LEWWIS Spence thought his chances of following in his sister’s footsteps and walking out on Wembley’s hallowed turf had gone, writes Paul Martin.
But an incredible FA Trophy run has taken the midfielder and his Hornchurch teammates within 90 minutes of a date with destiny – an opportunity Spence is determined to seize.
The 33-year-old has watched on proudly from the stands at the home of English football in the past as his younger sibling, Chelsea and England star Drew, has won FA Cup finals and represented her country.
And if the former Crystal Palace man can help his eighth-tier outfit overcome non-league giants Notts County in Saturday’s semi-final, the roles will be reversed – a prospect which has Spence pinching himself.
“I’m smiling as I think about what it would mean for us both to have played there,” he said. “It would be some achievement.
“If you’d have asked us that when we were 15 and 10, we’d have laughed and said ‘there’s no way that will happen’.
“Watching my sister play at Wembley – there is no better inspiration. Even for me at 33 years old, she inspires me to go and play my football at the level I’m playing at.
“I’ve been nowhere near this close before. The closest would be as a kid in the park with a good imagination playing Wembley knockout with my mates!
“There’s a big hurdle to overcome this weekend. On paper, they should be a better outfit than us.
“But if we approach the game with the right mindset, there’s no reason we can’t get through.
“We don’t fear anyone and it’s about who turns up on the day.”
Spence has fond memories of Saturday’s opponents having made his professional debut against the Magpies as a Crystal Palace player in 2006 and scored at Meadow Lane during his Wycombe Wanderers days.
The midfielder helped the Chairboys earn promotion from League Two but reckons this weekend’s match is the biggest of his career in a run made all the more remarkable by the fact the Urchins have not played a league game since November 3.
“The age I’m at now, I’m probably not going to have another opportunity to get to Wembley,” he said.
“Promotion is about being consistent over a 46-game season, chalking wins up rather than one individual victory. In terms of a single match, this is the biggest I’ve played in. It’s massive.
“At the start, it was a bit of a running joke – ‘we have to win if we want any games of football’. But when you look back now, that’s been the reality.
“When something is taken away from you, you appreciate it a lot more and the buzz has been there through every round, just from having a game to play.
“We’ve gone from strength to strength. There was already a great spirit in the group but this has added fuel to the fire.”
Spence’s side are one of 228 Trident League clubs supported by Pitching In, a landmark grassroots sport investment programme launched by Ladbrokes with the support of its owner Entain.
In addition to financial support, the initiative highlights the importance of non-league clubs to their communities and Spence is dreaming of a reunion with the fans at Wembley, with May’s final earmarked as a test event to welcome spectators.
“Having not had fans in the ground for a lot of these wins, the thought of having all your family and friends at Wembley is a massive incentive,” he said.
“It’s a very well-run club and this run has brought everyone even closer together.
“We’ve celebrated together all the way through and I can only imagine what it would be like if we won on Saturday.”
Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/