STEPPING out onto the pitch at Wembley marks the fulfilment of many a player’s lifelong dreams and ambitions.
With 90,000 fans filling the stadium a cacophony of noise provides a nerve-jangling backdrop for those first emotion-filled steps onto the historic surface, the ultimate stage set for what will probably be the biggest game of a career.
All eyes are on the fortunate ones taking to the turf. But just a few steps away stand the nearly men, those who have missed out on the match of a lifetime through injury or suspension. How painful to come so near, yet so far, to witness the fanfare yet take no part in the parade.
It’s a feeling Gregor Robertson knows only too well.
A persistent thigh injury robbed him of a place in Chesterfield’s line-up in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final last season, and with it what would most probably be his only shot at Wembley glory.
Rarely does a player in the lower leagues get a second chance to shine at the home of football, yet Robertson finds himself in that privileged position.
Now with Crewe Alexandra, the 29-year-old is looking to bounce back from the disappointment he suffered last season.
“Last year was one of the toughest of my career, I was injured for the final and despite trying my best I didn’t quite make the squad,” he said.
“I’d had a persistent thigh injury during the season but I really did some damage to it in training just weeks before the final.
“From then on I tried my utmost to get back to full fitness and resorted to all sorts of things in an attempt to get back to full fitness.
“I spent a lot of time working with the physio and at one stage I even tried acupuncture to see if that helped.”
During his race to get back to match fitness there was always the nagging doubt he might not make the team.
Despite trying his best, the manager revealed the squad the day before the final and to Gregor’s dismay he wasn’t to be included.
“At the time I thought I was going to be in the team because the manager had said so, but to find out I wasn’t even on the bench was a real shock,” he said.
“I spoke to the manager after the game and he told me that he knew I wasn’t 100% fit. At that point I had to admit it and accept that I wasn’t going to play at Wembley.”
The day of the final was one of mixed emotions for Robertson.
“It was a strange feeling being in the lovely changing rooms with the team before kick off,” he said.
“It didn’t really hit me that I wasn’t playing until I walked out of the tunnel behind the lads and saw flames going up and the fans all around the stadium.
“I thought to myself ‘I can’t believe I’m missing this’. Though saying that the game went well for us and I was delighted with the team’s win and it was a great day for the club.”
It was one of several painful memories Robertson has of his time at Chesterfield, though he’s quick to point out it wasn’t all bad with the Spireites.
“My time at Chesterfield was a bit up and down and there were some good times and bad times. Despite the victory in the JPT final last year, we unfortunately also got relegated that season.
“When I look back now I have good memories and I’ve got a lot of good friends there.”
Now 12 months on from his Wembley woe, Robertson has started a new chapter in his career and hopes to play a much bigger role in Crewe’s bid to win the JPT final.
“It was a bigger spectacle than I had ever imagined and although I’ve got a winners’ medal, you never really feel part of the win.
“So this year I really hope I can play a bigger role and get another winners’ medal.”
Robertson’s desire to feature in the final is understandable given the agony of last year – but he’s stopped short of wrapping himself in cotton wool to ensure he’s fit to play.
“I’m playing my game normally - you can’t let yourself think about getting injured,” he said.
“I’ve been fit the whole season and I don’t see any reason why that should change. I’m focused on the game and when the day arrives I hope to be fit and in the team.
“It would be great to get a good result and it would mean a lot to me considering the tough time I had last year.”
By Tom Keating