Ownership of Wembley Stadium taken over by the Geordies – at least for a day.
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Wembley is used to seeing their streets invaded by fans of global and national superstars from the worlds of music, sport and entertainment. But through it all the stadium remains Brent’s pride and joy – with the exception of one day every year.
The FA Vase has belonged almost exclusively to the Northern League, based in the footballing outpost of the North East.
The last time the final of the Vase was minus a Northern League side was 2008 and since then seven of the eight winners have belonged to them – and they even had the nerve of having both winners and runners-up in 2012 and the runners-up in the one final that eluded them.
Every year Wembley Way has been full of the voices of the region.
This year, however, it was taken to a whole new level.
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South Shields’ story is an incredible one. Exiled for a number of seasons to Peterlee, 20-miles south of their South Tyneside home, attendances dwindled to barley double figures.
But a move back to Jarrow saw the fans flock to Mariners Park once more.
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Promotion from Division Two last season saw the attendance tip into four figures on a couple of occasions and this year it barely dipped below.
The average league attendance was over 1,200 but that was dwarfed when the ground record was set twice, first at 3,161 and then 3,464.
Final day saw 13,000 descend on Brent. So many turned up that the blue shirts of opponents Cleethorpes Town stood out like a sore thumb against a sea of claret and blue.
Inside the stadium was no different. A quarter of the bottom and middle tiers belonged to Shields, with precious little spaces, with a smattering in the top tier.
In contrast Cleethorpes only had the bottom tier in one half of the pitch.
The noise ramped up at the arrival of the teams and continued as the Mariners started the brighter, testing Cleethorpes’ goalkeeper Lee Higton and his defenders on more than one attack.
Town had one brief spell which caused Shields panic in the first half but Carl Finnigan’s penalty just before the break gave them a deserved lead.
And had it not been for Higton in the second half Shields would have been further ahead long before Dillon Morse headed a second.
David Foley’s late brace gave the score a deserved look and started the party among the travelling Tynesiders.
Management duo Lee Picton and former Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa striker Graham Fenton were quick to pay tribute to the huge travelling army.
Picton said: “They’ve supported us the length and breadth of the country this season and we really wanted to give them an experience that they could take away.
“‘Sleeping giants’ is an old saying but South Shields used to command 10-15,000 back in the 30s. It shows that there is the potential there.
“We’re one of the biggest towns in the country that doesn’t have a football league club. It is a big, big town.
“It’s just about capturing the imagination, which I think [owner] Geoff [Thompson] and a lot of people at the club have done over the last few years, and carrying that momentum forward.”
Outside the delirium was slowly disappearing, destined to celebrate elsewhere.
But today, as with every other FA Vase for the last nine years, Wembley Stadium belonged to the north-east and the Northern League.
They’ll hand it back tomorrow but make no mistake; one of their number will already be looking at reclaiming it come next year.