The FA Vase. I’m beginning to enjoy the competition a fair bit now. It seems to have a special magic about it which motivates non league teams to travel the length and breadth of the country to play against sides who they wouldn’t ordinarily play. Brighouse Town, Gornal Athletic, Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Spenymoor Town, Walsall Wood and my local team in Devon, Buckland Athletic have all featured this season. Whilst the old FA Cup magic seems to be be utterly santitised these days by enforcement of regional ties before national ties are played. ITV also, are trying their level best to dismantle each delicate and unique aspect of Cup Magic in the vain hope of dumbing everything down enough for the modern football fan to understand. So it’s actually nice to see a national cup competition thriving without teams fielding weakened sides in order to “concentrate on the league” or a national media company clumsily trying to do the right thing and getting it so wrong. I have visions that the ITV Sport controller forces Adrian Chiles and Matt Smith into a darkened room and forces them into a game of Russian Roulette to rival the unforgettable scene in the Deer Hunter, to see who can come up with the most patronising quip. Mau! Mau!
I saw one Vase game earlier in the season. I even took my sister’s boy along for his first taste of live football. He’ll never forget Buckland Athletic’s 7-1 drubbing of the Cornishmen of Porthleven in the 2nd qualifying road (They beat Portishead 5-1 in the 1st round!), although he probably did spend more time whacking things with a stick than watching the game. For the record Buckland went on to beat Saltash United away before sucumbing to a 2-5 home defeat against Downton of the Sydenhams Wessex Premier League. Downton went on to lose away at Bodmin who then beat Ashington of the northern league but they then lost at home to Gornal Athletic of the black country to set up clash away to Spenymoor Town of County Durham. You see I told you it was interesting.
So a few weeks ago I headed over to the Isle of Wight to watch Newport IOW host Brighouse Town (near Halifax and Bradford if you’re wondering). I met up with a photographer friend on mine whose good lady wife very kindly deposited us both over the Itchen Toll Bridge and right next to the Red Jet Terminal where I met an old friend from my old days in Paris. From Aberdeenshire, spent a fair chunk of his life in Paris and is now in exile on the Island. We (myself and photographer mate) posed as a gay couple to get on the Red Jet at a vastly reduced price. I think he’s been wanting for us to take this trip together for a while now.
20 minutes later after belting up the Solent at a Blue Riband breaking rate of place we pull gingerly into Cowes. The Eastern European women running the boat is quite something. A mixture of beauty and practicality. We disembarked and headed for the pub. Then a taxi. Then another pub in the centre of Newport with one of those branded hot spicy peanut roasting machines. The contents look awful but the smell massages your food soul.
We walked down to the ground from the town centre, which only takes a few minutes to St Georges Park which is a very pleasant setting for the game of football with cover on all four sides. Fairly basic covering it has to be said but it’s quite enough to keep the elements out. Old mate from Paris got himself a horse burger and I opted for a Bovril.
Brighouse Town had finally made it to the Isle of Wight after a few attempts during the Big Freeze. Most of their fans were half cut which made for some decent banter. There’s always something about watching football amongst northern folk that really encapsulates the essence of supporting the game. “Fuck off, liner” one of them cried out. When they saw I had a camera one of them pointed to the Fish and Chip shop advertisment on the replica training top and asked me to get his chip shop in my set of photos.
Brighouse started the brighter on a heavy pitch. “We play on these kind of pitches every week” the father of the Brighouse goalkeeper told me. It certainly looked like the case as the away side concentrated on attacking down flanks, which were in better condition than the middle of the pitch. They took a derserved lead after 23 minutes through Ernest Boafo and held it until half time. They could’ve added to it but a mixture of stout defending and poor finishing meant a slender goal advantage at the break.
Fresh from a half time rocket the ‘Port then tore into Brighouse. They bossed a fairly one sided second half The pressure was mounting but the Brighouse goal wasn’t in too much bother despite the lack of territory. The slight looking Newport number nine took a tumble in the box and was instantly derided as Tom Daley by a Brighouse supporter. A minute later he came nearer to the touchline and the same supporter told him “go and see your doctor on Monday lad, I think you’ve got inner ear problems”. Newport finally equalised on 73 minutes courtesy of Tom McInnes. A minute later the very same Tom McInnes scored another for Newport and the result didn’t look in much doubt afterwards. The final whistle blew. Brighouse players and supporters rued what might have been whereas the home supporters had a win to help them celebrate the club’s 125th Anniversary.
We made our way made our way back to Cowes on the bus. The young bus driver showing a huge amount of skill in driving the bus through the tight archway into the bus station next to the Red Jet terminal. Before another faultless boat ride back to Southampton. East European woman was still doing what she does best. A very enjoyable day out.