Coalville Town vs Whitley Bay (FA Vase Final)
8 May 2011
Coalville Town 2 Whitley Bay 3
FA Vase Final (at Wembley Stadium)
Attendance: 8,778

Commentators often roll out the old cliché about the magic and ‘romance’ of the FA Cup, particularly when the surviving non-League ‘minnows’ are pitched against their Football League and in some cases Premier League counterparts, on a ‘Road to Wembley’ that we all know they will never reach. In the past, this may been relevant but increasingly the non-League clubs that make it through to the those so-called ‘proper’ rounds are from the higher echelons of non-League football and invariably semi-pro, or even fully professional. The Crawley Town side that visited Old Trafford in this season’s competition was hardly made up of the butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers of yesteryear.

The same can be said of the FA Trophy up to a point, a competition for clubs playing at Steps 1 to 4 of the non-League Pyramid. With the odd exception, the two Wembley finalists are usually from the national division of the Conference and therefore likely to be professional clubs.

For me therefore, the really magical FA competition is not the FA Cup or the FA Trophy, but the FA Vase, for clubs playing below Step 4 who will always be part-time/semi-pro or in some cases lower down, strictly amateur. The Vase was inaugurated in 1974 as a replacement for the FA Amateur Cup which had increasingly become an anachronism in an age when true amateurism in football, even in the lower Leagues, was becoming increasingly rare.

Except for a six year period between demolition of the old (1923) Wembley Stadium and opening of its replacement in 2007 the Final has always been played at England’s National Stadium, notwithstanding four replays. The inaugural Vase final at the New Wembley between Truro City and AFC Totton attracted a record 36,232 crowd, with the stadium just over a third full. Subsequent attendances have been more modest, but that is hardly surprising when one considers that for League fixtures most finalists will struggle to attract a few hundred to home games. But that’s the magic of the competition: clubs from towns and Leagues that most football supporters will never have heard of, descending on Wembley for a day that most of the fans and players will never experience again.

There are exceptions of course. Whitley Bay of the Northern League were bidding to make history, not only by becoming the first club to win the Vase four times, but also the first to win it three times in succession, having seen off Glossop North End (NW Counties League) and Wroxham (Eastern Counties League) in 2009 and 2010. On this occasion it was recently crowned Midland Alliance champions Coalville Town who stood in their way.

When the ‘new’ Wembley was being designed a lot of thought and some very clever architecture went in to creating the famous ‘Wembley Roar’ associated with the old stadium and even with just 8,778 inside for this match, there was still plenty of sound reverberating around the tiers of empty seats.

The Bay had brushed aside Wroxham 6-1 a year earlier but certainly didn’t have it their own way on this occasion. Despite never being ahead in the game, Coalville looked the better side for long periods and with better finishing might well have upset the odds. They twice equalised and looked to have taken a thrilling final, and a great advert for non-League football into extra-time but for a late winner from Whitley Bay’s Paul Chow just four minutes from time which sent the travelling fans from the North East home happy.

Match report and video highlights:

Some excellent action shots from Simon Roe, Steven White, Andy Nunn and Denis Murphy below:
128 photos · 840 views