Jemel Johnson could well go down in a niche bit of Berkshire footballing history on Saturday when Binfield walk out at Wembley.
The attacker was a 70th minute substitute for Jordan Brown when Thatcham Town lifter the FA Vase in 2018 after Shane Cooper-Clark scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot and Binfield, along with the Kingfishers are the only two sides from the Royal County to ever reach the final in its 47 year history.
Whether Johnson gets on the field or not, his experience will be invaluable to a squad that – while not inexperienced in itself – hasn’t necessarily walked out at Wembley Stadium in a national televised final, and he’ll certainly be ready.
Johnson – who has spent nearly seven seasons with the Moles in two spells – said: “The players have asked me for advice, what to expect, I don’t say much because I can tell them, but the feeling itself when you get there is 100 times better. You’re an amateur footballer playing at Wembley.
“It’s nerve wracking, the build up, all of it, but when you cross that line, it’s a football and a goal at either end. In 2018 I was nervous, but when I was subbed on, the moment I crossed that white line it was just another game of football. It’s surreal but that’s what it is!”
On Tuesday morning, the experienced forward was on hand to help chairman Bob Bacon unveil a special structure build by BBC Radio Berkshire listeners in the village: “I was brought out for the opening ceremony of Moles on the Roundabout, it was great though wasn’t it? It’s quite striking!
“There were actually a lot of people there, the chairman Bob Bacon, Parish Councillors, BBC Berkshire obviously and lots of people passing by on the school run.
“I only live in Bracknell so it’s been brilliant to see. When Thatcham made the final there wasn’t so much going on in the town, there was lots on social media and we had a media day at the club but no radio or anything like that.
“It’s a crazy thought to know I might represent both Berkshire clubs to have made the final. We won’t be told the squad though until Saturday, that’s standard practice though.”
Much has been made of the togetherness of the Binfield squad, pounding the motorways up and down the country, hunting down the Vase Final and Johnson says it is something that was key in the Thatcham side as well: “Both these experiences have been different, with Thatcham and Binfield, but the thing that is the same is the togetherness of the squad, that’s what gets you through going a goal down, penalty shootouts. You are prepared to put that extra yard in for your mates.”
“It’s a bit of a brotherhood, especially all those away journeys. It’s not an 11 or a 16, it is everyone inside and outside the squad.
“I’ve been outside the squad at times this season, I’ve been on the bench and it’s important we’re with the squad. I have to say, Phil Veal who’s travelled with us but not made the squad at times, he’s often the loudest, offering encouragement. That’s what marks out together teams, whether you’re in or out of the squad, that you are there for the team.
“Of course any player wants to play as much as they can, at 34 though I’m coming to the end and I have to accept I’m not going to play 90 minutes every week. I take a different role, but I am there and I am ready if I’m needed.
“That role? I have to motivate the players on the bench with me, the absolute most important thing in this competition is that we win and progress together.
“In some respects, this time around I am more relaxed, but when Broomey stepped up to take that penalty I was shaking! Probably because it was a shootout but this time feels just as good but what makes it more enjoyable now is I am seeing the others experience what I did that first time.”
Jemel’s first spell at the club tied in with a bit of a Hill Farm Lane baby-boom, but it’s something that’s been brought in to focus with Wembley on the horizon again and Johnson and his partner now having a second child: “I was part of the Binfield baby-boom, me, James Suarez, Garry Calloway and Paul Shone all had babies around the same time. I actually found the interview we did on BBC Berkshire the other day and listened back.
“Part of why I’ve carried on playing was my missus and I had a second child, but he wouldn’t have gotten to see me play whereas my eldest had seen his dad walkout at Wembley. It’s funny, because now they can both say that!
“I’ve just started coaching at Binfield, coaching the under 8s, shows how long ago that baby-boom was!”