Non-league Finals Day

Wembley Stadium. What an amazing venue.

Safe to say, on my first visit, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Chris had sourced us two complimentary tickets from the CMFL, so after leaving at 7am with Luke and Lee from Heanor Town FC, picking Chris and Craig up on the way… I felt more excited about a football match than I can ever remember before. Parking at Stanmore all day cost me the crazy price of £1.50… the tube was £1.50 each way for the 13 minute journey there and back. We arrived on Wembley Way with plenty of time to spare and all in good spirits.

We met so many people throughout the day, Aussie Jack, Fast Eddie, Mark Cooper (Forest Green Manager), Jay, Daz and Carl from Heanor Town FC, Johnny Holland (Fred Dibnah!), Gary of the NWCFL, Stuart ‘stalker’ Long and loads of others. I know other friends were in the ground throughout the day, but with 38 thousand people there, it became a version of Where’s Wally? when trying to find them in the crowd.

Let’s face it. Football and Food. It goes together so perfectly, it is one of the many reasons for my athletic physique!

We went to McDonalds – full of South Shields fans – so we ventured in to Wimpy just across the road. Still over an hour before kick off when we had finished eating, but plenty of time to stroll back to the ground.

We all know Wembley is a superb venue. Having both the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals on the same day just adds prestige to the event, and it means for people who would probably only make one of the two finals, that you can watch both for an affordable cost of £25 (£12.50 if a group of 9 or more!).

So – The Vase. Out came Cleethorpes Town FC and South Shields FC. Cleethorpes supported by around 4,000 and South Shields around 10,000 in their respective areas.

Cleethorpes tried, as hard as they could. Half time saw them one goal down, due to a stone-wall penalty being awarded and despatched. The second half saw some mouth watering football from South Shields, in fairness, the Clee’ goalkeeper should have kept the second goal out, the header flapped in to the net, but the third and four goals were put away by ex-Hartlepool forward David Foley late on.

The Cleethorpes players seemed to be struggling to deal with the vociferous style of the South Shields play. Pulling up with cramp a number of times,  looking shell shocked at times.

Full respect has to go to Cleethorpes, a Vase final is what all clubs Step Five and below aspire to reach and they certainly didn’t embarrass themselves when live on BT Sport and playing in one of the finest stadiums in the world.

Sat in the hospitality area we had an amazing view over the pitch as it was, but our seats actually backed up to the pathway the players take on their way back down from collecting their medals/trophy. A bit of sneaky filming through the barrier and I got some excellent footage of South Shields captain Julio Arca marching his team back down the steps to go and celebrate.

Half time came – people left, about 9,000 South Shields supporters left to make their long 278 mile trip home.

It was a pleasure to catch up with Andy Saunders at half time. The Chairman of NCEL Premier Division side AFC Mansfield, catching up on what is happening in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire football. If you’ve not been to AFC Mansfield before, go and visit. The view from the top of the terrace is excellent across their ground. The most important thing Andy said was, “try the pie”. I did, it was excellent, although I can understand paying “Wembley prices” at £10.10 for pie, mash and a bit of veg….. but why the 10p?!

 

Anyway. The Trophy final came. In the baking hot sun, with a glass of something cold (coke!) and a few new faces sat around us. What an afternoon.

Macclesfield Town and York City turned up. The stadium burst in to life. Macclesfield were our favourites as a group on the way down, someone actually said a 4-0 victory would be on the cards. Well, when ‘The Beast’ John Parkin glanced a header in to the bottom corner on 8 minutes, the chance of a 4-0 went out the window. Parkin was my man of the match by a country mile, the 35 year old stood out throughout, playing with the energy and enthusiasm of someone half his age.

Rhys Browne of Macclesfield levelled five minutes later, drilling a shot through the legs of Kyle Letheran – a goalkeeper who has had his playing time limited due to the loan signing of Scott Loach – maybe a touch of rustiness?

Left back, and official man of the match, Sean Newton rolled the ball across the area for Vadaine Oliver to nudge home on 22 minutes. Oliver is a talented forward, if I was a gambling man, I’d have money on Forest Green Rovers putting an offer on the table for the man who has already confirmed he will be leaving York.

Ollie Norburn. A player I’d never even heard of. Playing in the Macclesfield midfield (try saying that quick!), touch a touch on the edge of the box before leathering the ball in to the roof of the net from around 25 yards. An injury time equaliser in the first half, giving the score a true reflection of the game so far.

We got all the way to 80 minutes and I predicted extra-time. John Parkin was having none of it, running around for another half an hour wasn’t an option. 86 minutes in, the big man showed some neat footwork on the edge of the box before firing at goal, his shot deflected up and was no doubt going in – Parkin was already celebrating – when sub Aidan Connolly stabbed the ball home. You just have to make sure, don’t you?

The York celebrations were a tad bitter-sweet. Relegated for the second season in a row, searching frantically for stability, and they pop up with a victory at Wembley.

A very well done to Gary Mills and Darren Caskey, providing something for the Minstermen to celebrate after a torrid season!

 

A great day all round, and a fantastic advert for non-league football for the people who would have never witnessed the joys before!

 

Next up

Radcliffe Olympic FC v South Normanton Athletic FC

EMCL – Wendesday 24th May 7.45PM

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