So, yesterday was Star Wars Day (May the fourth!) and it was also the FA Vase Final at Wembley involving Spennymoor Town and Tunbridge Wells. The scene is set perfectly for me to write a blog laden with references to Star Wars films and to compare the players/ fans / officials as characters from the Star Wars films.
Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you as I am the one person in the World who has never seen any of the Star Wars films. Whilst I’m in confession mode, let me admit to not having seen a single Star Trek Film either. I could make other confessions, but I’m afraid that police officers may read this blog……
Anyway the chance to watch your hometown team playing in a cup final at Wembley is the thing of dreams for any football fan and this year I finally got the chance.
Let me start by repeating how I have returned to watching Spennymoor Town despite living in London. My partner lives in the Tyne Valley, so I am often in the North East, but have stopped following Newcastle United owing to several factors, including :
1. Sky high ticket prices
2. Greedy players interested only in their salaries and not in the club or its fans
3. Greedy clubs switching game times at the drop of a hat for convenience of TV and ignoring the paying fans and their travel issues
4. Over zealous policing and big brother attitudes of clubs stewards and police
So, I got myself down to the Brewery Field to watch Spennymoor who I used to watch before moving away when I went to University. The standard of football may be lower, but the games are involving 22 players who want to play and play for pride.
However, for me what made it even more attractive was the people, the fans, the club officials etc. You feels part of the club, not just a cash cow. All non league clubs have people like this involved. I now regularly travel up from London and try to take in as many Spennymoor games and when in London ground hop around many local clubs.
Anyway, to the Vase final. I arranged for Michelle and Josh to come down to London for the weekend. Tom, my son and his partner , were travelling down from Sheffield just for the game. So we ensured we were at the Globe for 11am.
The weather gods were smiling on us, but not good enough when I left home for me to carry out my threat to wear shorts – sorry ladies. No 6am coach for me- one of the benefits of living in London area! I did however wear with pride my Spennymoor Town shirt.
The Globe at Baker Street was packed (as always on a Wembley match day) so it was round the corner to Tesco Express for a carry out and straight up to Wembley Stadium. Two of our group had never been to Wembley, so they had that experience of the first look from Wembley Park Tube Station up Wembley Way. Its a fantastic sight and one that never fails to take my breath away, although it was better in my view with the Twin Towers of last century.
Last time I was on Wembley Way it was just before kick off at the Blackpool v West Ham Play off final which was played before a nearly full house.
The smaller number of people didn’t matter because today was my hometown team and no words are needed to explain that to any football fan.
Anyway, off to the ground and to the ticket office for 5 tickets. Amazingly they were for block 102, the nearest block to the halfway line save for the corporate seats. Quite how we got these when those who bought weeks ago got tickets further down the touchline. A result!
Tickets bought, it was time to head off to one of the well known Wembley pubs, “The Green Man”. This is up the hill from the ground in Dagmar Avenue. When we got there, another bonus, it was a Spennymoor pub. The coaches were parked in the car park and the bar was busy with Moors fans. This pub knows how to to look after its customers. All the bar staff inside had make up/ tattoos saying Spennymoor or something similar. The pub has a very big beer garden with several outside bars and even a barbeque. The landlord should be congratulated for his good business sense and the treatment of his staff.
Given the effort the pub staff had gone to, it would have been churlish of me not to do my best to drink the pub dry. It seemed that several others were doing the same. There was a great atmosphere at the bar, as may be expected it was a happy place. People seemed to be relaxed and the pre match tension was drowned in alcohol.
I met a couple of fellow Newcastle fans that I’ve known for many many years, neither are Spennymoor fans, but had come with their kids to support a north east team at Wembley. It was good to catch up with them as I’ve not seen them for a long time.
It was also good to see so many familiar faces from the Brewery Field and it adds to that feeling of being part of a family. It is some 29 years since I left Spennymoor for University, but despite this, I saw many faces I recall from my childhood. All looking older and like me much heavier than I recall but, it was a nice trip down memory lane.
[ I digress at this point to say that as a result of this game, I came across my best friend from primary school days on Facebook on Friday. I had not spoken to him for probably the best part of 30 years. It was good to catch up with him. I’ll be trying to sort out a drink next time I am in Spennymoor. I’m not sure why we lost touch, but it will be good to catch up]
As kick off time approached, it was time to roll down the hill and into Wembley Stadium. The stewards where we were were unusually pleasant and chatty. They seemed to be enjoying the day and were doing their best to make the day a positive experience. So different from so many stewards at “big” football matches. I am thinking here primarily of premiership matches.
The National Anthem was belted out my many. Being a patriot and a Monarchist, I love to hear and sing the anthems. It also meant that kick off was only minutes away. This is the moment it really hit home that Spennymoor Town were at Wembley Stadium. I remember the realisation in 1998 that Newcastle were in the FA Cup Final. That day it was when they played Abide With Me. Today, it was even more striking. Memories of so near yet so far in 1978 came to mind, but it was now just a distant memory and no longer was that horrible painful memory.
There were around 5000 fans down from Spennymoor which is equivalent to over 1/4 of the population of the town. It is a fantastic percentage of the town to attend the game. Especially when one recalls the crowd at last years final was around 5000 in total.
However, the vocal Spennymoor support was dwarfed by the sheer numbers of the 11,000 fans of Tunbridge Wells. However, it should be born in mind that the population of Tunbridge Wells is 108,000 and its on the doorstep of Wembley when compared to the 600 mile round trip Spennymoor fans had to make. Still, it was excellent numbers to bring to the game.
Anthems over and it was kick off time. The moment I never expected to see was here. Spennymoor were playing at Wembley. Pride, passion, 100% committed to the cause, and that was me, the players were not far behind either.
My perception of the game was probably skewed by my love of Spennymoor and 10pints, but it seemed to me that Spennymoor were in control of the game without actually making that many chances. Give them their due, Tunbridge were making a fight of it. So with 16 minutes on the clock, I took the opportunity to use the facilities under the stand….just bloody typical, whilst I am there, Paulo Di Tichio (Gavin Cogdon) chose to win a header and open the scoring the Moors. He celebrated with his customary handstand which seems to have upset those Softy southern shandy drinkers from Tunbridge who seem to think that its not allowed to celebrate a goal in a cup final. You can see for yourself in the video clips in this post what he did. The quote comes from one of those delicate Tunbridge Wells fans on the Spennymoor message boards
Other than your no.10 Cogdon you can be very proud of your team. His disgusting, silly nonsense to the crowd after he scored was embarrassing. But worse for you from then on he lost it completely and had a terrible game. He didn’t win a challenge after that and spent most of the time on the floor crying and complaining to the ref. Useless and he let you down. You should have taken him off
This is the same Gavin Cogdon who ran the Tunbridge defence ragged and for me was the man of the match (But then I’m biased as I sponsor his kit).
The rest of the first half was played out without any more scoring, but was without much doubt dominated by Spennymoor without creating many clear cut chances.
The second half saw Tunbridge coming into the game more. Still however, Spennymoor seemed to be comfortable when disaster struck, a punch from Deano was struck into the goal for a Tunbridge equaliser on 78 mins. Heartbreak? Surely we were going to lose now as Tunbridge were in the ascendancy. Michelle said to me as I sat with my head in my hands that Spennymoor would have to prove how much they wanted to win. This they did and within 2 minutes the ball fell to Rasher Graydon on the edge of the penalty area and he rifled the ball into the net and the noise tells you what his goal meant to Spennymoor fans. (listen to the noise at the 9 minute mark on the 2nd video clip).
Football is a cruel game. For Spennymoor fans from despair to elation in 2 minutes. For Tunbridge fans from hope to despair in the same period.
Those last 10 minutes of the game seemed to last an eternity. As the clock ticked eventually over to 90 minutes, the 4th official put up the board. 1 minute, possibly 2? No, it was FIVE, bl**dy minutes. Five where did he get that from. It must be a sick joke? Was Alex Ferguson managing Tunbridge as this was Ferguson time? In reality, after 6 substitutions and 2 goals amongst other stoppages, it was probably about right, but it did nothing for my nerves or my heart.
Then the referee eventually put us out of our misery. I finally got to see a team in black and white win at Wembley 37 years after first seeing a team in black and white at Wembley.
What happened over the next fifteen or so minutes reminds me of what is good about non league football. The pride and excitement and pleasure of all the players and officials at Spennymoor Town was so obvious to see. This was not about money, but personal pride for the players.
Seeing the pride and passion when the players lifted the FA Vase was a special moment. It was even more special to see Bobby Moore almost run up the steps despite his broken leg and see him lifting the cup.
One of the memories for me of the day was when Jason Ainsley, the manager and other players came over to the fans and shook hands, thanked us for coming etc. Thanking us? They’d just given us the best footballing experience of our lives.
Another reminder of the difference between the over paid prima donnas of the premiership who couldn’t care about the fans, and the genuine passion and respect for the club of non league players.
Today’s win is not just down to the players and coaching staff, but it is also the result of lots of hard work by Brad Groves, the directors, the numerous volunteers who all give their time to help the club whether it be selling half time draw tickets, selling programmes, working in the bar or those charged with bringing in sponsors, dealing with the FA, Council or Northern League. Each and everyone of the clubs volunteers has played no small part in bringing that success to the club. They all deserve to be thanked for getting the club to this stage.
Eventually, we had to leave the ground along with thousands of happy smiling Spennymoor fans. We made our way via the under used Wembley Stadium station to Marylebone for a quick pint in the Perseverance, but it was shut. Bad planning there on our part, so a pint in The Globe over the road (not to be confused with the Globe at Baker Street.). Then we all headed to the Hamilton Hall Pub at Liverpool Street Station for a few beers and repeated explanations that it was a Spennymoor shirt I was wearing and not a Newcastle one. (Newcastle were playing at nearby West Ham, so understandable mistake for people to make). It was fantastic to hear people congratulating us and sharing the feel good factor towards non league football..
A few more beers were sunk before Tom & Hannah left to go back to Sheffield and Michelle, Josh and I had a few more drinks and chatted with the locals and analysed the game. Michelle commented that there was often no one in the box and she had wanted more action in the box. Probably a fair assessment of the situation, but to me that was irrelevant as all that was in my mind last night was that Spennymoor Town had won the FA Vase at Wembley.
One other pleasing thing was the number of texts, tweets and phone calls I received from fans of other clubs sending congratulations. Its nice that there is a community spirit even between fans of rival teams.
On Monday, Spennymoor have a league game at Shildon AFC and following that they are heading back to Spennymoor for an open topped bus tour and a Civic Reception in the Town Hall. I am gutted not to be there but I fly to America on Tuesday for this year’s Police Unity Tour bike ride so need to spend time on Monday packing my bike etc. Still, Michelle is going to the game and the parade and is instructed to get lots of pictures for me.
I notice that Tunbridge Wells have a league game tomorrow at home to Canterbury. Wonder if I went to watch the game in my Spennymoor shirt if I would be made welcome? Do I have the bottle to find out?
This post is about me and very self indulgent you may think. To be honest I don’t make any apologies. I intend to savour the memory as long as I can.