When invited to attend the customary walkabout at a spectator-less Wembley stadium yesterday, York City manager Gary Mills’s response to the Football Association was a firm ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
Mills has been in enough finals in his time to know that too much can be made of the notion of players being daunted as they walk out onto the big stage immediately prior to a final.
He walked out into Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium for the 1980 European Cup final as a 19-year-old, so he is sure his York City players can handle today’s FA Trophy final.
Besides, York have become old hands at the Wembley routine. This is their third visit to the national stadium in three seasons, and they are due back there tomorrow week for the Blue Square Premier League play-off final against Luton Town.
That is undoubtedly the priority, with the prize for beating Luton next week being a return to the Football League which the club, and the town, crave so much.
But as well as the chance to put some silverware in the relatively bare Bootham Crescent cabinet, today’s game can also serve as an invigorating experience for the Minstermen.
“I didn’t see what we’d get from it,” said Mills of the traditional pre-match stroll. “What matters is turning up for the game. We are here to win a football match.
“I didn’t want players going to the stadium saying ‘this is amazing’ and then having that image dominate their thoughts all night before the game. The night before should be about relaxing.
“They enjoy playing. I didn’t see any nerves on Monday (in the play-off semi-final against Mansfield) and that was a big, big game. Some had never played in a game like that and they handled themselves magnificently.
“Until you cross that line you don’t find out about a player. Some handle it better than others.
“If they can handle it, and I’m confident my players can, then we’ll be all right (today).”
Mills is by no means throwing his players to the lions today at Wembley.
York are favourites against Newport, even though in their two league meetings recently they failed to beat the Welsh side.
But with two of the most important games in the club’s history over the coming days, Mills anticipates his men will swim rather than sink.
Their current run of form – unbeaten in seven with only four away defeats all season – suggests his faith is well-placed.
“The players’ dedication and commitment is a major strength of ours,” said Mills, who is in his first full season in charge of the club.
“I’ve never had to say to any of my players ‘you’re not giving me 100 per cent’. I’ve had to say ‘slow down’ sometimes because they’ve given me too much with their will to win.
“And we haven’t worried about playing anyone away from home.
“We are in the away dressing room and maybe that will be an omen.
“We have a routine which is not going to change, we have prepared for the final as we have for each game.
“When we played Newport County they were desperate for points to stay in the league. Any manager will tell you they are the toughest games to play in.
“We didn’t catch them at the start of the season or when they had already ensured their survival. But having said that we didn’t play at their place how we can play.
“When we played for 45 minutes how we can play in the home game against Newport there was only one team in it.
“But we’ll concentrate on ourselves (today).
“We’ve got ourselves to Wembley twice when some were doubting we could, and we want to win both of them.
“But I don’t want to get carried away with the occasion of Wembley. It’s a fantastic stage but it’s only a fantastic stage if you win.
“The job for us is to go there and do that twice.”
Taking today’s game in isolation has been one of the major challenges for Mills this week.
The fans have acknowledged the importance of the FA Trophy final by buying 8,000 tickets, with a flood of interest expected to swell indifferent early sales for the more important play-off final should they win this afternoon.
In turn, Mills is hoping a positive outcome today will serve as a boon for his players.
“If we can go and win this game we’ll take a lot into next Sunday,” said the former Tamworth manager.
“We had a couple of days off after the play-off semi-final where everyone went and did their separate things.
“Then we met up on Thursday and headed straight down to Hertfordshire that morning and have been concentrating solely on this game since then.
“It’s important we go and win the FA Trophy because it could provide us with a massive confidence boost for the game next Sunday.”
York stand to make around £325,000 from their two Wembley visits. Sandwiched in between their two dates under the arch, York’s plans for a new 6,000-seater community stadium at Monks Cross are due to go before the city council’s planning committee next Thursday. It is a pivotal period in the club’s 90-year history, something of which Mills is fully aware.
He still recalls fondly the 1980 European Cup final which Forest won 1-0 against Hamburg.
It was the highlight of an otherwise modest playing career for the 50-year-old, which helps him contextualise the importance of the next few days for the Minstermen.
“Every year that goes by it gets better and better,” said Mills, who was the youngest to have played in a European Cup final when he was picked by Brian Clough.
“To be able to look back and think ‘I achieved that’ is special.
“No one can ever take it away from me. It’s something I’m very, very proud of. Nottingham Forest didn’t get the recognition they deserved for winning back-to-back European Cups.
“That’s what makes this next fortnight all the more special for me. It’s up there at the top for me personally. As a manager, to win both Wembley finals would be an incredible achievement and for the football club as a whole it would be amazing.
“This football club has had an unbelievable season. And we want to continue that by being the team travelling north with the trophy.”