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Fulham midfielder Oliver Norwood talks about Wembley

last updated Saturday 26th May 2018, 7:52 AM

Fulham Football Club

Midfielder Oliver Norwood
Fulham midfielder
Oliver Norwood
Oliver Norwood
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Fulham owner Shahid Khan may be in talks to buy Wembley - but his players have not been afforded a sneak peak around the national stadium ahead of Saturday's Championship play-off final with Aston Villa.

For many of Slavisa Jokanovic's squad, the chance to soak up the 90,000-seater ground will come only when they arrive a couple of hours before kick-off in the richest game in club football.

Oliver Norwood is one of the lucky ones. The Northern Ireland international has already been to Wembley twice. In 2007 he played for England Under 16s against Spain and eight years later he was a substitute as Reading suffered FA Cup semi-final heartbreak at the hands of Arsenal.

'As a squad it'll be the first time we've been there on Saturday. The gaffer just wants it to be normal - we turn up at the stadium on the day of the game and play,' he tells Sportsmail.

'We haven't been down there but I think a few of the lads have been involved in games there in the past. I've been lucky to be involved in two games there... (but) we just have to turn up, we know what we have to do.' When they are finally given the chance to sample the national stadium, the instructions from Jokanovic will be clear, if well-worn.

'It's just (about) doing what we normally do, what we always do. Don't change anything, don't be having selfies or taking photos of the stadium, just treat it as another normal game.

'You're bound to get nervous, excited and go through the whole range of emotions because there is nothing like it in world football. The Championship play-off final is a massive, massive occasion.

'We know that but it's about staying level-headed and keeping calm and producing the goods on Saturday.' He added: '(The manager's) message has been quite clear that it's just another game.

It's literally just a different pitch with a bigger stadium around it.' That mantra has been carried on to the training pitch this week, where Fulham have taken no special measures to prepare for the huge Wembley playing surface.

They trained as normal before meeting up at the team hotel on Friday. For most of Jokanovic's squad, this will be their time to focus their mind on the task ahead. For Norwood, however, it represents a welcome opportunity to catch up some well-earned kip.

'I can't speak for the others but me personally, it is literally just another game of football - I've been at it since the age of six so a few years ago I may have got a bit nervous but I'm quite lucky to have had a baby boy who's now 15 months old so your perspective on life does change. You do start to realise that it's just another game and there are other things to worry about in the world than a game of football,' he says.

'It's obviously a massive, massive occasion, don't get me wrong, but I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep in the hotel on Friday night with the baby at home!' Norwood had just turned 16 when he first sampled the Wembley atmosphere. Thanks to his dad's performances on the pitch, young Pierce won't have to wait so long.

'He will be going with my wife. It's (his first trip) so hopefully he'll be a good luck charm!' As Pierce takes his seat in the stands, Norwood Snr and his team-mates will be going through their final preparations in the Fulham dressing room.

A place in the top flight - where the London club feel they belong - will be at stake when they walk out on Saturday.

But as tensions rise in the final minutes before kick-off, Steve Bruce's side shouldn't expect to hear any shouting coming from down the corridor.

'You genuinely wouldn't believe some of the music that gets played. You'd think it was all pumped up music getting us ready to go to battle but some of the music in the dressing room is the most chilled out music I've ever heard,' Norwood says.

'It's very relaxed, very calm, the manager doesn't say much. He does his work with us in the week and leaves us to prepare, get ready, get focused on the game.' He adds: 'We don't need ranting and raving before a game, if you can't get yourself up for the play-off final then there is something wrong.' Norwood may only be on loan at the London club from Brighton. But he is no mercenary - his affection for his adopted home is obvious.

'It's a wonderful group of people, the staff and players have a real bond and there's a real bond between the players and fans,' he says.

'They've waited 43 years for a trip to Wembley and hopefully we can provide them with a very happy day on Saturday. We know it's going to be very difficult, we're not expecting to just turn up and play nice football and walk away with the victory. We know we're going have to dig deep at times, Villa are going to put us under pressure, they're a good side with massively experienced players and whoever wins on Saturday will deserve it.'

Source Daniel Matthews at Daily Mail
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