Best – It was the best!
Best – It was the best!

Today in our “22 Days in May” series celebrating the 20th anniversary Deal Town’s FA Vase triumph and Gillingham’s promotion via the Play Off Final, we focus on the Vase triumph as KSN’s chief football writer Mike Green speaks to one of the Deal heroes that day – defender Steve Best.

It was a great season for Deal as Steve recalls. “It was one of those seasons when everything just seemed to click,” he told us.

“We were all good friends on and off the pitch – and it all worked particularly well that season. I remember talking to a couple of the lads during the season and telling them that I was at the peak of my football career and was feeling really good – it all worked really well!”

The Vase run began at Eastleigh and very nearly ended there as well. Steve revealed, “It was a surreal game really and Phil Miles and I often talk about that first game as he was with us then – that day he didn’t start and came on at half time when we were three-nil down, and ever since he’s told me that he saved the Vase for us.”

“Unfortunately, later on during the season before the Final he left the club. That Eastleigh game really was a strange game the way we came back especially when I scored the winning goal – when I look at it now and where Eastleigh have reached, it breaks my heart a little bit more, but I’m pretty sure that if we’d have stuck together after Wembley – circumstances changed and we weren’t able to build the stadium as the Chairman wanted to at the time and he pulled the plug on the team to be honest and it was forced on us – Eastleigh have done brilliantly, but I’m convinced that we would have gone on and done some good things as they have.”

(for the full story of that Eastleigh tie, we’ve spoken to Phil in another part of “Twenty-two Days in May”).

“The tie at Crook Town I still believe was the turning point as that day in the North East in particular the wind coming down the middle of the pitch in the first half was unbelievable.”

“Some of our goal kicks were literally coming back into our own penalty box – we battened down the hatches in the first half and managed to do really well in the second and won the game three-nil.”

“It was the hardest game of the campaign. We had a team talk after the game and Tom (Sampson) had a note that just had the word “Wembley” on it, and he said “Lads, the performance today will drive you onto that!” and we still had that feeling going into the Semi Final at Newcastle Town.”

“On the way to the first leg, I said to my wife, remembering that I don’t score many goals, that I fancied myself to score and I did – in one of the video clips, you can see me pointing at her in the stand saying I told you so!”

“My sister doesn’t follow football at all but came to the second leg with my wife and she sat in the big stand that the club put up and asked which team she was cheering for – it was one of those silly little memories that you’ll never forget – the performance in that game was solid; I didn’t think we’d played greatly but it was a team performance.”

“We had a visit to Wembley the night before the Final and I remember sitting on the side of the pitch thinking that this is what the professionals get to do!”

“I remember just trying to be disciplined – travelling in from the hotel was strange as we had a police escort; you got to the ground a couple of hours before the start and you’re signing autographs – that was all very surreal but when I walked out of the tunnel and we sung the national anthem, I just literally switched off and I don’t remember an awful lot about the game to be honest, apart from getting booked which everyone keeps reminding me about it, apart that is the goal obviously!”

“I’d literally just got up after a tackle – a last ditch tackle as I was drained and my energy sapped by the pitch; it was so warm that day, I was running on empty.”

“We’d cleared the ball out and it managed to find Steve Marshall – he was always a good player to get hold of the ball for you as he could run for fun and all I remember is shouting “cross it” as I could see Roly waving his arms about – thank god it was probably the best cross he ever hit in his career and to say the least the finish was probably one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen.”

“It was brilliant walking up the steps afterwards – I was thinking about poor old Dave Monteith who had been carried off early on, and I saw him at the bottom of the stairs and we all determined to get the lad up the stairs so that he could get his medal.”

“We managed to carry him up there and I managed to push my way to third in the pictures as the trophy was lifted by Terry (Martin).”

The celebrations lasted long into the night, but not that “long” as Steve recalled, “Because it was such a hot draining day and to be honest we got back to the hotel and had something nice to eat, but we didn’t have as many drinks as many people would think because everyone was so tired – don’t get me wrong we had a few, it was really good – a day that I’ll never forget!”

It’s back to the Gills Play Off win for the next part of “Twenty-two Days in May” and the Club legend who played a massive part in the Gills returning to the Twin Towers and finished as top scorer despite leaving Priestfield mid-season – we turn the spotlight on “Super” Robert Taylor…