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INTERVIEW: A bit of a weird feeling

Ben Barclay on his winning goal, and missing out on the final

22 May 2023


INTERVIEW: A bit of a weird feeling

Ben Barclay on his winning goal, and missing out on the final

22 May 2023

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The agony and ecstasy of football was perhaps best summed up on Saturday during Paul Simpson’s post-match team talk when he took a moment to single out Ben Barclay – who misses out of the Sunday showcase final due to the loan agreement with parent club Stockport – for his efforts in getting the club through the Bradford double-header.

The player was visibly gutted, having netted the match winning goal, only to be ruled out for the play-off final, whilst at the same time experiencing the high of having been involved in an occasion like that.

We caught up with him moments after full time to talk about the situation.

“It’s a bit of a weird feeling,” he said. “Do you know what, I didn’t know until the break at extra time. Denno came up to me and told me that Stockport had won on penalties, so that was a bit of a kick in the stomach.

“I kind of had a feeling - no, not a feeling, I’d prepared myself a few weeks ago for it in case it happened. Sort of after the game here when it was a draw, I thought both teams looked like they might make the play-offs, so I was ready for whatever scenario.

“The feeling was great, sending the club to Wembley, but it is a kick in the teeth that I can’t play. But it is what it is.

“To be honest at the moment I still feel like I’m on a bit of a high. This feeling is brilliant, probably one of the best I’ve experienced. I reckon on the day, or a couple of days before with the build-up, the travelling down, staying there, being in Wembley and not being involved - I think that’s when it’ll sink in.

“Right now I’m honestly still buzzing, even though my face probably doesn’t say that. I’m knackered!”

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A player who the Blue Army have taken to their hearts, he spoke once again about what has been a tough season, with a troublesome ankle injury to overcome prior to his triumphant return.

“We spoke about it after the Barrow game, didn’t we,” he commented. “It’s been a difficult year, so stop-start, with me thinking I was getting back fit only to get injured again.

“I eventually got in the team and for the first few games I had to dig in to get through to the end of them. I’ve enjoyed this run of games, but, you know what, I felt a bit of pressure.

“The team had got us into this position, I’ve come in and Morgs, Corey, Mells, all of the centre backs had been doing a great job, so I had to come in and really step up.

“We wanted to keep the team in the play-offs, automatics, whatever, and I wanted to do what I could to help. I feel like I’ve done ok and I’m happy that we’ve made this day special.”

Saturday was certainly a day where the levels of positivity were high, almost from the moment the first door was opened to allow the Sky team in to do their setting up.

“The minute the final whistle went last week, honestly, I can’t describe it,” he explained. “We finished that game on Sunday and we knew we would come here and score at least two.

“We’ve had to score three, but we did it. We made it hard by having to go to extra time, but after full time at Valley Parade we got in the dressing room and there was barely a negative moan or mood.

“Everyone was just like, right, let’s go home and do it. I think if we’d played them back at their place we might even have done it there. I think it was just that we knew we were better than them and that we were going to score goals.

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“Them scoring right at the start of the second part of extra time, first minute, something like that, you do have thoughts going through your head. We’ve seen other play-off games this week and you think, oh no, is it written in the stars.

“Look at Notts County coming back, Sheff Wednesday the other night, so you wonder if it’s going to happen to us. That’s where you have to show character, put that to the back of your mind, stick to the original task and, like I say, we knew we were good enough to score goals and create chances.”

And it’s that level of belief that’s kept the club in the top seven, almost from day one.

“It’s crazy,” he agreed. “Credit to all of the lads in there, every single one of the squad, not just the 18 that get put out, or the 11 that play. It’s all of the staff, all of the squad, even the injured lads.

“Everyone has been called upon at different times, chucked in for a couple of games then injured, or next thing not been put on the bench when someone has come back, and it’s tough when that happens. I think everyone has come in and always done well.”

But enough of all that - what about the goal!

“Oh, do you know what, it’s just crazy,” he said. “The ball came in and I’ve changed my run. I was looking to go round the back, but I was getting no joy.

“I feel like they overloaded the back area so they were blocking the runs and you couldn’t get in. So I thought, yeah, I’m just going to nip through the middle. Then the ball was there and I thought, oh no, I’m not getting that, because my legs were cramping.

“I stretched as far as I could, got the slightest touch and instantly I thought, well that’s not going in. I hadn’t put enough on it, I hadn’t put it in the corner. I had a rough idea of where the goal was, the ball was pretty central, wasn’t it, but I looked and I thought, what’s the keeper doing there.

“He was up against the post and it just trickled past him. Then, yeah, I was buzzing. I ran off and I knew I was going that way towards the crowd, and I turned round, and I thought, what, no one is really with me.

“I was wondering if I was offside, so I looked back at the linesman to see if the flag was up, and it wasn’t. That’s when I see a few of the lads coming over, and that was that.”

“Celebrating in front of the fans was amazing,” he continued. “The Warwick Road End, everywhere was packed out, and the noise was excellent.

“There were a couple of moments where you look at the clock and you think, we’ve only got three minutes here until he’s going to add the extra time and when you hear the cheering it gives you a bit of a lift, if you like. Maybe it’s even just a 5% little spring to push out, or whatever it is. Honestly them cheering us on is massive, it helps.”

With that part of the job topped and tailed, there’s now the small matter of a Wembley final and Stockport County to contend with.

“It’s not going to be easy at all,” he told us. “We played them at their place and I think we were a bit light on numbers that day, and we weren’t at it.

“We got off to a bit of a slow start when we came here but I think we really took the game to them, after they’d taken a lead, and it was tight across the 90 minutes. It’ll be similar next week.

“I heard a couple of interviews when we were coming into the play-offs with everybody saying that all four teams were evenly matched and that they were all going to be tight games. It’s looked that way, so it’s all to play for.

“And getting to Wembley is really special. As a player you know that you might never get the chance to go, and this is my first opportunity, so with it falling the way it has it’s a bit annoying.

“But yeah, fans, young kids, they might never have been to Wembley before, or they might not get the chance to go again for the next 20 years, or whatever, so it’ll be an amazing day. I hope everyone travelling down enjoys it because it will be exciting.”

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