John Welsh’s Wembley joy

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For a fleeting moment, midfield general John Welsh managed to soak up the unique Wembley atmosphere.

With the start of North End’s play-off final against Swindon slightly delayed as the match officials waited for Sky TV to return from an advert break, the 31-year-old gazed around the stadium in awe.

John Welsh celebrates with the League One play-off trophy in the dressing room at Wembley

John Welsh celebrates with the League One play-off trophy in the dressing room at Wembley

But as soon as the first whistle sounded, Welsh snapped back into professional mode in what was his first ever appearance at the iconic stadium.

His debut at the ‘Home of Football’ could not have gone much better as North End took the lead through Jermaine Beckford after just a couple of minutes.

A brilliant tackle by Welsh a few minutes later paved the way for the Lilywhites to double their advantage courtesy of Paul Huntington.

And further strikes from Beckford, who completed his hat-trick, signalled a brilliant 4-0 victory and promotion to the Championship.

Walking out on to the pitch and seeing the fans really meant so much to me.

“My first ever appearance at Wembley was unbelievable,” Welsh said.

“It is something I will never forget.

“Walking out on to the pitch and seeing the fans really meant so much to me.

“As we got ready for the start of the match there was a little delay and I just looked around.

“To see our fans –the sea of white– and the noise they were making, it is something which will live long in the memory for me.”

Welsh admitted the players were spurred on to produce such a performance for the fans, who have suffered so much heartache in the past.

Nine play-off campaigns have ended in misery in previous years, while missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season was a bitter pill to swallow.

The former Liverpool man said it felt great to be a member of the team which finally ended the club’s play-off hoodoo.

“To break the hoodoo means a lot,” he said.

“Before the semi-final against Chesterfield, we were seeing a lot of stuff on social media about the amount of times the club has tried and failed in the past.

“To be honest, we were getting sick of hearing about so it’s nice that we’ve put that to bed now.

“To be fair, I felt heading into the final, we did hear too much about it.

“Everybody was really positive – the lads, the club, all the fans. I think that helped us a lot.

“We so wanted to win against Swindon for the supporters.

“They have been brilliant with me ever since I arrived at the club.

“But we let them down when we lost to Colchester in the final game of the season, no doubt about it.”

Welsh saluted the strength of character of his team-mates, who recovered from the disappointment of losing to Colchester to bounce back in such emphatic fashion.

In three games since the 1-0 loss at the Weston Homes Stadium, North End have scored eight goals and conceded none.

“The character we have in the group is unbelievable. To go from that low – I was waking up every morning and the first thing that popped in my head was the Colchester defeat.

“It got me feeling really down, but the first game against Chesterfield was a massive game for us with the way we defended.

“I think we proved a few people wrong and showed that we were a force to be reckoned with still.

“We didn’t just turn into a bad team all of a sudden after one game.

“So heading into this game, we were feeling confident and we knew that experience we have and the manager has was going to be crucial in this game and so it proved.

“I’ve always said big games bring out big performances from big players.

“Jermaine Beckford’s three goals and his performance was incredible .

“But I also think you have got to give a lot of credit to Joe Garner. He’s worked his socks off and won every header.

“Then you have got people like Paul Gallagher.

“He’s had to come off injured but he still set up two goals and these are the big players we talk about and they’ve probably won us the game.”

Welsh is looking forward to enjoying the fruits of his labour over the summer.

But he already has one eye on next season and the Championship.

“I am sure all the lads will be talking to the manager over the next week or two.

“I love it here – I’m really happy and if the gaffer wants me, I am sure we will come to some agreement.”