Hereford v Morpeth Town
Wembley / FA Vase Final / 22nd May 2016
Grimsby Town v FC Halifax Town
Wembley / FA Trophy Final / 22nd May 2016
Undoubtedly one of my favourite days out of last season was FA Vase Final day. I hadn’t even planned on heading to Wembley that day, but with train tickets to the capital already booked for a Arsenal v Swansea game, which was irritatingly moved to midweek, the Vase Final meant that my train tickets were to prove not wasted. For the day, we became Glossop Ultras, bounced around to Madness and then dealt with the disappointment as our adopted team for the day eventually succumbed to North Shields in extra time. The day was a riproaring success and I declared that I planned on coming back the next year. So here we are, but there was an added bonus this time around…
Two finals in one day. The FA had decided to stage both Vase and Trophy final at Wembley one after the other in a sort of non-league footballing bonanza. I was unsure of my thoughts on this. Selfishly, I thought it was great as I could see two finals in one day; however, I felt that some of the magic of each final could possibly be tarnished. Today’s finals would feature the newly-formed and resurgent Hereford taking on Morpeth Town from the perennial FA Vase-winning north-east of England. The Trophy would see FC Halifax Town battle it out with Grimsby Town – a team who had been at Wembley just a week earlier securing themselves promotion to Football League.
It was left to Gibbo to sort out the tickets for the day being dubbed ‘Non-League Finals Day’ and I was delighted when I learned that we would be in the Grimsby section of the stadium. I do have a bit of a soft spot for Grimsby after our eventful weekend there earlier in the season, but a lot of my delight probably came from the fact that I now had an excuse to bring along my pal Harry the Haddock. For those who don’t know, Harry the Haddock is the lovable inflatable fish flaunted in the stands by Grimsby fans home and away. Of course, I had to get one as a souvenir from our October visit to Blundell Park, but since that weekend, Harry had remained lazing about my bedroom, clearly bored.
This weekend was also a time for celebrations, as Monday 23rd May would see me turn 28. No sensible working person celebrates their birthday on a Monday night (well, I did a little bit), so a London weekender was pencilled in with our Wembley fun too to mark the occasion. This meant my Saturday afternoon/evening was spent with: a London hotel room full of beer and Jaegermeister as we took in the FA Cup Final on TV; a night out in various London drinking holes near London Bridge; and then a mass group session on Tinder in the Shipwright Arms, whilst Gibbo tried working his magic on some American girls. Happy birthday to me.
9am the next morning I was receiving missed calls from Craig – who hadn’t partied in London with us the night before – telling me that he was almost in London. I was still in bed in my mate’s flat in south-east London. Dare I say, I even had the slight hint of a hangover – a word I’m usually immune to. But 30 minutes after Craig’s phone call, I found myself back at London Bridge, where I eventually spotted my lanky pal in his blue jacket. You see, Craig will be working for FC Halifax’s media team next season as part of his Sport Journalism course, so he’d be in the Shaymen end today, hence the blue jacket, whilst I was in my black and white number to show my loyalties for Grimsby for the day. Not that I needed to hint at that support anymore than the fact I was plodding through London with a huge inflatable haddock under my arm. Some of the lads had the audacity to suggest I should have deflated Harry to bring him to London with me and then blow him back up at Wembley, but it is an unwritten law that Harry the Haddock must never, ever be deflated.
Game 1 of the day, the FA Vase Final, was kicking off at 12.15am, so we decided to start heading north towards Wembley straightaway, marking out Baker Street as our first pub stop – more specifically the Wetherspoons next to the station. I was happy with this idea as Baker Street’s Spoons held nothing but happy memories for me: it was there where we drank during the hours leading up to Swansea’s 2011 Play-off Final triumph over Reading, a triumph which took us to the glittering lights of the Premier League.
So the first beers of the day were purchased around the 10.30am mark, but it seemed that this Spoons was not adhering to the low(ish) prices usually associated with the establishment. £4.20 is a horrifying price for a pint of Fosters in a plastic cup in Spoons – even for London. To cheer ourselves up from the extortionate pricing, we started rating the various football shirts on show in the pub with us unanimously deciding that Hereford’s shirts were the kit champions of the day. Opinions proved divided on Morpeth Town’s black/gold effort and whether it was ‘ugly’ or ‘cool’ (I was very much in the ‘ugly’ camp).
Craig’s uni mate Dan soon arrived with his fellow Portsmouth-based pals and after one last beer, we headed next door to M&S for…yes, you guessed it: M&S Belgian Lager – a staple of the Lost Boyos diet on the road.
By now, I was receiving messages off Gibbo, Aaron, Lee and Ollie, who were already at the top of Wembley Way with my ticket. It seemed my pubbing had held them up and they were very much waiting for me. Oops. Even so, I’m still a firm believer in that probably the best part of visiting Wembley is the walk up Wembley Way, with that colossal stadium looming magnificently ahead of you, so I probably wouldn’t make my pals waiting for me happy to hear that I still took my time on the stroll up towards Bobby Moore’s statue. My walk up the Way was not as eventful as some past visits where I’d ended up on BBC Radio Wales with Owen Money and had an impromptu kickabout with Bradford fans, but I did get a Grimsby FA Trophy final scarf to appease the fishy friend under my arm.
Eventually, I found my fellow Grimsby-enders, who I thanked for their patience, although they seemed mainly annoyed that they had missed Hereford’s bull paraded around Wembley’s pitch in the build up to the FA Vase Final (yes, an actual bull strangely named Ronaldo). Craig headed towards the Halifax end and off we headed towards the turnstiles; however, not without me and Gibbo picking up a clapper and cardboard trophy each (Gibbo daubed ‘Colls on Tour’ on his, whilst I predictably scribed #NoFlatCapNoParty onto mine). Through the turnstiles we headed and onto the expansive Wembley concourse.
The stadium was divided into quarters today with us – ‘us’ being Grimsby today – occupying the north-east corner. It seemed that many Grimsby fans were not too interested in the supposedly ‘lesser’ occasion of the FA Vase Final so our stand had small clusters of fans scattered sporadically about the place as the clock ticked past midday. Directly opposite us in the south-west corner was a completely different story though: Hereford had brought an army with them. More than 20,000 fans were present in the Hereford end and it was a truly impressive sight to behold on this warm Sunday afternoon. To put this into perspective, the attendance at last season’s FA Vase Final added up to 9,674.
Hereford’s story this year has been a heartwarming one with the phoenix club rising from the ashes of the old club and storming the Midland League (9th tier). As well as excelling on the pitch, the new guise of Hereford football has been drawing in big crowds, as many fans have jumped on board with the ‘buzz’ around the new incarnation of the Bulls. Amazingly, this was Hereford fans’ first trip to Wembley in 92 years and they were certainly here to enjoy it. And it looked like there’d be plenty to celebrate too judging from the opening exchanges of this final.
There was barely a minute on the clock when Hereford’s Rob Purdie let fly with a long range shot and it smashed into the bottom corner of the net. Cue scenes over in the Hereford end.
I was no expert on Morpeth Town, but purely just from Hereford’s barnstorming effort in their league and maybe the huge crowd in front of us, I thought Hereford would go on to destroy the team from the north-east. They probably should have too, as the first half became a series of squandered chances for Hereford.
I thought Hereford’s dominance would be the running order for the rest of the game, but, out of nowhere, a goalkeeper error from a corner saw the ball fall to Morpeth’s experienced centre-back and captain who bumbled the ball in off his chest to make it 1-1. ‘Experienced’ is probably putting it lightly there. The scorer, Dan Swailes, is actually 45 years old and is playing in the north-east after a long career taking in several Football League clubs, including the likes of Ipswich, Peterborough and Bury. Swailes had even won the Vase back in 2012 with Dunston – another club hailing from the north-east. Swailes has retired twice and had four heart operations, so fairplay to him, this was a proper ‘Wembley hero’ story. We were witnessing history too, as Swailes officially became the oldest player ever to score in a cup final at Wembley. What a guy.
Half-time: Hereford 1-1 Morpeth Town.
Half-time was spent indulging in one of Wembley’s exorbitantly priced beers (£4.95 for Carlsberg in plastic cups) and at such a cost I was in no mood to rush it. I was taking my time with this one, even if it meant missing the opening minutes of the second half, which I could watch on one of the many screens littered around the concourse alongside images of some of England’s more iconic football moments.
Of course, my choice of enduring my pint of Carlsberg slowly and tortuously meant that I missed Morpeth take the lead (at least ‘in the flesh – I witnessed it on a TV screen). It took just 40 seconds after the restart for a ball to land to Ben Sayer, who played it back across goal for Luke Carr to tap home easily. There was a fraction of Morpeth fans compared to Hereford, but they were certainly the ones being heard now.
12 minutes later, and with me now back in my seat, it was 3-1 as a clever through ball played in Sean Taylor to put home past the Hereford goalie. The Hereford defence now looked in tatters and was being opened up at will.
As we entered the final 10 minutes, Hereford fans realised that today was not to be their day and it was not following the fairytale script for them (and the script I thought the game would follow too). Nonetheless, the Hereford fans were now in great voice again to serenade their players in the closing stages. However, sadly for them, Morpeth added one more goal to their tally in injury time as substitute Shaun Bell, only on the pitch for two minutes, scored via a deflection after Steven Anderson’s pass.
Full-time: Hereford 1 – 4 Morpeth Town.
Well done to Morpeth Town, who would be the 7th team from the north-east to win the Vase in the past 8 years. We hung around to watch the trophy presentation take place up in Wembley’s Royal Box and to watch the Morpeth staff and players celebrate boisterously in front of their fans, but with the Hereford end virtually emptying within minutes, we decided that was our cue to head back into the cavernous Wembley concourse.
With the best part of two hours to kill until the FA Trophy kick off, I suppose I had plenty of time to leak more and more money into the FA’s beer fund. I did live even more lavish too with a pie and pint deal for £8; fairplay, to the Wembley chicken balti pie though, it may have been expensive but it was an impressive effort.
Joining us on the concourse now was fellow Swans fan ‘Matt The Jack’, groundhopper Adam Thurston, who was delighted to get a #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker it seemed, and their pal Emily Smith – another Pompey fan. They were great company on the concourse as the time flew between both games. Plus, the Grimsby end was now filling up with the finale to Non-league Finals Day looming. This saw a brass band patrolling up and down the concourse, Grimsby fans posing as nuns and a whole load of Harry the Haddocks floating about the place. With it being my birthday the next day too, I had just convinced myself to ignore the price of the beers and kept on buying to enjoy my final hours of being at the tender age of 27.
3.15pm and it was finally time for the final final: the FA Trophy – Grimsby Town v FC Halifax Town.It seemed a bit strange being back pitchside now with the side opposite us now virtually empty having been full earlier; I supposed both Morpeth and Hereford fans were already out on the town – one set of fans celebrating, the other drowning their sorrows. It made me think that it took away from the atmosphere slightly and it may have been better having each opposing set of fans opposite each other rather than next to each other, but my specialist subject certainly isn’t ‘the logistics of finals at Wembley Stadium’.
Soon, and for the second time today, we had the teams lining up on the pitch as God Save the Queen played out. My companions had turned to me on both occasions to look at how I’d react to the English national anthem, but I did have the decency to stand at least; there was not a chance I’d be singing it though – not a chance.
The Vase final had been thoroughly entertaining, but the Trophy would prove far drabber.
As mentioned previously, just a week earlier Grimsby were sealing promotion back to the Football League for the first time in 6 years and so there was a buoyant feel in our end with repeated chants of ‘WE ARE GOING UP!’ However, it did feel a bit like that today was a mere added bonus for the Mariners fans and that a loss today wouldn’t really dismay them too much after last weekend’s ecstasy.
Halifax, on the other hand, had felt the powerful grasp of relegation pull them down to the Conference North. Today was their chance to bring some glory to their season.
The game was very cagey and evenly-matched, although Grimsby probably had the better chances to score; especially top goalscorer Padraig Amond who fired a header straight at Halifax’s keeper when unmarked.
Half-time: Grimsby Town 0 – 0 FC Halifax Town.
Once again, a half-time beer was bought and once again I was in no rush to finish it. However, there was another ‘once again’ to come as once again I missed a goal (apart from watching it on the screen once again).
A ball was played into the Grimsby box and, after a slight scramble, it looked like Grimsby’s defence were about to clear their lines comfortably. However, Grimsby made a hash of it on the edge of the box and the ball went to Halifax’s Scott McManus who fired a clever curling shot over the keeper and into the net. This prompted wild scenes on the pitch and in the stand to our right as Halifax took the lead. How did the Grimsby concourse react? ‘Oh well…’ and a shrug of the shoulders. A lot generally seemed not arsed at all and were just happy to carry on chanting one of my favourite chants of the season, which I had picked up on our Blundell Park visit: “FISH!” – as simply as that.
The rest of the second half saw Grimsby make a fight of it, but without creating anything of real note. It was soon at the stage where the four of us were not too keen on a Grimsby goal, purely because we wanted to go to the pub post match rather than watch 30 more minutes of this drabness. Grimsby almost scuppered those plans though, as an injury time goal line melee was cleared off the line by Sam Walker. Such heroics saw Halifax cross the line to cup glory.
Full-time: Grimsby Town 0 – 1 FC Halifax Town.
As we had with Morpeth’s trophy lifting, we stayed to see Halifax’s moment of glory, as did most Grimsby fans in fairness with everyone clapping this year’s Trophy winners. With trophy held aloof in the Wembley air, that was our cue to depart the ‘home of football’.
Underneath the gaze of the statue form of Bobby Moore, we met back up with Craig and made the stroll back down Wembley Way and towards Wembley Park station. With just over an hour to make my train back to Manchester our destination was London Euston.
When Lost Boyos are in London, HQ is very much the Doric Arch pub next to Euston station, even though I have may have a slight disagreement with a barman on my last visit – but we’ll leave that story. Fortunately for the business at Doric Arch, I’m all about forgiving and forgetting, so me and the gang headed to my London boozer of choice.
It’s been weird over the past couple of years with people actually recognising me at grounds and there had been a steady flow of “You’re Matt aren’t you?” today. So, it was great to finally meet up with writer and groundhopper Calvin Wade in the Arch today, as well as other hoppers such as Paul, who I’d met at Prescot and Manchester City-supporting groundhopping stalwart Tony Morehead. “We can’t go anywhere quietly with you!” proclaimed Lee.
With Craig gone on his way back south and with Gibbo, Aaron, Lee and Ollie braving another night in London, I exited the pub and made my way to the adjacent Euston station ready to make the journey back north to Manchester. Of course, not without some more M&S Belgian lager for the road…well, track.
Just like last year, I had thoroughly enjoyed my day at Wembley watching non-league football, even though the FA Trophy had been a bit of anti-climax after a compelling Vase final. As a neutral, I felt the two finals in a day setup worked really well and it was great to learn that over 46,000 had watched both non-league finals at Wembley – more than were at the England v Turkey friendly in Manchester at the same time. I’d support the FA adopting a similar scenario at the climax to next season, although it’d be interesting to hear what fans of clubs who were in the final actually thought of it.
Highlights: £25 fot two finals at Wembley, birthday celebrations in London, Wembley Way, Harry the Haddock in attendance, Rob Purdie’s goal, FA Vase final was great.
Low Points: expensive food and drink (obviously), poor FA Trophy game, Grimsby losing.
See all my photos from my day at the FA Vase and Trophy finals here.