Football: Cup journey of self-belief

Des Gallagher, the Stevenage keeper, salutes the benefits of positive thinking
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AS part of the preparation for the biggest match of our lives (part two of the FA Cup odyssey), the Stevenage players indulged in a little bit of psychology. In our luxury hotel on the afternoon of last Wednesday's replay - we had sandwiches and bananas instead of a pre-match meal because of the expense - we were each encouraged to write down two positive statements about our team-mates. We were then given the results to take to our rooms and mull them over.

It's quite uplifting reading good things about yourself even when this amounts to "Good shot-stopper" and "Quick to come for crosses" and you want to play to test the theories. Paul Fairclough, the club manager, is big on getting the players' state of mind right. Being positive was the name of the game at St James' Park. We were going round before the match saying to each other: "Love it." What the Newcastle players made of it, heaven knows. They were focused and determined as was demonstrated when Stuart Pearce gave our manager a little shove as he changed ends before the whistle. Cloughy just smiled. Psychology, you see.

Actually, I'm surrounded by psychologists. There's not only Cloughy marshalling our mental processes but my wife Denise is studying for a degree in the subject. The odd book she's shown me convinces me that there's something in it all. Not that psychology alone can win you football matches. Look at the result on Wednesday.

After it was all over and we had lost 2-1 it was a bit of a mental conundrum to know how to feel. We were aware we had done well to restrict them to that scoreline, especially after going behind not long after the quarter-hour mark, but we have been coached to believe we can beat anybody. When we discovered for definite that the first goal by Alan Shearer was to say the least arguable, it deflated us a bit more. During our post- match chat we were mildly surprised that we had made no objection but it was too late then.

As the ball came across and Shearer got his head to it our centre-back Mark Smith did wonderfully well to turn and cycle-kick the ball off the line. My instinctive reaction was that Smudger had cleared it but I saw the ref look at the linesman and had that sinking feeling. It was an awfully tight call to make with the ball in the air but maybe they give things like that to the pros. Maybe we were too busy loving it all but trying to make a debating point in the ref's direction was pointless. Having decided it had crossed the line he wasn't about to change his mind if we crossed the line in arguing with him.

At first we were concerned about the pace Newcastle set. Had they kept it up all night we might have been out on our feet, fittest side in the Conference or not. At 2-0, Shearer having peeled off in that predatory, rapid way, we still weren't buried and Gary Crawshaw's was a keen striker's pounce. But 2-1 it stayed. I was pleased with my own game, the two free- kick saves from Shearer and Pearce especially, but it was probably time to return to normality.

Some of the players swapped shirts at the end. I had my eye on Shearer's but the final whistle went and he was away down the tunnel. Maybe I should have asked Shaka Hislop for his but maybe I didn't want him to turn me down either. We had a few beers, well actually until 6.30am, and Denise made me a fry-up on Friday morning, so I'm in her good books.

It's been a funny old time. The Newcastle fans gave us a bit of stick because of the acrimony generated - loved it - and we didn't expect anything else. Personally, I thought things went a little bit too far with statements coming from both camps and things getting awfully hyped up. But that's psychology for you.

Interview: Stephen Brenkley

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