At last, the day of the Semi-Finals is almost here. That First Qualifying Round game at Oakwood last September is but a distant memory. 6 months, 9 games and 1268 miles later, I am off to Chalfont St Peter tomorrow with my good friends PB and Mackem. 280 miles north, Whitley Bay will be hosting Lowestoft Town in the other Semi. At opposite ends of the country, fans from four non League clubs will now being getting really anxious and excited in equal measure. Nothing will be decided tomorrow, as 2 legs need to be negotiated, but even so...Wembley is a matter of 180 minutes away. Deep breaths all round.
The town of Glossop has gone FA Vase barmy, and I am reliably informed that football fever has taken its grip. The local newspapers are now giving tomorrow's game in Buckinghamshire front and back page coverage, even the Manchester Evening News has got in on the act. Ticket sales for the home leg on 4th April have been crazy, and the local press are reporting that they have all but been sold, over 1000 going in the first few days. Ahead of tomorrow's game, some news from the last few days:
1. The G.N.E. Bitter. This is great. The local Shaws Brewery has produced a special ale to celebrate Glossop's Semi-Final games. They have called it 'G.N.E. Bitter' and it has been well received. Some ingenuous Glossop North End fans are working out how to smuggle a keg or two onto the coach on Saturday. I look forward to trying some! Thanks to Mandy at the Star Inn for the photo above.
2. The Glossop View. I listened with interest after the Semi-Final draw when the Glossop manager, Steve Young, said that he was disappointed with not being at home in the 1st Leg. This a strange thing to hear as the majority of managers and coaches up and down the land normally prefer to be away in the 1st Leg; go to 'their' ground, shut up shop and finish them off at home in the 2nd Leg. Young's take on this was quite revealing; he explained that clubs at this level in the FA Vase really know nothing about each other. His plan was to shock Chalfont in the first game, and he would have preferred home advantage first to execute this plan. By the 2nd leg, they will know far more about each other and there will be no element of surprise. Young still intends to use the shock tactics tomorrow: "It's important that we go to Chalfont looking to win".
3. The Chalfont View. Chalfont have been a little more reserved in their build up to the game. They have a very young team (average age 20) and are based in a part of the country that is not traditionally a hotbed of football. They play in front of crowds of 75-80 but are expecting closer to 1000 tomorrow. Chalfont St Peter FC are a real community club and over the past 8 years or so, since the current Chairman Denis Mair took over, they have worked hard to build a solid club infrastructure and have developed a sound coaching set up. They do not pay their players. They have been favourites to win the FA Vase ever since the Fourth Round, a tag they are keen to dismiss. Coming from a small community they have had less coverage than other teams in the competition and they believe they are underdogs for the tie. The Chalfont manager, Danny Edwards, has a pragmatic view: "It will all come down to who adjusts and copes best with the pressure".
4. The 'W' Word. I am intrigued to understand how both sets of players, being so close to Wembley, actually feel at the moment and cope with this "pressure" that Edwards talks about. How do they control their nerves, how do they channel their excitement, how do they keep their feet on the ground? Can the pressure be simply too much? I put these questions to two Glossop players, captain Dave Young (son of manager Steve) and Rick Whelan. Both were very clear on this subject; their manager keeps them in check. Using the old cliché, they really do take one game at a time and are still in the hunt for League honours. The manager has them well focused and ensures that their feet are firmly nailed to the floor. Young believes that "whoever conquers their nerves will go through" and the manager has worked hard to ensure the players do not get carried away with things. The word 'Wembley' is well and truly banned amongst the North End players and coaching staff. Mention the 'W' word and a swift £5 fine follows. I wonder how big the kitty is?
5. Prediction? Talking of a kitty, throughout this FA Vase I and my friends have had small wagers to predict the scoreline of games we have been to. In the early rounds, PB seemed to scoop the kitty every time. But after any of us failed to get the score correct at Bitton AFC (2-0 to Glossop) and more understandably at Glossop (5-2 against Marske United), for tomorrow's game there is a double-rollover at stake. On this blog I have never predicted scores, in an effort to maintain an air of neutrality. A bit like Switzerland. To keep with tradition I'm not going to tell you want scoreline I have predicted for tomorrow. However, knowing our prediction skills, and the total unpredictability of this wonderful FA Vase competition, I would guess that we may have another rollover for the Wembley Final in May.
As Paul Gascoigne once said: "I don't make predictions and I never will".
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