Northern League quintet consumed by FA Vase fever

EVERYONE has their own motivation to succeed. For many in the FA Vase fifth round today, it is the dream of playing at Wembley.

Malcolm James, chairman of Dunston UTS Football Club.
Malcolm James, chairman of Dunston UTS Football Club.

EVERYONE has their own motivation to succeed. For many in the FA Vase fifth round today, it is the dream of playing at Wembley.

The region’s STL Northern League clubs – five of them in the last 16 – stand a great chance of living theirs.

While Whitley Bay v West Auckland Town guarantees one in the quarter-finals on March 3, the victor could face Billingham Synthonia, should the Teesside outfit overcome Wessex League side Bournemouth at Central Avenue.

Elsewhere this afternoon, Ashington are at Shortwood United, of the Hellenic League, for the right to host Herne Bay (Kent League) or Larkhall Athletic (Western), and Dunston UTS entertain Essex League outfit Bethnal Green United, with the prize a trip to Tividale (Midland Alliance) or Peterborough Northern Star (United Counties).

All told, and with fair wind today and on March 3, that could mean three Northern League clubs making up the final four.

Motivation indeed, but the Synners especially, have another. On Monday, January 23, Jackie Weatherall, aged 84 and for 65 years Mr Billingham Synthonia, died after a long illness.

“He was simply a wonderful man,” said secretary Graham Craggs, and after beating Runcorn Town in the last round, captain David Hillerby toasted Weatherall and dedicated the club’s Vase run to him. Now they mean to extend the tribute.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” said Synners assistant boss Lee Tucker. “We had a little taste of it last year, getting to the last 16, and we want some more. It keeps your season alive, because we’re not contending for the league this year. It’s given the place a buzz, with that dream of Wembley.

“It’s the romance of the cup, but there’s no pressure on us. We don’t know much about Bournemouth. We’ve had a report, but they’re still a bit of an unknown quantity. We’re as confident as we could be.”

That “unknown quantity” is commonplace in the Vase, and shared by Dunston UTS.

“We’ve spoken to a couple of contacts who’ve given us the lowdown and we expect them to be good,” said chairman Malcolm James. “I think they’re third in their league and they’ve won their last 11 games, so they must be decent. We don’t take anyone lightly but we’re very confident.” It seems to be the message of the moment. Even Ashington, away again, are upbeat. “Yeah, I’m not too concerned,” said manager Gary Middleton.

“We’re good travellers, as we’ve proved at Spennymoor (Town) and Newport Pagnell (Town) in the Vase, and Vauxhall Motors and Guiseley in the FA Cup. So we go down there with nothing to fear.”

Same goes for West Auckland at Whitley, though in this case, it is anything but a case of mutually-unknown quantities. “The lads are in high spirits, it’s a big game for us – certainly the biggest in the two years I’ve been involved here,” said manager Peter Dixon.

“We’ve made massive strides and come a million miles in two years, but we’re still a work in progress and to be talked of as potential giant-killers is brilliant. The fact people are even suggesting it is a massive compliment to us. We’ve already made history getting this far.

“Whatever happens it will have been a successful season for us, and whatever the result, all I want is for us to play to the best of our ability and give a good account of ourselves.”

That, Whitley Bay boss Ian Chandler suspects, may not be enough.

“Our home form has been good for the last few years, so if we play like we can I’m confident we’ll win,” he said. “They beat us twice when we weren’t playing well and had half a team missing. Now we’re very confident. We’re just waiting for it to happen now. It’s really whetted the appetite of non-league fans.”

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