Having chance to play at Wembley still hasn't sunk in for Hornchurch defender Hayles
- Credit: Ritchie Sumpter @ JMS Photograph
From playing Wembley doubles over the park to actually stepping out at Wembley Stadium is the realisation for Hornchurch defender Rickie Hayles after they bagged a spot in the FA Trophy final.
The Urchins drew 3-3 with National League side Notts County before winning 5-4 in a penalty shoot-out, with experienced defender Hayles dispatching one of those spot-kicks.
But the former Billericay Town and East Thurrock United man can’t believe they will actually get the chance to play at the national stadium after a superb Trophy run.
“I would imagine it’s everyone’s dream to play at Wembley Stadium,” Hayles said. “I mean I can’t speak for everyone but all I remember as a kid is everyone playing Wembley knockouts or Wembley doubles over the park or football courts so I think that speaks for itself.
“It’s an absolute dream come true and we’re all so excited. The group WhatsApp group has been mental.
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“The feeling is indescribable and I’m not quite sure the magnitude of this has quite sunken in yet. I mean I’m back at work servicing boilers and every now and then it just hits me and I still can’t believe we actually did it.”
Hayles also feels this journey has been even more special due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions which has seen them only competing in the Trophy after the Isthmian League campaign ground to a halt at the beginning of November.
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“This cup run has been amazing, especially in such tough times. It’s brought us closer together as a group and really made us appreciate football a lot more," added Hayles.
“I’m so glad it’s also given people something to look forward to because mental health is no joke.
“The management, chairman, owners, etc have backed us all the way both financially and mentally, they’ve been great and probably the best I’ve experienced in my career, but I’d also like to thank all the other people associated with the club that you don’t see or hear what they do, including the fans.
“They’ve been so supportive, this is as much for them as it it for us and fingers crossed we can go that one step further and lift the trophy at one of the greatest stadiums in the world. Imagine a story like that to tell the grandkids one day!”
The centre-back feels the character in Mark Stimson's squad has been the reason behind their success.
“The squad has character in abundance. I guess that’s what our gaffer wants and sees in us. That never-say-die attitude, to give your all and see where you end up at the end. That’s all he asks of us," he added.
“That’s why we were able to come back from behind three times against a great Notts County side and then to hold our nerves and win on penalties was brilliant.
“The fact that I knew my two boys were at home watching was the only reason I felt brave enough to take one, I just wanted them to feel proud of me like I am of them every day.”