Lee Haldane on the Durham Challenge Cup Final

Whickham manager Lee Haldane admits it’s a huge moment for him to lead his team out at the Stadium of Light when the club takes on West Auckland Town in the final of the Frank Pattison Durham Challenge Cup.

However, the boyhood Sunderland fan says he isn’t interested in just having a day out at the stadium he’s visited so many times as a fan – he is focused on winning.

Haldane will be on the touchline on Wednesday night for the prestigious final but was happy to sit down in the build-up to discuss the occasion and what it means for himself and the football club.

“It is what we have worked for, from everyone to the top to the bottom of the club” Haldane said. “But we still have a big job to do before, people have got to get themselves inside the squad, never mind the side. It’s massively on my mind but I’m trying to take it away from their mind.

“We’ve put a squad together in pre-season, lost four or five with season-ending injuries and one or two whittled away and one went higher so I’ve had to create a new squad during the season on the run which is not easy.

“I think it’s starting to come together which could be a good time for us going into the final. On the back of that though I hope it doesn’t give us much work to do next pre-season!”

It’s all business for the Wearside man who believes winning is bigger than anything else on the day.

When asked about what it means to manage at his team’s stadium, he replied: “Nothing if we don’t win! 

“But no, it’s a personal landmark, but it’s not about stadiums and anything like that because I’m not interested in it, I’m not there for a day out – I want to win the cup and you have your day out after.”

A win however would be at the summit of his career achievement list, he admitted. Having taken over 18 months ago, to lead Whickham to a cup final is a great accolade, but now he wants to finish the job off.

“It would be top (if we win). It’s up there now just getting there but as I say it means nothing – nobody remembers the losers, do they?

Volunteers are at the forefront of any non-league football club and that includes the Lang Jacks. Haldane very much wanted to pay respect to their huge collective efforts in helping the club have a successful season on and off the field.

He added: “You’ve got two blokes on the pitch when the weather is horrible and they’re up there doing everything they can to get us on.

“You’ve got the secretary who’s doing what’s like a full-time job and you’ve got everybody else who mucks in and it would just be nice to reward them. I can’t remember the last time they won something – maybe over 20 years ago. 

“Everyone wants to win the Vase but what chance have you got statistically in that? Then you look at the Durham Challenge Cup, it’s the next one you really want to aim for because of the calibre of teams in it. I think everyone from the league above, Stockton, Dunston and the likes of them, set out to win it so if you win that it ranks as a massive achievement.”

It’s been a strong season off the field for the club who have welcomed 5,871 fans through the gate at The First Mortgage Glebe, and the support doesn’t go unnoticed by the management and players.

The supporters are set to descend in their hundreds again on the Stadium of Light, including the army of local youngsters who turn up in their numbers to create an atmosphere and get behind the team.

“They’re great!” laughed Haldane. “When we came there would’ve been four or five of them tops and you’ve seen how many of them there are now. 

“They sing songs about everybody and it makes a difference, which is why I make sure after every home game the lads go over and acknowledge them because that sends them home with something that means something to them. 

“They’re the future of the club, effectively, so we just need to make sure we look after them.

“All the fans turn up to the home games and you’ve seen them and the atmosphere they create so you just want to give them something back and then say on the back of this we need you all to come back – but to anyone who is not there, have a look at this and get on board because it’s massive.”

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