The curtain came down on the regular season on Saturday and everyone was delighted to get a 3-1 win at MK Dons to ensure we finish third with our highest ever points tally of 86.
It was our 12th away win of the season – another club record – and means we now know our opponents in the play-offs will be Peterborough United. Going into Saturday’s game, we could have finished third, fourth or fifth. It meant that preparations had to be made for every eventuality as we only have a week to prepare for the first leg, which will now be at London Road at 12:15pm, before the home leg the following Tuesday.
Matt, our chief executive, and Lindsey, the club secretary, were invited to Wembley last week, along with representatives from the other three sides in the play-offs for a planning meeting, so that all clubs are up to speed with the logistics of the final should they make it that far.
Wembley isn’t on anyone’s minds though at the minute, only Peterborough. The club was open on the Bank Holiday as tickets went on sale, with the first season-ticket holders queuing up at 5am to secure theirs. There’s bound to be a few late nights as we have extended our opening hours.
Preparation is well underway on the football side and has been for some time. ‘The Bunker’ is a room that’s about 12ft by 8ft and can be found tucked inside the tunnel at the Matchroom Stadium. Until last week it had plain white breezeblock walls, a small television, a few odd chairs, a fridge, a sink, a homemade sign inside that says ‘Bunker HQ’ while on the front door is another sign that says ‘Management Only’. It is one of the most private places in the stadium.
It began life as matchday kitchen but the manager Russell Slade decided to use it as a base. Before a game the gaffer and his management team will sit in there, discussing plans and making last-minute preparations. The chairman, Barry Hearn, will pop down for a brief chat before the game and afterwards, the opposition manager and his staff will pop in for a drink and a sandwich.
Depending on the mood, the bunker can empty out quickly, or can still be busy later on, when family and guests are invited in for a drink. I’d like to get round to writing a who’s who of the bunker, as the gaffer assures me all sorts of people have been in there including Arsène Wenger and John Motson. The only time this routine is broken is when the drug testers are in town and they will take it over, forcing the gaffer to his office upstairs.
Last week, I got a phone call from the gaffer early one morning saying that he’d had an idea to give the bunker a makeover but wanted it kept a secret to surprise his staff. A few of us were let in on the project and we only had four days to turn it around.
It was a team effort with Lucy, our functions manager, Lindsey and Ada the kit man all helping.
The gaffer was on the phone for updates from the training ground and there were a couple of late nights as we stayed behind to finish bits and bobs.
The manager’s vision is to make the bunker more “like a war room” for the play-offs while retaining the ability to host guests in there. By the Friday night it was all but finished. There’s a poster of Winston Churchill and Russell’s favourite poem “The Guy In The Glass” by Dale Wimbrow. The centrepiece is three large notice boards – one for each of the other teams in the play-offs – that Matt our analyst has filled with information on our potential opponents as we prepare for war. Right now, it’s all eyes on the Peterborough board as we get ready to march up to Cambridgeshire.