The FA Carlsberg Vase Final ~ Sunday 10th May 2009
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Distance travelled: 58 miles
I fully expected that anti-climactic, end of journey feeling after the FA Vase Final, but it still hit me between the eyes like a bullet. A culmination of a little less than 1780 miles covered, and 12 games watched, it really does feel like the morning after. Glossop North End players and club officials no doubt feel the same way having arrived at Wembley determined to leave with the Vase. It was Whitley Bay who won the ultimate encounter and it is they who had it all to celebrate come the end of game party. The blue and whites from the North East recaptured the silverware that they won in 2002 and will be experiencing a quite different morning after feeling than their Derbyshire opponents.
Both teams produced a display worthy of a Final. Whitley Bay were physically stronger and defensively superior whereas Glossop enjoyed more possession and attacked with pace, but failed to convert their chances. In balance, Whitley Bay deserved their 2-0 win with two good goals but Glossop played their part to keep the 12,212 crowd entertained throughout.
The first 15 minutes of the game were rather cagey, but open, as each team sized up their opponents on the large Wembley pitch. Glossop, playing in their new all white away kit, had the first sight of goal in the opening minute, Rick Bailey shooting tamely. Both sides won a couple of corners and free-kicks, but amounted to nothing. Glossop soon began to enjoy space down the left through the ever-impressive Dave Hodges while Whitley Bay were containing well and looking dangerous on the break. Although both teams were keen to attack from the off the first talking point of the game didn't arrive until the 16th minute with what was almost a spectacular goal; Adam Johnston produced a great strike from inside his own half which had the Glossop keeper Matt Cooper frantically back-peddling. Cooper somehow managed to get back to push the ball onto his bar.
Glossop were the next to strike the woodwork, after 21 minutes. Nick Allen drifted in from the right and with his left foot struck the bar with a rising shot from outside the area. A couple of minutes later Darren Hamilton got behind the Whitley Bay defence to square across goal but none of his team mates had joined him in advanced positions.
Clear-cut chances were at a premium for either side; Glossop were enjoying most of the possession but Whitley Bay broke well and won a couple of corners. The game was really end-to-end by this stage, and Glossop almost opened the scoring when Hamilton forced Terry Burke to smother at the foot of the post. With ten minutes of the half to go, Dave Morris fed Hodges down the left, but his cross was well held by Burke who was by now the busier keeper.
But it was Whitley Bay that broke the deadlock, and it took a great piece of individual skill to do so. Paul Chow’s ball found Lee Kerr on the edge of the North End penalty area. Kerr flicked the ball neatly between his two markers (Jamie Kay and Jay Gorton) and into the box, and with his next touch fired a sweet low shot across Cooper and into the corner. 1-0 to Whitley Bay after 36 minutes.
Glossop responded well and again looked to attack. Rick Bailey and Hamilton frequently exploited space on the right and with 3 minutes to go before the break it was Rick Bailey who jinked into the area only to scuff his shot. But just as the scoreline looked to remain intact through to the half-time whistle, Whitley Bay doubled their advantage. Glossop could so easily have equalised though; a scramble in the Whitley Bay box fell to a Bay, rather than a North End, player. The clearance found Johnston in space and with the two holding Glossop defenders isolated, he slipped the ball inside to Chow. Chow controlled the ball and finished well, hitting his shot beyond the reach of Cooper. In a harsh few moments for Glossop, Whitley Bay found themselves in the driving seat.
Glossop really needed an early break in the second half to get back into the match, but it was Whitley Bay who emerged the more determined. By now it was evident just how strong the Whitley Bay defence were, particularly their centre-half pairing, who coped with everything thrown at them. 2-0 almost became 3-0 within a few minutes of the restart as Chow waltzed into the area to shoot just over the bar.
Glossop slowly played their way back into the tie and grappled back possession for a spell. Gorton put an effort wide from distance and on 54 minutes Rick Bailey broke into the area only for his shot to be deflected for a corner. Then back up the other end and it was the seemingly tireless Johnston who almost sealed the game but Cooper again saved well. As the game reached the hour mark, Glossop’s constant running on the lush surface started to take its toll and they visibly began to tire. After 67 minutes the crossbar rattled yet again when Chow, the man-of-the-match, headed against the frame of the goal. Moments later Chow found space in the box to head a cross just over.
With Whitley Bay now in control they created further chances from set pieces. But just as it seemed that Glossop were running out of ideas and out of legs, and their fans had been silenced, they enjoyed an exciting spell of pressure from around the 76 minute mark. Hodges broke free, refusing to give up, and clipped the ball over Burke, but also over the goal. On 79 minutes, Hodges sent in a deep cross and Burke, who had been solid up to now, dropped the ball which was finally scrambled away.
This spurred Glossop on for one last push. In a barnstorming finish they forced four successive corners; the Glossop fans were now on their feet and I felt that at least a consolation goal should be their just reward. Half-chances fell to Mark Balfe and Tom Bailey, but this was just not going to be their day. The Whitley Bay defence held firm to the whistle which, when blown, was greeted by the large travelling support form the North East with cheers loud enough to be heard back home. The Glossop fans were magnanimous in defeat and stood to a man to show their appreciation their own team’s not inconsiderable effort, not only in this game but in their whole FA Vase campaign. In a nice touch at the end, both sets of players went to applaud the opposing fans and both sets of supporters responded well.
My trip to Wembley was a family and friends affair, making the short journey from Surrey to North London in plenty of time to sample some of the pre-match atmosphere and the fine weather. It was a strange experience for me watching the game in the stadium that was well under a quarter full. My previous visits had been for one of last season’s FA Cup Semi-Finals and the Final itself, when I had seen the place full to the rafters. On this visit I had to remind myself that both teams, Step 5 clubs remember, were extremely well supported on the day and the 12,000 plus attendance was a respectably healthy figure. Yet I couldn’t quite nail why this eerie, cavernous sensation troubled me. We were sitting behind the goal in the West End of the stadium, and I thought that it was because we were almost at the edge of the Glossop support, with the empty seats stretching away to our right, that I felt a little exposed. It wasn’t until later I realised why I had felt that way: the Wembley Final had been far removed from the games I had seen at the small grounds on route. That intimacy had gone; standing against rails, chatting with the club Chairman, players at touching distance and the smell of the Wintergreen. That was it. However, there was never any doubt in my mind that the Final should have been anywhere other than at Wembley, but I may well write to the FA to ask why they couldn’t have done more to get those empty seats filled.
So there you have it: Whitley Bay are the 2009 FA Vase winners. The Final turned out to be a great advert for the non League game, which is in keeping with everything I have experienced throughout this season’s FA Vase competition. Well done to The Seahorses but credit must also go to The Hillmen, not only for playing their part in an entertaining Wembley Final, but for being fantastic hosts in the latter rounds of the competition.
I can now banish those morning after blues safe in the knowledge that I have been on another enthralling journey. A journey that started for me back in September in front of a crowd of only 65 and gave me the wonderful opportunity to meet people who all share the passion, many of whom I hope to keep in touch with. A journey that has taken me and my friends from Surrey to Gloucestershire, from Sussex to Derbyshire and ended with the trophy heading off to North Tyneside.
For more of my photos, please click [here].
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