Days like today reaffirm my belief in football. A piece of grass, very little in the way of stadium but, nevertheless, 1500 locals and 200 away fans turned up to participate in some grass roots action. And Fabio Capello was there to run his eye over some potential new talent, which was odd as apparently he should have been in Cardiff watching England play a third division international side. Sorry to the Welshmen of the World.
The FA Vase is, nominally, only the third most prestigious FA tournament but, for me, there’s something about it that elevates it above the Trophy. You’ll probably know successful Vase teams as places but not as football clubs. Apart from Whitley Bay, of course, who currently have their mitts welded to it. The Wembley final certain helps, even Bournemouth manager Lee Bradbury admits to jealousy at the chances of Poole making it there this year. Dolphins manager Tom Killick won the Vase with Wimborne in 1992.
Before the game, much had been made of the dictat of segregation but, other than the intended separate entrances for ticket holders and a small fence amusingly placed half way down the side of the burger van, the club, stewards and Police took an appropriate hands-off stance towards keeping fans apart. It wasn’t necessary anyway and the apparent ban for Whitley fans going in the ‘clubhouse’ appeared ill-regulated at best.
Football hasn’t been kind to Poole in the last 15 years and it has to be said their local council isn’t exactly walking over hot coals for them in their pursuit of a permanent home. The school, on whose land they currently have a temporary home, have been thoroughly accommodating, although some local residents have been, perhaps understandably, less comfortable with the influx of hundreds of people into their locale.
The club bar is a portacabin, the burger bar is half a portacabin and the Directors’ lounge a big gazebo. Not ideal but it does work, well, it probably does when there are 500 people around. The burger ladies told me it was a nightmare when 1000 turned up for the Hayes & Yeading FA Cup game earlier in the season and they were wary of the mooted 2000 turning up today. I offered my services for £10 an hour and was pointedly reminded they did it for nothing. Yep, nothing, this MUST NOT be forgotten. I raise my glass to the burger ladies of this world.
By now I was busting for the loo and, searching for them, I ‘accidentally’ found myself first in the away dressing room and then the home dressing room. 1-1. Having walked blithely past a Policeman to get to the team area, I went back and asked where I should be.
Wandering round the ground I was cajoled into buying 10 pieces of A4 stapled together. This, I was told, was a match programme. I’d seen one before, I’d just never seen one so thin for 2/3rds of a pint. Actually, that’s a lie, it was a behemoth of value compared to the folded piece of A4 we got in Corinth last year. Spirits were revived by the folk duo singing songs about cider (is this cider country?) and a lad sitting on a goalpost. It was also the first time in MANY years I’ve seen a bloke carrying a crate into a footy ground. If you don’t know what this means, you are probably under the age of 30 or are an armchair football fan, although the latter would probably mean you aren’t reading this.
For 89 minutes of this game, Poole retained possession well and looked to utilise the firepower they undoubtedly have. Why they kept top-scorer Steve Smith on the bench is a question only manager Tom Killick can answer, and it’s certainly a question the Poole fans we spoke to after the game wanted an answer to. Smith has scored over 30 goals this season so their bafflement is probably justified. It was 83 minutes before he arrived to try and get the second goal the Dolphins possession might have deserved but their guile in the final third certainly didn’t.
Instead, Whitley who, by the Bell End Choir’s own admission, had been woeful for 89 minutes suddenly burst into life and their clinical finishing saw them equalise and then snatch victory with a superb free kick from Kerr. The slight sense of burglary riddled the post match discussion. Ian, who had introduced me to various members of Whitley’s famous Choir, was almost embarrassed as we pre-ambled about the result with some locals before getting the skinny on Poole’s ground woes.
So, what is now 3 years and umpteen games, Whitley Bay’s unbeaten record in the FA Vase marches on but this was as close as they’ve come to losing it – and they deserved to do so.
At the risk of being twee (again), today was quite emotional. The fans know the players and this, for me, is what is missing higher up the pyramid. It increases the sense of community, that you’re all in it together. You won’t often hear a non-league fan accuse players of not trying because they actually know the (majority of) players want to be playing for them. It makes a ‘club’ more than multi million pound strikers, pre-match cordon-bleu restaurants, comfortable seats or even brilliant sight lines.
We retired to the Poole Labour Club, next to Mammy’s Baps cafe and had a chinwag about ground irrigation with the Poole groundsman, Chris, and spun a few yarns with their long serving physio Dick Thomas. Poole need a new ground to progress, let’s hope the Council can pull their fingers out to help the club benefit the community even more than they do now.
Having said all that … the best bit of the day was the ‘young man’ who was ticked off by the fuzz for stealing daffodils. Cue “we’ve got your daffodils” song for much of the first half. Ironic then that we found this Whitley Bay flyer in the Labour Club …
Visit therealfacup youtube page for our fortuitous capturing of the winning goal and subsequent mayhem.