Thomas Kelly – @tommyktufc
Oh Wembley Stadium, it was good to see you again. On a glorious Sunday morning, whilst many football fans were eying up the permutations of the final day in the Premier League, for me, the choice was obvious.
The annual finals of the FA Vase & FA Trophy were on my agenda. Previously held on separate days, since 2016, the two top cup competitions in Non-League circles now take place just hours apart, creating Non-League Finals Day.
Despite a lack of Torquay United interest, whose 2-1 away defeat at Tonbridge Angels saw their Wembley dreams end at the first time of asking, my attention to attending the finals was drawn by my local side making the FA Vase Final.
Littlehampton Town FC, fresh off winning the Southern Combination Premier Division and two cup finals (now three at time of writing), had reached the Wembley Arch for the first time in the clubs history, this despite losing 5-0 to Athletic Newham in the Fourth Round! They were luckily reprieved after the realisation that Athletic had fielded an unregistered player, meaning they were kicked out of the competition.
In front of over 3,000 (myself included), they dispatched the Loughborough Students 4-0 at the Sportsfield to punch their ticket to Wembley. It almost was the perfect final for me had Tim Sills’ Hamworthy United side won a penalty shoot-out. Congrats on promotion though Tim!
Their opponents were the town famous for their service station rather than football side, Newport Pagnell Town.
The atmosphere walking down Wembley Way was lovely. A genuine excitement from supporters, there to support their local towns and friends and family lucky enough to be playing on the hallowed turf.
Although not announced, both clubs sold 7,000 tickets each and both sections that had been allocated were equally full, albeit in a stadium that holds 90,000, both sets of supporters made for a great atmosphere.
The prices for drinks inside the stadium were steep, as you would come to expect, although a nice IPA pre-match went down well. My seats were in the middle tier in the nice padded seats in the corner with the arch in clear view.
Littlehampton went in as heavy favourites but unfortunately it seemed the occasion got to them. Newport Pagwell looked the more comfortable at the start and scored a stunner of a goal (goal of the afternoon) from Kieran Barnes on 19 mins. Give it a watch, it was a great hit. What a moment for him.
It didn’t get better for my local after a nasty clash saw George Gaskin stretchered off and in the second half Newport Pagwell sealed Vase success with two goals from Ben Shepard, the final goal coming from the spot.
Joy for the side near Milton Keynes and deserved winners. Littlehampton can still hold their heads up high from what they’ve achieved this season and I wish them all the best in the Isthmian League next season> I will probably watch a few games if I can. Good sports at the end and refused to let the defeat ruin the occasion.
The song of “Rocking All Over the World” blurted through the Wembley speakers rose a smile from me and brought me back to 2009 from our Play-Off success. Happy memories indeed.
Some more overpriced beers later, it was the turn of the Trophy final. Placed next to the large contingent of noisy Wrexham fans, some of whom found themselves in the Littlehampton end, did create a good atmosphere, as did Bromley, but the first half was a pretty dull affair. A frustrating reminder of how poor in general the quality of the National League has been this season, at least in my opinion.
For all of Wrexham’s Hollywood influx, Bromley made them look ordinary which is credit to them as a side that has always been a hard one to break down. They deserved the lead on 63 minutes, getting fortunate with the ball staying in play leading to the games only goal of the game. The Bromley massive savouring the moment. Wrexham huffed and puffed but rarely threatened until the last few minutes of the game, by that time, I was heading back to Wembley Park to avoid the mass exodus of disappointed Wrexham fans.
Watching the final moments from my phone, a superb save tipped over the bar and a last minute goal ruled out for offside, (which took Ryan and his Hollywood friends a while to understand the offside rule!) sealed victory for the Ravens and FA Trophy success for the first time in their history.
Over 46,000 fans over the span of both games attended Non-League Finals Day and without the distraction of the final day in the Premier League, I imagine more would have taken up the opportunity to sample non-league’s big day.
Meeting fans spanning Hampton & Richmond to Clapham FC, to Jersey Bulls, I highly recommend if the opportunity to arise as a neutral or god forbid, Torquay actually get to a cup final. For £25, you can’t go wrong.
The FA Trophy gets a lot of flack from the majority of sides in the National League, the extra games & the lack of financial gains make it an unattractive competition until you get to the semi-final stages, however, I’d love to see Torquay reach Wembley again if the luck of the draw were to fall our way. Of course, promotion to the EFL is our ultimate goal, but with our recent form in cup competitions, we as a fanbase deserve a change in fortune.
Let’s just hope for a run of home draws next season!
Up the Gulls!!