FAN’S TRIBUTE IS WEMBLEY WALK...
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.
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.”
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