BY RICHARD CAWLEY
There were no wild celebrations from Bromley’s players after they sealed their FA Trophy final place and another trip to Wembley on Saturday, but James Alabi did allow himself a little tipple.
The 27-year-old South Londoner’s half-time introduction at Hayes Lane last weekend helped turn the tie against York City on its head.
Alabi’s pass put Michael Cheek through for the Ravens’ equaliser just past the hour mark. And although Cheek just beat him to the ball to head home a second, the Southwark-born striker added a third in stoppage time.
Andy Woodman’s side mingled with supporters in Broomfields Bar & Kitchen – recently opened at the National League club – as they let the realisation they were heading back to the national stadium sink in.
“I’d said if we won the game I was going to treat myself to a rum punch cocktail – and it tasted beautiful,” said Peckham-raised Alabi, who had a spell with Millwall before joining Stoke City’s academy in 2010.
“We were actually in the next day for some recovery because of our game on Tuesday, so it would’ve been wrong to have had a few.
“We just wanted to spend time with the fans. There was a good vibe.
“That match is definitely one of the best moments of my career, for just so many reasons.
“A big one was that we went 1-0 down in the first minute and I remember the gaffer looking at the bench and at me as if to say ‘get us out of the s***’. He made that call to bring me on at half-time and he only makes that change when it is going wrong.
“Even when I was warming up I felt the pressure from the fans because they always spur me on to get goals. So to come on, get a goal and get the win was an unreal feeling. Bromley has probably been one of the times in my life where I’ve felt properly wanted. There were a lot of emotions at the end.
“I did my job. My main thing is to always help the team get goals. I like to think me and Cheeky have got a good relationship because we’ve played together a long time now.
“He defended my header for him to score! It went in the back of the net, so I couldn’t complain. Then to get the goal to seal the game was an unbelievable feeling.”
Big-spending Wrexham lie in wait in the final on May 22 after they defeated Stockport 2-0.
Bromley fell at the final hurdle in the summer of 2018, losing 5-4 on penalties to Brackley after the FA Trophy final finished 1-1.
The club have been allocated the East end of Wembley and have just more than 30,000 tickets.
“I’ve gone to Wembley before but never as a player,” said Southwark-born Alabi, whose nomadic career has seen him play for the likes of Scunthorpe, Ipswich, Grimsby, Chester, Tranmere and Dover Athletic. “I said to our admin lady: ‘I’m bringing the whole of South London there – make sure you’re ready when I’m giving you the names for tickets’. Everyone from South London is coming to enjoy the experience with me.”
Alabi started off in the Lions’ youth set-up and was spotted playing Sunday league football by a ref who also scouted for the club.
“I played against Southampton and scored a hat-trick,” he recalled. “I signed for Millwall but unfortunately they went to a Centre of Excellence.
“We played a game against Stoke and they said: ‘We’ll sign you’. They told me they would give me a house for me and my family. Only I went.
“When I was younger I went out on loan to a lot of clubs up north and it was difficult.
“As you go lower then managers might not fancy you because you are young or the style of play.
“It was only when I joined Leyton Orient and could stay at home that I settled and we got promotion to League Two [in 2019].
“I’ve played the last two years and it’s been great for me – I’ve had more good times than bad times.
“You could see after the last match the fans have really taken to me and that is a big thing.”
Bromley’s FA Trophy progression has left them with games in hand on the clubs in the play-off places.
Alabi adds that the squad coming in on Sunday – not standard procedure – was part of refocusing minds.
“We let our emotions and feelings out then and now it is back to the play-off push,” he said. “Wembley is a nice bonus for the end of the season.
“We got into the play-offs last year and we want to get back in there this year and get promoted, because we do have the quality and the manager to spur us on to get into League Two.
“Everyone is ready and raring to go.”
The FA have confirmed that tickets for the FA Trophy final go on sale from April 11. They are priced £25 for adults and £10 concessions.