Salford’s former Southampton defender, Jordan Turnbull, knows a thing or two about winning under the Wembley arch, and is relishing the chance to face an old foe this weekend…
“Where players enter and legends leave,” reads a pitchside sign at Wembley Stadium. It’s a place where some embrace the occasion and others are consumed by it.
Salford’s Jordan Turnbull falls firmly into the first of those two categories.
Twice a Wembley winner – once in this very competition and once as recently as last June – he knows what it takes, and he’s got what it takes, to do the business when it matters most. No stranger to the home of football, nor this weekend's opponents, the Southampton Academy graduate grew up facing Portsmouth, the club from which he’ll be looking to take the Trophy this on Saturday.
Having started out with the Saints back in 2007, this is his biggest clash with Pompey yet, and he’s determined to deny Kenny Jackett’s men another triumph.
“I grew up knowing just how big that rivalry is,” the Wiltshire-born centre-back says.
“I used to play against them quite a bit in the Academy and they were always tough games. They’re big occasions, even when you’re a kid, so that makes it even tougher. I’ll be looking forward to facing them again today and hope we can come out on top. I’ve got a few [Southampton-supporting friends], but they follow me wherever I go, so I’m sure they’ll be supporting me whoever I play against.”
Indeed, Turnbull’s career to date so far has been somewhat of a UK tour. From Southampton to Swindon, and Partick Thistle to the Peninsula Stadium, his wide-ranging experiences have led him to this point. But it was in the West Midlands, at Coventry City, where he first struck gold – or, in this case, silver.
Just 22 years old at the time, Turnbull started six games en route to the 2017 Final, scoring twice in a Group-Stage win against West Ham’s youngsters, before lasting the full 90 minutes against Oxford United at Wembley. Roared on by 45,000 Sky Blues, Turnbull and Coventry were underdogs that day too, but put in a fantastic display to win 2-1.
A good omen? He’ll be hoping so.
"The game was probably decided in both boxes. Coventry had a hunger and a desire to keep the ball out of the net more than we did,” Oxford boss Michael Appleton commented afterwards. A compliment to Turnbull no doubt, who still looks back fondly on that day, as one which has helped shape him as a player.
“What a fantastic day, it’s one of the best of my career so far,” he reminisces.
“We weren’t doing too well in the league that season but managed to get to Wembley against the odds and win the Trophy, so it’s a very proud achievement for me. To experience that winning feeling was very special.
“I scored early on in the competition that year, and there’s still time to get a goal for Salford in this year’s competition… it wouldn’t be too bad if my first goal came in the Final!
“To win another trophy in my career would be absolutely brilliant. Having the opportunity to win another game at Wembley is an honour, it’s absolutely amazing. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do just that.”
It’s just nine months since Turnbull was last celebrating at Wembley. “A fantastic stadium,” as he describes it, and one he feels honoured to have experienced on a number of occasions.
June 2020 saw Turnbull promoted to Sky Bet League One with Northampton Town, via the Play-Offs, with the 26-year-old registering an assist and a clean sheet in the first Wembley final to be played behind closed doors. Another 90 minutes, another National Stadium success.
“Yeah, I’ve played a game here without fans before, and hope that stands me in good stead for today,” he says.
“One piece of advice I’ll have for the other lads is to try to take it in, or at least as much as you can. You may never play here again, so you have to embrace it – the changing rooms, the facilities and the stadium itself, it’s fantastic.”
But, despite the sub-plots of his Academy days and previous Wembley wins, the defender knows that Saturday's Final is about more than that.
At the end of an impossible year, Turnbull can’t help but feel an even bigger sense of privilege than on his other visits to the capital. With tens of thousands of supporters originally set to descend upon Wembley before the outbreak of coronavirus saw the Final put on hold, he’s playing for those watching on from home, and is predicting brighter days to come.
“It’s been an extremely difficult 12 months for everyone, and to still be able to play football and do what we love, we’re very privileged,” he summarises, humbly. “We want to be a shining light for those fans who can’t be with us at Wembley.
“Reaching a big final like this, you expect a big crowd and to be able to experience it with your family and friends, so it’s a shame they can’t be here to cheer us on, but I feel really fortunate to be experiencing a day like this as a player.
“To reach the Final of the Papa John’s Trophy is a great achievement and we’re all really excited for it. I’m lucky enough to have played here a few times now and hope it’s another positive day with Salford. This is a massive day, and an exciting time for this football club.”
As Turnbull takes to the hallowed turf once again, he’ll be looking to light up Wembley in red and white, and with good reason.