People criticise the FA for many things, oh yes, but what other country’s football association continues to support a cup competition for meagrely supported, ‘amateur’ teams that culminates in an appearance at the national stadium?
Actually, the law of averages suggests others surely must do but, still, when you think about it, it’s bloody good form, what! As a [insert cliched noble profession here], how much of a life highlight would it be to sit in the England dressing room, coveting the seat on which Goldenballs’ golden balls have perched, hanging your hoody on the peg that supported the full weight of Rio’s wardrobe or looking in the mirrors in which David James fixed his ‘fro? Fucking massive, number 1 highlight, that’s how much.
Two such teams of part time footballers will do just those things on Sunday week. And several thousand Whitley fans will return to Wembley having already pondered this last year after watching The Bay defeat Glossop North End 2-0. Their return this year is against more Easterly but, pyramid-wise, equal opposition and this is an odd final as I have at least a passing affection for both sides. therealfacup tries, and often fails, to be impartial but this one is going to be trickier.
Whitley Bay is what some might unfairly call a ‘traditional English seaside town’. It had it’s heyday back when other resorts did, when the Spanish City was in full force, but it’s not one of the many places that have become a shell. The lighthouse is cool, the chippies are good, the bars are, well, Geordie and the beach is excellent, if bloody freezing. I’m fairly new to it but thanks to my other half and her friends I’ve sampled its delights. And I like it.
We were going to check out a Bay home game at Hillheads on Boxing Day but the fierce weather that blighted blighty this winter got there first and dusted the pitch with frozen water molecules. No game. We did see them in the QF against Chertsey when they were hampered by a harsh sending off but they were clearly a decent side.
Wroxham, on the other hand, are a team very much from my past. It certainly used to be a fairly well kept small town with a decent bit of water running through it and an out of town shopping experience ahead of its time. No idea what it’s like now, mind? I used to cycle there when I were a lad, for something to do when not playing with disused farm machinery. I saw them play a few times back in the 90s when living in Norwich and have a vague, unconfirmed, recollection of playing there.
Though fun memories of visits to random grounds add a fondness, Wroxham are, of course, a Norfolk team and my newly found impartiality is hampered slightly by my Suffolk affiliation. But they aren’t Norwich, so move on, boy.
Wroxham are in the Ridgeons Eastern Counties Premier League, at the same level in the pyramid as Whitley, but are currently treading water in mid-table. Having never got this far in the Vase before, they are almost certainly underdogs. Two early Wroxham goals in the semi final 2nd leg effectively ended the tie in front of a record Trafford Park crowd of 1,262. The two goals killed it because they’d already despatched a Whitehawk side, champions-elect of the Sussex Counties league, at the same level of the pyramid, 2-0 in the first leg.
Whitley had an arguably trickier tie against a team who have this season achieved 101pts from a possible 111. Bay left it very late to nail their place with a 6-5 (agg), injury time-inspired win over Barwell. The Bay have, however, finished 3rd in the Northern League and it could have been better had they won their games in hand.
In a slightly disappointing twist, even though they’ve got to Wembley, one team won’t get to live the Goldenballs dream, they will be in the ‘away’ dressing room! And Whitley have missed out this time. Wroxham have the home ‘England’ dressing room and home colours but Whitley have been here before, this is their third Vase final in 9 years and, to celebrate, they’ve an old school ‘Football Special’ on hand to get from Newcastle to London.
For the Yachtsmen, this is their first trip to the big house and is, undoubtedly the biggest game in their history. Whitley’s two goalscorerss last year, Lee Kerr and Paul Chow are likely to start again. The FA Carlsberg Vase Final kicks off at Wembley Sunday 9th May at 3pm. Dream.