FAN’S TRIB­UTE IS WEM­B­LEY WALK...

The Football League Paper - - FINALTHIRD - By John Lyons

WAL­SALL play at Wem­b­ley for the first time in their 127-year his­tory next Sun­day – and one de­voted fan is al­ready on his way to the game!

But you’d be wrong to think that Graeme Brookes has lost the plot ahead of the Johnstone’s Paint Tro­phy fi­nal against Bris­tol City. For there is a touch­ing story be­hind his early de­par­ture to the home of foot­ball.

You see, 31-year-old Graeme is hon­our­ing the mem­ory of his late grand­fa­ther Ron­ald, who sup­ported the Sad­dlers for over 80 years, but never got to watch his beloved team at Wem­b­ley.

Blind

The fact that Ron­ald was deaf and blind didn’t put him off from fol­low­ing his team through thick and thin. And Graeme is walk­ing the 140 miles from Wal­sall’s Banks’ Sta­dium to Wem­b­ley to raise money for the Wal­sall So­ci­ety for the Blind.

The ac­tor said: “It all stems from some­thing my grand­fa­ther said to me af­ter we beat Read­ing 3-2 in the play-off fi­nal at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium in 2001.

“We were walk­ing along and he said ‘it’s nearly been per­fect. I just wish it had been Wem­b­ley’. That stayed with me.”

Brookes set off on his marathon walk at half-time in yes­ter­day’s game against MK Dons and ad­mit­ted he’s still in a state of shock that the Sad­dlers have fi­nally reached the fa­mous sta­dium.

“I don’t think it will re­ally hit me un­til I’m walk­ing down Wem­b­ley Way,” he said. “I was of­fered tick­ets to go to see cup fi­nals and Eng­land at Wem­b­ley over the years, but never took them be­cause I didn’t want to make my ‘de­but’ un­less it was Wal­sall.

“I wanted to see Wal­sall walk out on that field and this could be the one time in my life­time.”

Chal­lenge

But will he get there? For a man who has suf­fered se­ri­ous foot and knee in­juries, the walk isn’t go­ing to be easy. How­ever, he won’t lack de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“Ev­ery­one has talked to me about the phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenge, and men­tally I can blast through things,” he said. “I’ll do it on my arms and knees if nec­es­sary.”

When he puts his feet up when kick-off comes around, he’ll be hop­ing his side can pull off a shock against the League One run­away lead­ers.

“Since I’ve been a boy, we’ve been ter­ri­ble against the small teams,” he said. “When we play against the big teams, we turn up. On a good pitch against a team that’s go­ing to play foot­ball, we al­ways stand a chance.”

Brookes has al­ready had pledges of around £1,500 to his tar­get of £5,000. For more info, see wal­sall­towem­b­ley.com or @wal­sal­l2wem­b­ley on twit­ter.

HE’S OFF! Graeme Brookes is on the road to Wem­b­ley af­ter leav­ing Wal­sall yes­ter­day, inset

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