What is the FA Vase?
The Football Association Challenge Vase, or as it more commonly known, the FA Vase, is one of those competitions that most people have heard of, but rarely recognise the names of the teams taking part, or know what it is about. But fear not, as our Brief Guide is here to tell you everything you need to know.
The FA Vase is the official Football Association cup competition for non-league clubs playing below Step 4 of the National League System. For clarity that is clubs in all the regional leagues below the Northern, Southern, and Isthmian Leagues. (To understand this distinction more clearly, take a look at our ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ article which explains this in more detail).
It is played over six rounds, with two qualifying rounds, with a two-legged semi-final and the final taking place at Wembley Stadium. For the 2014/15 FA Vase, there were 536 clubs taking part.
In 1974, the Football Association decided to formally do away with the official distinction between the professional and amateur games in England. Amongst the consequences of this decision was the abolition of the FA Amateur Cup, a trophy that had been awarded since 1893.
Two new competitions were introduced at non-league level to replace it. The FA Trophy was open to teams playing at the top four levels of the non-league game, and the FA Vase was open to the rest.
The introduction of the FA Vase meant that for the first time ever, small community teams, even village sides had the chance to live out their childhood dreams and play a final at Wembley Stadium.
The Final has been played at Wembley every season, apart from six year period when the stadium was being redeveloped which saw it take place at Villa Park, St Andrews, White Hart Lane, and the Boleyn Ground (Upton Park).
The trophy itself was donated to the Football Association by former FA Councillor Frank Adams.
The first FA Vase saw over 200 clubs taking part, with Hoddesdon Town (from Hertfordshire) of the Spartan League defeating Epsom & Ewell of the Surrey Senior League 2-1 in a final watched by in excess of 9,000 people.
Participants in the FA Vase are sides that will usually attract double or triple digit crowds to a normal league game, which makes the record attendances seen for the final quite astonishing.
At the old Wembley Stadium, the record crowd for a Vase final was set in 1989 when 26,489 people saw Sudbury Town and Tamworth draw 1-1. (Tamworth won the replay 3-0 at Peterborough United’s London Road Ground).
But this was surpassed in 2006/7 in the first final at the new Wembley Stadium, as Truro City came back from 1-0 down to beat AFC Totten 3-1 in front of a remarkable crowd of 36,232. To put that figure in context, it is higher than the average home crowd of all but eight Premier League teams.
The 2013/14 tournament saw Wessex League Champions Sholing lift the FA Vase with a 1-0 win over West Auckland Town in front of a more modest crowd of 5,431.
As with all such cup competitions, there have been a few clubs who over the years have found the FA Vase a tournament to their liking.
In its early years Billericay Town were the dominant team, winning the trophy three times in four seasons, in the late 1970’s. The 1980’s saw Halesowen Town come to the fore, participating in three finals in four years and winning two consecutive trophies in 1984/5 and 1985/6, when they defeated a Southall side featuring future England striker Les Ferdinand in attack.
The 1986/7 final saw an interesting ‘rugby league’ final as St Helens Town defeated Warrington Towns 3-2, with fans of both clubs more used to coming to Wembley to support their towns respective rugby league teams.
More recently, it has been Whitley Bay who have become the dominant force, following up their 1-0 extra time victory over Tiptree United in 2001/02 with an unprecedented three back-to-back victories between 2008/09 and 2010/11, including a 6-1 victory over Wroxham in 2009/10 which is the biggest margin of victory in a final to date.
The Best Final:
Whilst the FA Vase Final has thrown up some cracking games over the years, it is the 1991/92 final which is widely held to have been the best so far. Wimborne Town of the Wessex League, who had never made it beyond the third before, found themselves a goal down early on, but fought back in a remarkable end-to-end final to defeat Guiseley by a 5-3 margin.
Whether the 2014/15 final can live up to that remains to be seen, with North Shields and AFC St Austell already through to the semi-finals and Highworth Town, Tadcaster, Shaw Lane Aquaforce, and Glossop North East looking to join them.