Non-League Football

West Auckland – Time is right to add the Vase to the World Cup

West Auckland TownIn the old days, when regional stereotyping was a popular [and acceptable] game, journalists and commentators  – anticipating a North v South FA Vase final –  would predict  that “Wembley will be awash with Newcastle Brown Ale on Saturday and Geordie tones would echo around the corridors of the old stadium”. Why? Because West Auckland (32 miles from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) are in town to play Sholing.

On the subject of beverages, mention Thomas Lipton in West Auckland and the chances are they won’t refer to the brand of tea that seems to have a big market in continental Europe. They will, however, point to the Thomas Lipton Cup that was won by West Auckland Town in the early years of the 20th century. West Auckland were “Champions of the World” not once, but twice, beating the mighty Juventus (well, they were not quite so formidable in 1911) in the final in Turin.

That a County Durham mining village should receive such acclaim is bizarre in itself. There is a story, that has been passed from tap room to tap room down the decades, that when Lipton contacted West Auckland to enquire about the club’s participation in his competition, he really meant to send the letter to Woolwich Arsenal FC. So, W.A. A.F.C of the North-East received the invite, scraped every penny together they could find and worked their way across Europe. In doing so, they have allowed us all to avoid 100 years of Arsenal claiming they were the first “World Champions”!

It’s about time that West Auckland won something. This is their second FA Vase final in three years, having reached Wembley in 2012 when they lost to fellow Northern Leaguers Dunston UTS. And they also played on the hallowed turf in 1961 when they were beaten in the FA Amateur Cup final by Walthamstow Avenue. This might  be “third time lucky”.

The club has never had to break out the silver polish too often in a long history. West Auckland’s name is far bigger than the reality, and that’s largely because of the TV dramatization of their World Cup win!

They have won the Northern League once, in 1960, a year before they reached Wembley, and they’ve had a couple of Durham Benevolent Bowls in their boardroom. The Vase final is their big chance to win something significant for the first time in years.

The Vase run has seen them dispose of a number of local rivals. In the first round, they beat Northern League Second Division side South Shields 5-0 at the Seagrave Stadium. In the next round, Shildon, who were chasing the Northern First Division title, were beaten 1-0. Yet another Northern League side came next in the form of Billingham Synthonia, but West Auckland ran out 2-1 winners. Whickham of Division Two were beaten 3-1 after extra time in round four.

After the great Northern League elimination process, West Auckland at last faced opposition from another world, Hallen from the Western League Premier. They won 2-0 to line-up another all-Northern League tie, against the team that beat them at Wembley in 2012, Dunston UTS. Revenge was gained as West Auckland won 1-0. And so to the semi-finals and two-legs against St. Andrews of Aylestone, a team that plays in the East Midlands Counties League. The first leg, at home, was drawn 0-0. The Leicestershire side shut up shop and the nearest West Auckland came to scoring was a John Campbell shot that hit the woodwork.  In the return, St.Andrews led 1-0  but with 11 minutes remaining, West Auckland struck twice. Back on the cliché bandwagon, manager Peter Dixon made two “inspired substitutions” in Steve Richardson and and Stuart Banks. They both scored to send West Auckland through to the final, sparking off a pitch invasion which threatened to get out of hand.

For six consecutive years, the Northern League has had a Vase finalist – they’ve won the previous five. Can West Auckland join Whitley Bay (three times), Dunston and Spennymoor as winners? Their chairman is urging the North East to will on them to victory, and who can blame him?  In 2012, only 5,000 people attended the all-Northern League affair, but last season, the crowd was 15,000 for Spennymoor v Tunbridge Wells. The future of the Vase at Wembley is very uncertain – West Auckland and Sholing’s combined average gate is under 350, so a crowd of 5,000 is a 15-fold increase. Perhaps it’s time to move it to a stadium that will create some sort of atmosphere?

Doubtless West Auckland’s fans will enjoy their day out. They’ve had an intense run-in to the final, with the team suffering the inevitable Vase-run fixture pile-up that seems to affect successful sides. After beating St.Andrews, they played 14 league games in 25 days, winning five, drawing five and losing just four. If you think Sholing have an advantage, they have had a similar finale to 2013-14. Let’s hope it’s not two fatigued teams on the big day!

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