LIVE: The Sky Bet Football League Play-Offs 2014
By Tony Leighton
Around 150 years before the 2009/10 Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off Final took place, Charles Dickens began his book 'A Tale of Two Cities' with the words, 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?.'
Dickens was writing about the French Revolution, but that opening line can equally be applied to the point in the career of central defender Ian Sharps at which he captained Rotherham United at Wembley in that 2010 Play-Off Final.
Sharps is now skipper of Burton Albion and is set to lead them into the first leg of this year's Play-Off semi against Southend United - and he is determined to not just reach Wembley but also to end his own run of Play-Offs heartache while helping the Brewers reach League 1 level for the first time in the club's history.
The 33-year-old defender has been a Play-Offs loser four times with four different clubs, most painfully on the one occasion where he got to the final.
Rotherham, the favourites against Dagenham & Redbridge, lost 3-2 at Wembley.
"People ask what was the best day and what was the worst day of your career," said Sharps, "and both of mine came on the same day in that Play-Off Final.
"I was lucky enough to be captain and lead the team out. Your family and friends are there, everyone is feeling proud, but then the game starts and you get beaten.
"You're not exactly embarrassed, but it's hard to see your family and friends after the game thinking, 'I've let people down.' But at the end of your career you can say you've played at Wembley, and over these next two games against Southend the ambition is to get there and this time to win the final."
As well as missing out with the Millers four years ago Sharps has lost Play-Off Semi-Finals with Tranmere Rovers, Shrewsbury Town and last year with Burton.
So, as the Brewers prepare to entertain Southend in Sunday's first leg, there is an extra slice of incentive for Sharps and his team-mates - 5-4 losers on aggregate to Bradford City last term - to go all the way this time around.
"We won last year's first leg but then didn't play well at home in the second leg," recalled Sharps. "Nerves got hold of a few players and we didn't perform as well as we could. But when you've already been in a situation then next time you relax a bit, and hopefully that will be the case on Sunday."
Southend have done the double over Burton in the regular season, both games won 1-0 with the second of them at Roots Hall only last week. But those results will count for nothing, reckons Sharps, over the next two matches.
"I'm sure that Southend will look back at those results and take confidence from them," he said, "but when they beat us at our place it was with the last kick of the game after we'd been the better side with 10 men for 60 minutes. They're a good side and we'll have to match them, but I'm confident we can do that."
The Brewers are in only their fifth season as a Football League club and so attaining League 1 status would be "massive," said Sharps.
"Look at the clubs we've played against this season," he noted. "Chesterfield and Fleetwood have got lots of money, Southend have played much higher in The Football League than we have, our gates average under 3,000, and so we're punching above our weight to achieve what we have these last two seasons.
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