After finally making his comeback from injury, Gateshead’s Jamie Chandler has one thing on his mind; a return to Wembley Stadium.
The former Sunderland and England U18 midfielder returned to training this week and took part in a Heed reserve game, after three months kicking his heels on the touchline.
As he closes in on a first team comeback Chandler admitted that his absence had been a frustrating time for him.
“It’s fantastic to be back. It is frustrating to miss training, never mind a game.
To be back amongst it is great and to be back on that training pitch, kicking a ball again, having a bit of banter with the lads. I’ve missed it.
To be back, amongst the boys, is fantastic”
The Tynesiders sit in ninth position in the Vanarama National League table, five points behind Dover Athletic, who occupy the final play-off position.
In one of the most keenly-contested play-off battles for a long time they are one of twelve teams in with a good shout of making the top five and with the possibility of ending their season at Wembley.
For the Heed, there are two chances of big day out at the national stadium before the end of the campaign.
A last sixteen FA Trophy tie against AFC Fylde is on the agenda for Gateshead in the next two weeks and with it comes a real chance of a first Wembley trip since their heartbreaking play-off final defeat against Cambridge United in May 2014.
However Chandler has also experienced the highs that a victorious day at Wembley can offer, after playing his part in Darlington’s dramatic Trophy final win over Mansfield Town in 2011.
And now he is targeting a third and possibly fourth trip to the capital.
“It (the FA Trophy) has to be a priority. Every competition you enter you want to win.
Like in the FA Cup, you want to get to the third round, that is your final and we had that experience last year (against West Brom).
The FA Trophy is a fantastic competition and I have been fortunate enough to experience that with Darlington. It is a great day out, you have your whole family there, you get your suit on and you’re at Wembley, which is the best place to play your football.
If we can give the fans another day out, and give the chairman and his family that day out at Wembley, it would be a fantastic achievement for this club.
we need to target the play-offs and why not get back to Wembley?
We have everything professional around us, everything is done for us, the structure is fantastic and the people who back us deserve another day out there and a bit of success. So the play-offs and Wembley, if I am being greedy”
Chandler went on to state that the play-off battle is “where this club should be” as they have put a poor run of form behind them, with some tipping them as possible outside bets for relegation at that time.
“Earlier in the season we had a bad run and people were talking about looking over our shoulders.
Now, with a big home game to come, we are only five points off the play-offs. That has to spur us on in that dressing room.
A couple of wins and you can soon be at the top, we are looking that way. We have got ourselves in a great position, the boys have been fantastic and to get in that play-off mix is where this club should be.
With the playing squad and staff we possess we should be in there”
It has been a season of change at the International Stadium.
During the summer the club had new owners, with Richard and Julie Bennett taking over the club from former owner Graham Wood.
Malcolm Crosby was appointed as new Heed boss, following the departure of Gary Mills to Wrexham.
And despite a positive start to his tenure, results and performances dipped, meaning Crosby left the club in November.
His replacement was Gateshead-born Neil Aspin
The former Halifax Town boss (pictured left) have overseen a mini-revival on the south bank of the Tyne and Chandler has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“He has been great. He wants to get me back on the pitch, like myself, so he has pushed me.
He has had plenty of communication with the physio to see what I am up to.
Results have improved and, although it was sad to see Malcolm go, the new manager brings the passion and commitment, which you need at this level.
When the players are putting in the performances they have in recent weeks, it shows what an asset he can be to the football club”
Next up on the agenda for Chandler and his team-mates is a home game against Grimsby Town.
The Mariners conjure up fond memories for the Heed Army.
May 2012 saw the two sides face each other in the Conference play-off semi finals, with the Tynesiders prevailing 4-2 on aggregate.
The second leg saw 8,000 pack out the International Stadium and Chandler is looking forward to another big game against Paul Hurst’s side.
“There were 8,000 people here a couple of seasons ago against them (Grimsby Town) and when people ask me about Gateshead, they always go back to those play-off games.
They were big games, Grimsby are a big club at this level and they always do well. They have been unlucky in the past few seasons but hopefully we can get a good crowd on Saturday and the way we have played recently, it is a good chance to take three points”
And if they can get those points, the Wembley dream could be a little closer for Chandler and his Gateshead team mates.
You can see the full interview with Jamie via Non-League Daily’s YouTube channel here
Interview: Mark Carruthers