The FA Vase always throws up an unknown team or two and this season has been no exception to that rule. Sholing FC have reached the Wembley final and will meet a more well-known team in the form of West Auckland Town. It’s North v South, a classic combination for a cup final.
But who exactly are Sholing? You might be more familiar with their former name, VTFC, although that in itself doesn’t roll off the tongue like WBA or QPR. Scratch the surface a bit more and you come across their original name: Vosper Thornycroft.
Sholing have been Sholing since 2010. The club dates back to 1960 as Vosper Thornycroft, basically a glorified works team. Both Vosper and Thornycroft were shipbuilders. They are now part of the US-owned VT Group.
The football team became VTFC in 2003 and seven years later named themselves after the Southampton district in which they play. It’s a part of Southampton that is renowned for its high gypsy population.
The Boatmen, as they are called, are on a roll. Not only are they at Wembley for the first time, but they have just won the Wessex League and are poised to return to the Southern League. Sholing fans, of which there aren’t that many – average crowd of 99 in their last Southern League campaign – will be hoping that the club is in better shape than when it took voluntary redundancy from the League in 2013.
In March 2013, they announced they had to step out of the Southern League due to financial reasons, dropping back into the Wessex League. The club’s chairman explained that the decision had not been taken lightly, but Sholing had received planning consent on a “new facility” and their resources would not stretch to supporting football at Southern League South & West level. It was a brave move and one that, in many ways, should have been applauded. Too many clubs fly too quickly and too near the sun for comfort, and judging by this season’s performance, Sholing did the right thing.
Sholing had come a long way in a short space of time. They won promotion from the Wessex League in 2009 after finishing runners-up for the previous two years. In their first Southern League campaign, they finished fourth and missed out in the play-offs. For the next two seasons, they finished in the play-off zone but lost in crucial games. They had quickly attained a reputation for being the nearly men. In 2012-13, they ended up seventh, but they had already announced their intention to drop down a level.
Sholing enjoyed a barnstorming campaign in the Wessex League and attendances have improved to an average of 123 per game, a 25% increase on last season. With one game to go – they’ve had a fixture pile-up – they have scored 133 goals and have a goal difference of +104.
They didn’t lose a league game until February, ending a 21-match unbeaten run. Success in the Vase created something of a jam in other competitions and in April, Sholing played 12 games in 30 days. They started May with an 8-0 win against Christchurch, but two days earlier, clinched the league title with a 3-0 win at Moneyfields.
In the FA Vase, Sholing disposed of two Wessex League stablemates in Winchester (away 3-0) and Folland Sports (Away 2-1) before beating Reading Town of the Hellenic League (away 4-1). Then came a 3-1 win at home to Hullbridge Sports of the Essex Senior League and a narrow 1-0 win against Larkhall Athletic of the Western League. That gave them a tough quarter-final with Eastern Counties League Wisbech at home. A goal from highly-rated Lee Wort sent Sholing against the Fenman in front of a healthy 423 crowd. The semi-final against Sussex League side Eastbourne United was a dramatic affair. Another good crowd at the Silverlake Arena, 562, watched a game that swung from end to end. Sholing took the lead through an own goal, but they were 1-2 down with seven minutes remaining. They saved the day, however, with Mike Carter netting from just inside the penalty area.
Eastbourne went into the second leg as favourites, and the prospect of a Wembley trip attracted 1,400-plus people to the tie. But Sholing stormed into a 3-0 lead inside 41 minutes through another own goal, Carter and Bryon Mason. The home side scored twice in the second half to narrow the margin, but Sholing scored again three minutes from time through Nick Watts to seal victory.
With the Wembley trip in the bag and now the Wessex League title and promotion secured, it’s been a memorable season for Sholing and their manager, Dave Diaper. And there was further good news this week with the announcement that Sholing are to get a new clubhouse, thanks to a grant from Sport England. A 3G pitch is also planned.
It’s good to see a club come back after taking the eyebrow-raising step of dropping down a level to maintain financial prudence. They should have a good day out at Wembley!