The FA Vase, what to do with the flagship competition that has become more attractive to clubs than promotion through the pyramid?
The 2015/2016 FA Cup has now reached the second round proper stage, when the Football League clubs have entered the competition. Some non-league clubs across the country have already sampled a slice of glory and received some prize money for their efforts this season.
There’s very little chance of a non-league club winning The FA Cup, but there are more realistic opportunities for them in The FA Trophy and FA Vase.
Clubs from all around England and Wales have won The FA Trophy, (the competition for clubs at step 4 and above) in recent years, such as Barrow, Darlington, North Ferriby, Stevenage, Wrexham and Cambridge, but The FA Vase (for step 5 and below) on the other hand, has been dominated recently by clubs from the EBAC Northern League.
North East domination Of the last seven Vase finals, all but one have been won by a club from the North East – Whitley Bay on three occasions, Dunston UTS, Spennymoor and North Shields – while on the seventh occasion another North East club, West Auckland, were beaten in the final by Sholing from Hampshire.
How has the Northern League dominated the competition? Last season North Shields won the Vase, even though they had just won promotion from the league’s second division the season before, so that achievement emphasises the strength in depth of the Northern League.
Ian Chandler (pictured left) is the man most synonymous with the Vase. He scored the winner for Whitley Bay against Tiptree in the 2002 final at Villa Park, and then as manager led the Bay to a record breaking three successive wins between 2009 and 2011 at Wembley.
“I think the Vase is the most difficult competition to win,” said Chandler, recently resigned as manager of another Northern League club, Durham City.
“When you play in the Vase, you’re playing against teams from eight or nine leagues all from the same level across the country.
There are several unknown quantities that suddenly emerge and become a major challenge. In The FA Trophy and FA Cup, you’ve got more of an idea who you’re playing against.
“The Northern League can’t be blamed for the situation. There’s been talk of clubs from Step 4 being allowed into the competition, but that would mean an extra 120 clubs or so coming into the competition, and those leagues at Step 5 complaining that they don’t have much chance of winning the Vase at the moment will have even more to complain about.”
Northern League clubs are sometimes accused of hypocrisy, in that they plead for the Vase to be drawn nationally from the first round onwards instead of the fourth round, and yet are unwilling to take promotion up to the Evo-Stik First Division North.
“Travelling has always been a problem for North East clubs because of the expense involved. There might be two or three long trips in the Vase which clubs can cope with in terms of expense – especially as the cost of travel can be deducted from the attendance receipts — but over a season, the cost of travelling in the Evo-Stik might become prohibitive.
“It’s a difficult one to resolve. The answer would probably be to see six or seven Northern League clubs move upwards into the Evo-Stik, and that in turn would reduce the cost of travelling. Those clubs would then be in the Trophy and not the Vase.
“The North East teams then in the Evo-Stik League could then dictate their own wages, but then some players might decide that they would want still to play in the Northern League and push for the Vase. There would still be the possibility that Northern League clubs could offer more in wages than Evo-Stik League clubs, which happens at the moment.
“The Vase means such a lot now to Northern League clubs. When I played for Durham in the late nineties, we didn’t think that much of the Vase, it was just another competition.
“When I became manager of Whitley Bay, the original priority was to win the league and we didn’t really set out to win the Vase. It was something that developed, and when we won it for the second and third times, it became a Holy Grail. Other Northern League clubs saw us win it, and wanted to emulate us.”
Is a North/South Split the Solution? There has been a suggestion that the Vase should be regionalised between north and south all the way up to the Wembley final, but Chandler believes that the notion is “unworkable” and says; “If the competition was split north and south, would the competition then be genuinely a national competition?
Would the northern section then become another Northern League Cup? Surely the intention of playing a national competition is to test yourself against teams from other parts of the country. You want to showcase your skills and strengths to clubs and spectators at the other end of the country.
“Would The FA regionalise The FA Cup all the way to the final, or UEFA regionalise the Champions League? Of course not, so why split the Vase?
“It’s not the Northern League’s fault it’s in this situation. The FA need to do something to encourage Northern league clubs to take promotion, whether that’s by reorganising step four to reduce the amount of travel, or by some other means.
The players would then have to decide whether they want to stay on their doorsteps in the Northern League, or broaden their horizons in an Evo-Stik League that doesn’t involve as much travel as it does at the moment.”
Would moving the Vase final from Wembley remove some of the gloss from the competition, similar to when The FA Sunday Cup final was moved away from Liverpool’s Anfield?
“When we won the Vase in 2002, the final was played at Villa Park because Wembley was still being constructed. As players, we enjoyed the occasion as best we could, but we were disappointed it wasn’t Wembley. There is much more prestige in playing at Wembley than any other ground – and that is one of the main attractions for every club that enters.”
Interview: Ray Simpson