Checkatrade Trophy final: school trip's over for Portsmouth defender Matt Clarke – now he has graduated to the real Wembley experience
As a five-a-side champion, Matt Clarke earned a place at Wembley - albeit in the stands.
Now the Checktrade Trophy has brought the central defender back to the venue he previously visited as a schoolboy.
Except on this occasion, he is permitted to enter the playing area as the outstanding 22-year-old strives for more Pompey silverware.
While a schoolboy in Ipswich, Clarke featured in a triumphant five-a-side team, success which earned the talented youngsters a trip to Wembley to watch England in action.
The identity of the opposition escapes him, the magnitude of the milestone eclipsing such minor detail.
Still, for the second time in his life, Clarke will venture to Wembley, retaining the excitement of that school pupil years earlier.
Sunderland provide the opponents, with more than 80,000 anticipated to be present.
And Clarke is relishing his return.
He said: ‘As a kid, it is probably everyone's dream to play at the home of football, it has to be.
‘I've previously been to watch England play at Wembley, but never played there.
‘At school, we won a five-a-side tournament and the prize was tickets to Wembley in a very unremarkable qualifier.
‘It was against someone unremarkable, I don’t even know who we played, someone like Estonia I think, I can’t remember.
‘Our seats were right at the top, not in a box or anything like that.
‘Mind you, having grown up in Ipswich, Portsmouth fans would have had a lot more experience of Wembley than most clubs and it’s something I’m looking forward to.
‘I know people had been boycotting it, but the prospect of spending the day there is maybe too good to turn down. It’s hard not to get engrossed in it.
‘I said to someone the other day, it’s remarkable how many players you speak to, experienced pros who have played hundreds of games, that have never played at Wembley.
‘It shows the significance of getting there - and you have to enjoy it because you don’t know when your next chance is going to be.
‘I’m popular at the moment too. It’s surprising how many people have never watched me, but want to come and watch me now!
‘People want to be involved, and it’s the same with the players and fans.’
Clarke has already claimed the League Two title since initially arriving on loan at Pompey in August 2015.
Last term he collected The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season, an accolade he will also be in the running for during the current campaign.
The Blues remain in the hunt for automatic promotion from League One, yet it continues to represent a tough task.
The alternative is the play-offs, where it is plausible they could once again meet Sunderland at Wembley, should results allow.
Clarke added: ‘At Bury, during half-time we were saying “Come on, one big push and we’ll be at Wembley”.
‘You never know when it comes around again - or even if it will.
‘I suppose we could be back there again in May against Sunderland in the play-off final, but we’ll concentrate on this appearance first, you never know what’s going to happen.
‘Sunderland is the biggest club in the league budget-wise and fan-wise, this is going to be a massive game.’
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