THE FA Vase final was perhaps always going to be the most likely source of season finale for therealfacup. The FA Cup final was always likely to be an unappealingly corporate whore-athon and the experience of our chum Rich at runcorn2wembley illustrates that perfectly.
This was therealfacup’s first trip to Wembley. Well, it was mine, Matt had been before to see Exeter in the Conference play off final and to see Oasis (!?) and Andy had been to see Blackpool in the League One play off final.
Pre-match was set fair and off to the Green Man in Wembley to join the throng. If there was any indecision about who we should be rooting for in this game, it was swiftly and sharply brought into focus by a ‘Wroxham fan’ wearing a Norwich City shirt. Why? This is Wroxham’s day, who cares if you are a Norwich fan you selfish aunt.
It was pretty quiet but jovial at the Green Man with the Whitley fans, there were some big lads having occasional sing songs but, generally, there were loads of kids around and it was all rather pleasant. And then the sun came out and it shone brightly off the not inconsiderable midriff of a Bay ‘fan’ wearing THAT Newcastle shirt. We nearly dropped our earlier objections to the Norwich one but it takes a special breed of man to wear that ‘Solero’ away kit, so we let it go.
Throughout the 3 pints we were there, the sun got warmer and the volume gradually increased but it dissipated from about 2:15 as people drifted off to the ground a bit early.
My other half, a Whitley native, had decided that planting seeds and shopping took preference over watching her kinsmen grace the hallowed turf of Wembley. As Wroxham had reportedly only sold 2500 tickets, it looked as though this absenteeism was unlikely to mean The Bay were outnumbered. That was the case, they had well over 5000 in a sub-par crowd of less than 9000.
Given the current strength of the Northern non-leagues, we were predicting a comfortable win for Bay against a side not used to this stage of the competition. After just 23 seconds, man of the match Paul Chow nipped in between the Yachtsmen’s ‘keeper and a defender, both clearly frozen in Wembley’s headlights, to score the quickest goal in Vase final history – and possibly the quickest at the new Wembley.
The early goal didn’t faze Wroxham and, with equal fortune, they found themselves level after Bay failed to clear a cross. But another defensive error was only minutes away as Wroxham’s Eastaugh turned a Hodgson cross beautifully past his own keeper and into the bottom corner. It was a great finish, wrong end.
The rest of the half produced no goals and although Wroxham were second best they weren’t out of it. They were however favouring the outlet of Lemmon on their right flank but he was well marshalled and had little support. Wroxham were trying to play the right way but their insistence on short passes was proving restrictive because they were closed down effectively by every Bay player. Whitley were doing the same but their players had the vision and ability to punctuate their short play by occasionally executing accurate longer crossfield and forward passes that stretched Wroxham’s back line.
Having been burgled of £25 for a ticket and £4 for a thin but glossy programme before the game I decided not to eat, choosing to leave myself open for embitterment at Wembley’s well known refreshments racket. A £4 slice of ‘stone baked’ (my arse) pizza looked to fit the bill but proved disappointingly appetizing. Herby, cheesy, tomoatoey goodness. Damn you Wembley. Andy’s £4 vegetable pie proved more satisfactory in the disappointment stakes. It smelled vaguely of curry but was three inches in diameter, the colour of David Dickinson and had some different coloured pieces in it that were, we assumed, supposed to be the veg. Grim.
Such was the pizza/pie intrigue, not to mention the food queue, we missed Whitley’s 3rd goal. Mind you, so did the vast majority of Whitley fans who went scurrying for the tunnels as a muted cheer filtered through from the stadium. I got there just in time to see the ball bounce gently over the line on the big screen replay. Bugger.
The dozen or so ten year olds behind us who’d been singing “You only sing when you’re winning’ for much of the first half, despite being told to sit down several times by a jobsworth steward, went berserk and then started to open up their repertoire. I’m not yet fluent in Geordie so I’m paraphrasing with this translation but my favourite went something like “I told me mam not to fetch us some tea, coz I’m off to watch Whitley at Wemberley“. It’s not often you get such well behaved young lads going mental for the WHOLE 90 minutes in a barely supervised group so it was quite refreshing in an almost empty national stadium to get a decent atmosphere.
The game was effectively over. Whitely were the better side anyway but with Wroxham needing to attack they were getting picked off every few minutes and Bay added a 4th, 5th and 6th which could easily have been extended to a 7th, 8th and 9th. It was a bit of a shame for the Yachtsmen’s adventure to end with such a walloping but, by all accounts, Wroxham’s best players simply didn’t turn up, so a tricky tie was simply made impossible.
You could perhaps assume such a low crowd would have us suggesting a smaller, alternate venue might be more appropriate for such a lowly final but, no, we stand by our comments in the preview. This is exactly appropriate for all the reasons we suggested and when the scorers names flashed up on the scoreboard, the replays were shown on the screen and when the players took the walk up the steps to collect the trophy, I couldn’t help but have a pang of non-begrudging covetousness for what even the vanquished players had experienced.
One thing about the attendance, though. Even the latter stages of this competition saw ticket prices of around £6/8, why was it £25 for the final? The question is answered, presumably, by the cost of Wembley Stadium but, even so, this crowd would have been much bigger if it was £15, which seems more in line with sense. The FA are to be praised for having the foresight to play Vase and Trophy finals at Wembley but they are somewhat short-sighted with the pricing and you have to ask whether they should pay more attention to the clubs when it comes to finals and not ride roughshod over an otherwise worthy competition.
Commiserations to Wroxham, congratulations to Whitley and SHAME on you jobsworth steward for getting ten year old boys to sit down on the back row of a sparsely populated stand. Good game.
Wroxham 1 Whitley Bay 6
Man Of The Match – Paul Chow (Whitley Bay)
Cheers to Andy Taylor, as ever, for some of the photos.