Given how well Wayne Rooney’s input into semi-final preparations went, leading agent Paul Stretford has more surprises lined up for his Warrington Rylands players ahead of their meeting with Binfield in the FA Vase final at Wembley on Saturday.
Stretford has guided Rooney throughout his career, but it was still a welcome surprise when the former Manchester United and England star – and current Derby boss – made an appearance at training before the historic 2-1 win over Walsall Wood on 15 May.
“The players were completely unaware until he went onto the training pitch,” Stretford, who owns the club, told BBC Sport.
“It is the mark and professionalism of the man that Wayne spoke to the manager first and checked he would be on-message with what the manager was saying.
“There was the obvious shock of ‘is that really Wayne Rooney watching us train?’ to the astonishment of being told to sit around the centre-circle because he wanted to talk to them about the importance of big games and the preparation for it.
“His messaging was really strong. He said there could be no regrets.”
Rooney sought former Liverpool academy striker Kane Drummond out for a one-to-one chat, which clearly had an effect given the teenager scored Rylands’ first and was involved in the second.
“I am not going to give away any of our plans for when we get down there,” smiled Stretford, who also looks after current United skipper Harry Maguire. “We will see what the preparation has in store for the boys on the day.”
Rylands will definitely be getting the use of Derby’s Moor Farm training ground on Friday for their final full training session.
As an indication of the interest around the game, in the midweek leading up to the second-round victory over Jarrow in December, there were three posts on the club’s social media feed. By Thursday morning this week, there had already been 38.
Tickets and travel have had to be sorted, media engagements fulfilled, training venues secured and sponsors contacted, which is a heavy demand on a part-time club.
Not that Stretford minds. For him, Rylands is a labour of love given his association as a past player. His dad was treasurer and his grandfather turned out for them in 1919.
It is also part of a longer-term plan, which on Tuesday brought confirmation of their elevation to the Northern Premier League West Division, step four of the non-league pyramid, which comes only three years after they left the step seven Cheshire League.
“The speed we have done it is quite incredible,” said Stretford. “But it can’t be any tougher than the last year has been for everyone in the non-league structure.
“The bars have not been open, we have not been able to serve food, we have not had fans, sponsorship has been hit and for two seasons in a row we have had our season cut short.
“At times we had to keep remembering what the dream was.”