For the first time since the 2007/08 football season, the North East will not have a representative in the FA Vase final at Wembley Stadium.
The last remaining Northern League side in this year’s competition, West Auckland Town, were knocked out at the quarter final stage.
In the past decade, eight North East clubs have graced the hallowed turf on Wembley Stadium, with six lifting the famous trophy.
Whitley Bay won the competition three consecutive times to kick start the area’s dominance, with Dunston UTS, Spennymoor Town, North Shields, Morpeth Town and South Shields further enhancing the North East’s reputation in the tournament.
SR News spoke with three non-league personalities – BBC Newcastle Sports Presenter Colin White, Renowned North-East Non-League Journalist Mark Carruthers and three-time FA Vase winner Paul Robinson – asking a series of questions about the North East’s decade of dominance:
- Has the enforcement of automatic promotion at the Northern League level weakened the league’s dominance in the competition?
CW: “I’m not sure how valid an argument this is, given that enforced promotion has been implemented across the country, and only one FA Vase winner – South Shields – actually won the Northern League in the same season.
“The strength of the Northern League is such that six or seven clubs could be promoted, and you’d still have teams capable of competing nationally, as shown by the continuing success of South Shields and Morpeth Town, they’ve shown they’ve outgrown the Northern League.”
MC: “I think the dominance in the Vase is at the beginning of the end, rather than the end of the beginning. It’s only natural for that to happen as our strongest sides make their way up the pyramid.
“Clubs like South Shields, Spennymoor Town and Morpeth Town have had success moving up the pyramid, but I don’t think we should panic about the Vase dominance ending just yet.
“To answer in short – yes, automatic promotion has weakened the dominance – and it will continue to do so. However, I think we are two or three years away from seeing it completely ended.”
PR: “I’m not sure it’s weakened it as teams are still getting to the last eight of the competition, but it had certainly taken away a lot of good players further up the pyramid – so the quality in the league is not as strong.
“There are still a number of teams that can win the Vase within the North East, we need to remember that with the regionalised nature of the competition in the early stages, a lot of our best sides are knocked out in the early rounds.”
- Do you think we will see a period of dominance like the Northern League’s again?
CW: “Probably not. Any club that spends big – or even one that makes a lot of money from a good cup run and reinvests it – will now likely earn promotion and enter the FA Trophy instead.
“However, football works in cycles, a league may find itself with four or five strong sides at any one time. But eight wins in ten years? I doubt it.”
MC: “I think it would be difficult for any leagues to dominate the competition in the way the Northern League has in the last decade.
“With teams across the step five leagues losing their best teams to promotion, I think the Vase will become more competitive. Each tie will be about who is the best, rather than who has spent the most money on the best players.
“I think the prize will be shared out across the leagues at the Northern League level.”
PR: “Who knows, I think the Northern League will always be competitive and will always make the latter stages. As much as the league has dominated the last decade, all those wins had elements of luck and intriguing stories.
“I think Whitley Bay started a trend in the region, teams thought that if Whitley Bay could do it, why can’t we? I think teams from our league – compared to others – believe year on year they can win it.”
- How do you rate the chances of the North East clubs returning to the Vase final?
CW: “It’s interesting that the team who went furthest this year was West Auckland Town – a mid-table side – and they’ll get another shot at it next year.
“Hebburn Town certainly have the squad to compete, then you have a few sides who have performed consistently well in the league over the past few years but not made it to Wembley – Consett and Shildon the leading examples.
“So, despite having been spoilt in the area over the last decade, there have been seven different winners in the last seven years. It’s the luck of the draw.”
MC: “I can definitely see a club like Consett or Bishop Auckland reaching the final over the next two years, both have strong squads and have managers that know what it takes to win the competition.
“There’s also a weird anomaly, we’ve had winners from Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside, but not Wearside.
“Sunderland RCA would be a good shout, they have a good squad, promising young players and have threatened a run before, I wouldn’t be shocked if they went close.”
PR: “Due to the number of professional clubs in the area we’ll always have a strong non-league scene in the North East. Players who don’t have what it takes to make it professionally filter straight into non-league here.
“In other areas of the country they have a lot of professional clubs, meaning players have more options.
“Add in the new generation of players entering non-league who have heard stories about winning the competition year on year, they have a thirst to do well in the FA Vase.”
What are your thoughts on the North East’s dominance in the FA Vase? Which Northern League sides do you think have a chance to win it in 2019/20? Join the conversation on twitter @Sports_byte.