THE FIRST legs of the FA Vase semi-finals take place this weekend, with little Bowers & Pitsea hoping to take a big step towards Wembley against Morpeth Town, and two big non-league names meeting headlong in the other game.
Morpeth will travel over 300 miles from Northumberland to Pitsea in Essex for their tie. The Northern League Division One side are riding high this season but like all teams that enjoy a good Vase run they are lagging behind on games. They’re fifth in the table at the moment, 19 points behind leaders Shildon, but they have seven fixtures in hand.
Morpeth started their Vase campaign with a 4-1 win against Padiham of the North West Counties League. They then disposed of Billingham Synthonia, West Didsbury & Chorlton, 1874 Northwich then both South and North Shields before winning 2-1 at Berkhamsted in the last 16. The quarter-final brought them a home tie against Bristol Manor Farm of the Western League. They’ve had to rely on extra time, penalties and a walk over on the way to the last four.
The clash with Bristol Manor Farm drew over 700 to Morpeth’s Craik Park ground, which usually has around 230 people at their league games. One of the scorers was Chris Swailes, who is still playing at 45 years of age. The former Ipswich, Bury and Rotherham defender has retired a couple of times, but he defies the odds and just keeps on going. He’s won the FA Vase twice before, with different clubs – Bridlington in 1992 and Dunston UTS in 2012.
Bowers & Pitsea are similarly placed in the Essex Senior League, way behind on games on leaders FC Romania, but facing fixture congestion. They impressed in their quarter-final replay against Kidlington, beating the Oxfordshire side 4-0 away from home.
Since then, Bowers have won three league games, 7-0 against Sawbridgeworth, 1-0 at home to Southend Manor and 3-0 against Clapton. They also lost the local derby with Basildon United. But they are well placed for a stab at the Essex Senior League title.
Bowers may have home advantage, but their own pitch has failed an early inspection and the game has been moved to Concord Rangers on Canvey Island.
Then other semi-final pairs Hereford with Salisbury. Hereford are top of the Midland League following their rebirth after the demise of Hereford United, but they may lose the lead this week as Alvechurch play their game in hand and if they win it, they will leapfrog the leaders.
Edgar Street has been pulling the crowds this season and the semi-final is sure to have an electric atmosphere, but there will be added tension for the occasion. Hereford have issued a statement about the game and in particular, a smoke bomb that was thrown at the club’s sixth round tie against Camberley Town. The FA are sending an “advisor” to the game with Salisbury and the behaviour of Hereford’s fans will be under scrutiny.
Salisbury is another phoenix club and following formation in 2015, they were placed in the Wessex League. They are leading the table and, as another “big fish in a small pond”, their resources greatly outstrip their opponents. Salisbury attract over 700 to home games in a league that struggles to get more than 100 to its matches. They are managed by former Leicester City striker Steve Claridge.
Hereford are expecting a crowd approaching 5,000 for the game with Salisbury. Whoever wins will certainly be named favourites to lift the FA Vase in May. Bowers & Pitsea and Morpeth Town may have something to say about that…