Mark Carruthers: FA Vase fever once again hits the region as clubs dream of Wembley final - and why returning fans need perspective and patience

Ian Crumplin probably did not realise at the time - but he signalled the start of the North East’s love affair with the FA Vase when he rose majestically to head home Newcastle Blue Star’s winning goal in the 1978 Final.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 3:10 pm
Mark Carruthers returns with his weekly Echo column.

Blue Star - then a Wearside League club - could not be separated from final opponents Barton Rovers as the clock ticked agonisingly towards an extra half hour on the energy-sapping Wembley turf.

Barry Dunn - once of Sunderland - had got Blue Star back on level-terms and Crumplin picked the perfect time to write his name into North East non-league folklore with a powerful header beyond future Sheffield United and Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell.

Where Blue Star led, Whickham and Whitby Town followed before the turn of the millennium as the latter became the first Northern League club to win the Vase.

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Whitley Bay and the name of Ian Chandler would go on to become intrinsically linked with the competition over the following decade as he headed a late winner against Tiptree United at Villa Park in 2002.

Chandler’s own personal triumphs continued in the dugout as his Bay side containing the likes of Paul Chow, Lee Kerr and Paul Robinson completed a remarkable trio of final win between 2009 and 2011.

Dunston UTS added their name to an ever-growing list of North East non-league clubs to experience a Wembley triumph with a 2-0 win against Northern League rivals West Auckland Town 12 months later and a fifth consecutive triumph for the region was secured when Jason Ainsley’s Spennymoor Town saw off Tunbridge Wells.

After a one-year stay elsewhere, the Vase returned to the North East in 2015 and the returned as a large dose of emotion as Gareth Bainbridge dedicated his final goal against Glossop North End to his Dad, who passed away just months before their Wembley date.

Morpeth Town’s rise continued as they defied the odds with an outstanding display in their 4-1 against Hereford in 2016 and South Shields completed a historic quadruple as they cantered to a 4-0 win over Cleethorpes Town in the following year.

Hebburn Town were the latest North East club to experience Vase success earlier this year thanks to Olly Martin’s dramatic late goal in their 3-2 triumph in the second all-Northern League final against Consett.

There has been Wembley woe with Tow Law Town, Bedlington Terriers, West Auckland Town and Stockton Town experiencing final defeats over the last 25 years - but, the competition has been a source of joy for a region starved of genuine success during the time.

So, that is the past, what of the present?

This year’s FA Vase gets underway this weekend and, predictably, a whole host of Northern League clubs are rated amongst the favourites to appear under the famous Arch next year.

The bookmakers’ confidence will undoubtedly be rooted in the league’s history in the competition - but there should be a genuine belief that the Vase can return to the region once again.

In the likes of North Shields, Newton Aycliffe and Consett - my tip for this year’s Vase, sorry Frank - the league possesses a real threat to clubs around the country.

That trio are far from alone and I am absolutely sure the likes of Thornaby, West Auckland and Ashington will hope to build on positive starts to the season by having a prolonged run in the competition.

A new chapter in the North East’s love affair is about to be written - let’s hope it has a happy ending!

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I try not to get too frustrated and like to think I can keep a level head in the world of polarised emotions that is social media.

The opening month of the season has been somewhat challenging in that sense.

It’s hard to point to why, but it feels as if the reaction to defeats - or even draws in some cases - are provoking over-reactions on Facebook and Twitter.

After 18 months of negativity, social distancing and being forced to watch from afar, perhaps the resumption of whatever normality is these days has increased the desire for success in whatever way, shape or form that should come.

I noted with interest the reaction from some quarters to South Shields’ 1-1 draw against Ashton United - a result that prolonged the Mariners unbeaten start to the season and kept Graham Fenton’s side at the top of the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

A draw, given the high standards at South Shields, could be seen as underwhelming, but it should not provoke a severe analysis of what some see as reasons to improve for the club.

I wrote something similar in Morpeth Town’s match day programme after their slow start to their own season and was equally surprised by a few comments following Gateshead’s first defeat of the season at Leamington on Tuesday night.

Supporters could and should have a view - these clubs are their life, love and passion after all.

Their absence from grounds around the North East was felt by everyone in the game and their return has been a reason to rejoice and celebrate.

But we are just one month into the new season and, in my experience, things don’t settle down until nearer Christmas.

After nearly a year of inaction, some leeway and perspective - not to mention patience - is needed at the moment, otherwise it could be a very, very long season ahead.

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