Two from the Conference was a great feeling. Something really special to be a part of, that was made even better by managing to get my name on the scoresheet and having so many friends and family there to share the moment.
“Four buses came down from Kendal and the entire day will live long in the memory. A lot of them won’t be there this time because of the stag do but it is going to be a really good day.
“Getting promoted at Wembley really is an amazing feeling. It is such an impressive stadium. I only went to the old one as a fan, when Everton played Crystal Palace (in the Full Members Cup) at the age of eight but I have been a few times now to the new one.
“The Morecambe one was that bit special because it was the first year since Wembley had opened. I think it was only the fourth or fifth game held there and the crowd was a decent one, which added to the whole experience.
“The party was great afterwards, as well. I am sure it will be just as good (today), provided we win of course.”