Mark Carruthers: No ordinary cup final but Hebburn Town and Consett will do region proud in FA Vase Wembley clash
The waiting is almost over.
The time for using clubs, players, chairman, volunteers, and supporters as a political football has come to an end.
It is time to unleash the pride, passion and sense of belonging that any cup final supplies in abundance.
Of course, this is no ordinary cup final.
For only the second time in the history of the FA Vase, two Northern League clubs will walk out at Wembley to compete in the final of a competition that has become engrained in the hearts of North East non-league folk.
Supporters are still limited to watching events from afar as the government’s bewildering decision to opt against giving the match a ‘Covid-19 test event’ status means an echoey silence will reverberate around Wembley, rather than the cheers of the Conny Army or their Hebburn counterparts.
Neither following should underestimate their importance to their clubs, not only on Monday, but throughout the challenges that have been fought in this last year and the ones that are yet to come.
BT Sport’s decision to make their coverage ‘free-to-air’ is more than welcome and soothes some of the anger that rightly remains.
But all of that will be forgotten when Terry Mitchell and Kevin Bolam lead their players out of the Wembley dressing rooms and on to the hallowed turf where legends are created, and history is made.
This is a moment for North East football supporters to cherish – not just those that devote their time and passion to our vibrant non-league scene.
This is a moment for the region’s football fraternity to throw off the difficulties of the last year and see our region represented with pride in front of a national and worldwide audience.
Remarkably, for two clubs with a long and proud history in the game, both will be walking out at the national stadium for the first time.
Their achievement can not and will not be underestimated, no matter which side claims victory on Monday afternoon.
There has been a paucity of silverware and success in North East football during many of our lifetimes – but the FA Vase has provided steady stream of glory for the region.
At the last count, 12 winning sides from nine clubs have experienced the thrill of lifting the Vase at Wembley old and new – and, on one occasion, Villa Park.
From Blue Star’s dramatic late win against Barton Rovers in 1978 to South Shields’ comprehensive 4-0 win over Cleethorpes Town, the North East has become synonymous with success in the competition.
To become the tenth North East club to claim a Vase Final win would mean so much for everyone connected with either Hebburn or Consett and could provide the platform to even greater things.
For Hebburn, there is the prospect of kicking off what could be a stellar month for the club.
A win on Monday would be the best possible preparation for a quarter-final trip to Warrington Rylands as their participation in this season’s FA Vase continues and a triumph in the North West next Saturday would take them within one home win of a speedy return to Wembley.
When you add a promotion into the Northern Premier League into the mix, it is clear that May could be one of the most remarkable months experienced by a Northern League club in many a year.
No matter what the result is on Monday, Consett will get another bite of the cherry in the FA Vase next season – although that’s not to downplay their desire win this season’s competition.
The Steelmen were one of the contingency clubs in the FA’s restructure – but the confirmation of Stockton Town, Shildon and Hebburn’s application for promotion means that Terry Mitchell’s side will be a Northern League club again next season.
Going into the campaign as FA Vase winners would only enhance the belief that Consett will be one of the sides vying for promotion into a new look Northern Premier League second tier.
But the future can wait for now, history beckons for one side in a final that is too close to call.
Both squads are full of players with experience of football at a higher level and a high-quality final should be expected.
The size of the Wembley pitch will suit the pace and trickery of Consett’s flyers like Jermaine Metz, Ali Alshabeeb, Jake Orrell and Luke Carr.
Steelmen striker Dale Pearson will relish the prospect of exposing the space in behind the Hebburn back four and manager Mitchell has a number of options available when he looks to his substitutes.
By contrast, Hebburn’s squad is one brimming with power and control.
Captain Louis Storey will lead by example, the understated and underrated duo of Danny Carson and Robbie Spence will go about their business and Tom Potter and the vastly experienced Graeme Armstrong will provide an uncomfortable 90 minutes for their markers.
The Hornets are slight favourites according to the bookmakers – but in reality, that means little.
Consett’s threat is plentiful, something Hebburn manager Kevin Bolam will stress to his players many times before the big kick-off on Monday.
This really is a final that could go either way, and at the risk of being accused of sitting on the fence, it is one that I would be wary of making a prediction on the outcome.
However, one prediction I am happy to put out there is that both sides, both clubs and their proud chairmen and committee members will do the region proud on their big day.
They will give the North East a reason to smile in these challenging times and show the rest of the country why we are so proud of our non-league scene.