Sunday, 5 May 2013

Spennymoor Town 2 v 1 Tunbridge Wells

Saturday 4th May 2013
FA Vase Final
Wembley Stadium, London
Admission: £15.00
Programme: £4.00
Attendance: 16,751
Match Rating: 3

Today would be the day I never dreamt would happen in my lifetime – going to England’s national football stadium to watch my local county league club play in a major national cup final. Having said that, since witnessing both legs of the nervy triumph against Northern League side Shildon five weeks ago, today had seemed to take forever to come around.

I had visited Wembley Stadium several times previously, most recently for the Women’s Olympic Gold Medal Match last September, and my thoughts on the ground can be found there. Today’s programme was everything you would expect from such an event. A hardened, glossy colour, well designed and printed, plenty of information far, far in excess what one would normally encounter in County League programmes, although the price of £4 was slightly excessive – again as one would expect from a cash cow event at Wembley.

Today’s final would be the amateurs against the big spenders, although surprisingly it was the southern team, Tunbridge Wells, who do not pay their players, and the northern team, Spennymoor Town, who spend relatively big money to attract players generally of a higher calibre than the Northern League. Since their semi-final victory over Shildon, Tunbridge Wells have been in pretty poor form, certainly caused by chronic fixture congestion which has seen them have to play game on consecutive days – and in mid-April, had to play three games on four days, the first of which saw them lift the Kent Senior Trophy. However, they did pick a win and two draws from their last three games, which followed five consecutive defeats. Spennymoor have had similar fixture congestion in recent times, although had not been asked to play on consecutive days like Tunbridge Wells. Their recent form has been good, and since their semi-final victory over Guernsey, have won nine, drawn two and lost two of their league games, and are guaranteed to finish the season in second place. To reach today’s final, Spennymoor had beaten Bridlington Town 1-5 way, Newcastle Benfield 5-1 at home, Billingham Synthonia 2-0 at home, Lordswood 3-1, Bemerton Heath Harlequins 4-2, Gornal Athletic 3-1, and finally Guernsey 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-final. Today would be just the second time that a Kent League side has reached the FA Vase final, and the first since 2000, when Deal Town lifted the trophy. Spennymoor’s presence today continues the recent dominance of Northern League clubs in FA Vase finals, which has provided the winners on each of the last four seasons, and last year both finalists were from the Northern League team.

The presence of two Northern League teams based far away from London may have explained a rather pitiful attendance in last year’s final of just 5,126, although a ridiculous price of £25 certainly would not have helped. So it was pleasing to see that common sense returned this year with a much more realistic price of £15. Having a relatively local team in the Final also helped boost this year’s attendance, as around 12,000 tickets were sold for the Tunbridge Wells sections.

On a mainly sunny afternoon, in the semi-final I had had the feeling that Tunbridge Wells has probably beaten the better side, and so presumably facing Spennymoor would be a daunting prospect, with Spennymore, on paper at least, a far stronger outfit than Shildon. And so it proved unfortunately, as right from the kick-off, Spennymoor looked a class above their opponents, with their players showing excellent movement and making good runs. After Tunbridge Wells had the first half chance on six minutes, Spennymoor took a deserved lead when they scored on in front of the Tunbridge Wells fans on 18 minutes. The ball was crossed into the box from the right by Keith Graydon and Gavin Cogdon sent a looping header over the keeper and into the net. Spennymoor went on to dominate the rest of the first half, with Wells’ keeper Chris Oladogba making some important saves and they had a luck escape when one of their defenders almost scored an own goal when his miscued clearance hit the woodwork.

In the second half, Tunbridge Wells looked increasingly more adventurous, although it was difficult to see how they could break through a strong Spennymoor defence, and Spennymoor always looked the more likely to score. However, out of nothing, Tunbridge Wells were back on level terms twelve minutes from time, when a cross from the right was parried away by the keeper, only for the ball to fall at Josh Stanford’s feet, who volleyed the ball into the net with an excellent finish. The Tunbridge Wells end erupted with noise and waving flags as the dream of another late rescued game came alive, however as it turned out, parity only lasted less than three minutes, when the ball was driven into the area, the Wells’ defenders just couldn’t clear the ball and Keith Graydon powered the ball emphatically into the net. Tunbridge Wells tried hard to get a second equaliser, but it just wasn’t to be. However, it has been an extraordinary achievement by Tunbridge Wells to get to the Final, giving the people of west Kent a day out that will never be forgotten, which will hopefully result in increased attendances back at the Culverden.

Video highlights at

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