The FA Vase may as well be called the Northern League Cup. In fact, since 2009 there has been at least one Northern League side in the final at Wembley – including a three year FA Vase winning streak for Whitley Bay between 2009 and 2011. But why do Northern League sides perform so well in the competition?
The Northern League has proved to be a breeding ground for top talents in the past few years with players like Luke Hannant, Jordan Hugill and Lewis Wing now playing in the Football League; the latter signing for Middlesbrough last summer.
The case is that further up the pyramid there are a lack of North East professional clubs. To live and play professionally in Tyne and Wear you have a pick of either Newcastle United, Sunderland or Gateshead.
A lot of academy rejects from these teams have no other option than to drop down and play for the likes of Blyth Spartans and South Shields, and failing that, a Northern League club who will pay them a decent amount of money on top of their full time day job.
Recently the FA have rejected a request from the Northern League to implement another step in between Division One and the NPL Division One North. The proposal was likely because of the cost of travel when going up to the 7th tier.
In the past, clubs had to apply for promotion at the start of a season, but this year they will be forced to play in a higher tier should they be successful during the season. Morpeth Town are a team who will be forced to take promotion should they finish in the top two, and manager Nick Gray feels it is unfair on the club.
“It comes down to resources and volunteers, sometimes you’ve got to live within your means,” said Gray on the NEF Podcast.
“Its a great thought but we are 46 miles south of the Scottish border and the Northern League has been strong because of where it is.
“Automatic promotion has just been put on us this season. My chairman is at the point where he is saying if people want to go up [from the Northern League] then let them go up.”
Automatic promotion to step 4 of non league should see an influx of North East teams making their way up the footballing pyramid and also more level playing field in the FA Vase in the years to come, a competition the Morpeth Town manager suggests is monopolised by Northern League sides.
“You can play the Northern League teams in the FA Trophy and I don’t think they would have a problem with that,” Gray told the NEF Podcast.
This year in the FA Vase there are two Northern teams who remain in the quarter-finals. The bookies have Marske United as firm favourites to win the FA Vase at Wembley this year, followed by fellow Northern League side Stockton Town.
The two sides could end up facing each other in the final (depending on the draw) should they win their respective ties this Saturday and progress through from the semi finals afterwards.
Marske United will travel to Bracknell Town of the Hellenic League Premier Division and Stockton Town host Windsor at Bishopton Road West. Both games will kick off at 3pm.
Header photo by Peter Talbot