As the old cliché goes, not many footballers will ever get the chance to play at Wembley in their career. That’s not the case for Sunderland striker Charlie Wyke, who will be hoping it’s fourth time lucky this afternoon…
Every child grows up wanting to play on the biggest of stages.
Manchester City and England winger, Raheem Sterling, has a tattoo of his younger self gazing up at the famous Wembley arch, a source of inspiration and reminder that if you work hard, anything is possible.
Charlie Wyke would have undoubtably have had the same dream growing up on the streets of Middlesbrough, pretending he was there, scoring the winner somewhere on the pavements of a Teesside postcode.
As time has inevitably moved on for the striker, though, his dream has almost turned into a nightmare, with his three previous trips to the capital ending with three runners-up medals.
After two Play-Off Final defeats with Bradford City and Sunderland respectively, as well as one in this competition two years ago, it is probably understandable why the 28-year-old – unlike most players - isn’t too keen on coming back.
“It has been a difficult one for me,” says Wyke. “It hasn’t been very nice, being here three times and coming out on the wrong side of the scoreline. It has been horrendous, really, and a place that I haven’t enjoyed coming to over the years.
“If fans were allowed in the stadium, I don’t think I would have wanted my family to come, to be honest with you. So, it would be a nice change to play here and win, because nobody wants to be losing four times on this sort of stage.”
Now, he gets his chance to change the course of history, and there may be no better time than this to lay his Wembley demons to rest. In the form of his life and closing in on his best goal-scoring season yet, Wyke’s five goals in this competition have undoubtably helped Sunderland reach this year’s Final.
His most recent effort saw him pull level with Fleetwood Town’s Harvey Saunders in the race for the Papa John’s Trophy Golden Boot, but his strike against Lincoln City in the Semi-Final at the Stadium of Light was his most important so far.
McGeady cross, Wyke header, you know the drill.
“I’ve made sure I’ve taken the chances that have come to me, and I didn’t really know that I was the top scorer in this competition, which is pleasing,” the forward adds.
“I probably haven’t played as much in this competition as I would have liked; when you’re scoring goals, you want to play every game.
“After the first 20 minutes [against Lincoln], we really took the game to them and got the shape right, which probably took us a bit longer than we would have liked. But, overall, I thought we were the better team on the night.
“Later on in the game, you know when McGeady gets the ball he’s going to do something magical, so you just have to get on the end of those crosses.”
Unfortunately, the ever-faithful and loyal supporters of both teams will be unable to return to Wembley this weekend, but with the announcement from Government in recent weeks, it seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
A massive 85,021 supporters from Sunderland and Portsmouth travelled to the capital in 2019, a record attendance for this competition, and one that both Clubs would have liked to have beaten this coming Sunday.
“I’m gutted that the fans can’t be here,” he says. “The Sunderland fans would sell the stadium out and Tranmere are not a small club themselves.
“You’ve witnessed the scenes in Trafalgar Square with the fans before the last two appearances at Wembley, so we know how much these kind of games mean to them.
“You know that the stadium would have been full of noisy supporters from both sides; it’s a shame that they can’t be here, but we know that they will be watching on and hoping that we can lift that trophy.”
A bright future lies ahead on and off the field for the North East outfit, with Kyril Louis-Dreyfus taking the reins from previous owner Stewart Donald and the Black Cats stalking those above them in Sky Bet League One.
There’s hope that this could be the season that defines a new era at the Stadium of Light, something Wyke echoes.
“The main aim is to get promoted; I think if we do win at Wembley and see off Tranmere it will be a massive boost going into the last few games.
“The thought of losing is never going to enter our minds going into this game, and winning will give us that extra boost that we might need to get us over the line, there is no doubt about that.
“We have a new owner and he wants to take the club forward, which is always a good thing. He’s been to the last few games and there have been some good results.
“He must be delighted with how things have started for him since he has joined the club. It is an exciting time ahead for Sunderland.”