Sunday marks one of the biggest days in the non-league football calendar as Wembley Stadium hosts this year’s Non-League Finals Day.
Is it really twelve months since the inaugural Non-League Finals Day? Is it really twelve months since Morpeth Town carried on the Ebac Northern League’s fine tradition in the FA Vase with a shock 4-1 win over an all-conquering Hereford side?
Surely it can’t be a year since FC Halifax Town produced an upset to beat SkyBet League Two bound Grimsby Town in the FA Trophy Final?
This year’s Non-League Finals Day promises to be just as dramatic with two exciting finals in wait.
Buildbase FA Vase Final
Cleethorpes Town v South Shields (kick-off 12.15pm)
Not only does this clash provide an enticing Buildbase FA Vase Final, it also pits two league champions against each other.
Between them Cleethorpes Town and South Shields have amassed five trophies between them this season.
The Owls were crowned Toolstation Northern Counties East League champions and also walked away with the Lincolnshire Senior Trophy after a 1-0 win over United Counties League side Deeping Rangers.
South Shields have had a spectacular first season at Step Five level.
The Mariners won the Ebac Northern League Division One title and did the league and cup double with a 5-0 hammering of North Shields to win the Northern League Cup.
They added a third trophy with a 2-0 win over Billingham Synthonia as they lifted the Durham FA Challenge Cup and will be hoping to make it a clean sweep by adding their name to a long list of Northern League FA Vase winners.
And they go into the tie as favourites.
Not that the Owls will be bothered about that.
Midfielder Liam Davis told Non-League Daily “It takes the pressure off us if nobody else, except ourselves, expects us to do well” admitted Davis.
“The pressure is all on them to go out and win.
“We believe we are good enough to win and that is all that matters. We have that belief, we believe in ourselves.
“We know they should have been knocked out by Morpeth Town if all things went right.
“So they aren’t unbeatable, we know that, but we know we will have to keep believing in ourselves and doing the right things to get a result on the day”
One thing in the Mariners favour is that they possess a management team that know what it takes to win at Wembley.
Graham Fenton and Lee Picton have both lifted the FA Vase during their careers. Picton was part of the Whitley Bay side that lifted the trophy with a 2-0 win over Glossop North End in 2009 and came off the bench twelve months later as the Seahorses hammered Wroxham in the 2010 final.
Former Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers midfielder Fenton was manager of North Shields when they lifted the Vase.
Just two years ago a 2-1 win over Glossop North End took the trophy back to North Tyneside.
However the Mariners managerial team aren’t reading too much into their previous wins on English football’s biggest stage.
“There is already pressure and it has already been put on us here” said Fenton.
“The pressure of delivering with South Shields far exceeds that of winning at North Shields.
“We didn’t have pressure against Glossop North End, they were favourites that day and it was hugely enjoyable to beat them.
“I am sure that will be the same this time, even though people say we are favourites going into the game”
Picton added “The squad we have, the experience we have in there, we will be relying on players that have played massive games throughout their career.
“We have our experiences to touch on too but we know we have players that will settle other players down.
“The favourite tag means little, it’s a game of football and it is about what happens on the day.
“It is a tag other people have given you, not something we give ourselves.
“We will do our normal preparations, we will ensure we get it the way we want it and let others worry about tags”
Road to Wembley:
QR Esh Winning (A) 4-0
1R Runcorn Linnets (H) 2-1
2R Marske United (H) 2-0
3R Staveley MW (H) 3-0
4R Morpeth Town (H) 2-4 (abandoned)
4R (R) Morpeth Town (A) 4-0
5R Team Solent (A) 5-2
QF Newport Pagnell Town (A) 6-1
SF1L Coleshill Town (A) 2-1
SF2L Coleshill Town (H) 4-0
2R AFC Emley (A) 2-1
3R Bootle (H) 2-1
4R Billingham Town (A) 2-1
5R Atherton Collieries (H) 3-2
QF Southall (A) 5-2
SF1L Bromsgrove Sporting (A) 1-1
SF2L Bromsgrove Sporting (H) 1-0
Adam Virgo (@adamvirgs19): “I think South Shields are favourites and in many people’s eyes rightly so.
“Cleethorpes will play one way and that is attacking football, their record suggests that is what they do and what they do best.
“Both sides will give chances away, that happens at this level and that is no disrespect to the level at all.
“The experienced players will be key for both clubs. They will get on the ball early and calm things down, whereas the inexperienced lads will be flying around and playing on nervous energy.
“(Julio) Arca and (Matt) Bloomer will be key, their experience will show on the day because they have been there and they have done it.
“South Shields are favourites but I just have a sneaking feeling for Cleethorpes and I think there will be a lot of goals”
Prediction: Cleethorpes Town 3-2 South Shields
Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily):
This has been a wonderful season for both of these clubs and the Vase Final offers both a chance to add to that.
I just feel that South Shields have a number of players with experience of playing higher up the league pyramid and that will be key.
Their front two of David Foley and Gavin Cogdon will offer considerable threat to the Cleethorpes defence and I think that will be what will win them the game.
That is not to say that Cleethorpes don’t have the quality required to trouble them. The likes of Liam Davis and Brody Robertson have both found the net on a regular basis this season.
“There will be goals but for me, South Shields will make it four out of four trophies before embarking on their Evo-Stik Northern Premier League adventure next season”
Buildbase FA Trophy Final
Macclesfield Town v York City (kick-off 4.15pm)
This year’s Buildbase FA Trophy Final provides York City with a similar proposition to last year’s winners FC Halifax Town.
Just like the Shaymen, the Minstermen have been relegated from the Vanarama National League despite a brave battle against the drop.
Wembley, and the FA Trophy Final, gives Gary Mills’ side the chance to put a silver lining on a drastically poor season for everyone connected with the club.
The fact that York City will be playing in step three of the non-league pyramid is shocking, but they have learnt just how unforgiving the non-league game can be.
That said, they have quality throughout the side. The likes of Jon Parkin, Sean Newton and Danny Parslow have the nous and experience that will help their younger players.
They also have a manager that has been there and done it with York City. Gary Mills led the club to their previous FA Trophy Final triumph in 2012, when a 2-0 win over Newport County saw them take the trophy back to Bootham Crescent.
Danny Parslow was part of that 2012 side and he wants to reward the Minstermen supporters for their loyalty throughout a testing time for the club.
He said “They have been brilliant for the club this season and they always come out in their numbers to support us.
“It hasn’t been easy for them, we know that but they still stick with us.
“It’s been a rough few years for the supporters, with relegation and all that has gone on this season.
“But we know they will be out in their numbers at Wembley and we will be doing everything we can to get the job done and give them something to cheer”
Standing in their way are the Trophy’s first ever winners Macclesfield Town.
It’s forty seven years since their beat Telford United at the old Wembley to become the winners of the inaugural competition.
The Silkmen side of 2017 could well replicate that triumph after an impressive National League campaign.
Led by the ever-impressive John Askey, the Silkmen come into the game as slight favourites, with the likes of Chris Holroyd, Danny Whittaker and Mitch Hancox capable of leading them to a historic win.
And Askey believes that a win at Wembley would be a “nice way” to end the season.
“It has been a good season but it could be better.
“Obviously we had a good FA Cup run and I said at the time that helped pay a VAT bill that needed paying.
“We have had a good play-off challenge and have progressed as the season went on.
“We want to go and enjoy Wembley, enjoy the day and the occasion and it will be a nice way to end the season”
Road to Wembley:
1R Worcester City (H) 3-1
2R Harlow Town (A) 2-1
3R Nuneaton Town (A) 3-0
QF Brackley Town (H) 1-0
SF1L Lincoln City (H) 2-1
SF2L Lincoln City (A) 1-1
1R Altrincham (A) 1-1 1RR Altrincham (H) 2-1
2R AFC Sudbury (A) 3-1
3R Forest Green Rovers (H) 1-0
QF Dulwich Hamlet (A) 2-2 QFR Dulwich Hamlet (H) 2-0
SF1L Tranmere Rovers (H) 1-1
SF2L Tranmere Rovers (A) 1-0
Adam Virgo (@adamvirgs19): “It’s been an embarrassing season for York City if we are honest. They came into the league and thought they could just get out of it. That’s a bit naïve. When a big club comes down, it is dangerous to think that way.
“They just weren’t good enough and I know Gary Mills wasn’t happy with what he was left with by Jackie McNamara.
“Although, to be fair, he had enough time to get them out of trouble. They are a big club but they just have not been good enough.
“Macclesfield are a good side and they play the right way, although sometimes they lack quality in the final third.
“I like John Askey as a manager, he has done a good job there.
“It’s been a fantastic season and I can see them ending it with a win on Sunday”
Prediction: Macclesfield Town 2-1 York City
Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily): “This one is a tough one to call.
“Based on league position, you would say Macclesfield Town should win this one.
“But as John Askey has said this York City side have Football League quality players and they will be more than a match for the Silkmen.
“You do wonder how relegation has hit the Minstermen, are the players ready for Wembley and the emotions it brings?
“It’s a big ask to recover from a relegation, although FC Halifax Town showed the way this time last year.
“For me, Macclesfield will sneak it, but only just”
Prediction: Macclesfield Town 1-0 York City
If you wish to buy tickets for Non-League Finals Day then visit the FA website here
You can begin your preparations for Wembley by reading Non-League Daily’s FREE digital ‘Road to Wembley Guide 2017’.
Click here to view it online.
Article: Mark Carruthers (@marknldaily)
Image: The Football Association