Most Salut! Sunderland readers are aware that Pete Sixsmith‘s extracurricular activities extend beyond taking the lower sixth on school trips to taking in an awful lot of non-league football. This is his Wembley diary from a glorious day out watching Whitley Bay beat Coalville Town to win the FA Vase …
0600 The day is wet, the cat is out and I have slept well, having eventually seen Sulley Muntari’s goal on Match of the Day. Sandwiches made and bag packed for a trip to the FA Vase final at Wembley – Whitley Bay v Coalville Town.
Board the train for Doncaster. Quiet coach isn’t, as there are many young Whitley Bay fans who are getting giddier by the mile. One dad says: “Calm down, George. Have a can of coke and some sweets.” Child spontaneously combusts south of York.
Having purchased a split journey ticket and saved £22 as a result, I board the Hull Trains flyer to Kings Cross. This time the Quiet Coach really is and I have the satisfaction of seeing the ticket collector scrutinising my Senior Railcard.
Arrive at Kings Cross and decide to head straight for Wembley. Tube ticket costs £7.20; Darlington to Doncaster return cost me £11.80. Where’s Ken Livingstone when you need him? Kings Cross to Baker Street, where I am reminded of the time in 1977, when an entire carriage full of extremely drunk Scots, heading for the crossbar-smashing festival at Wembley, spontaneously broke out into the sax solo from Gerry Rafferty’s hit as the train pulled into the world’s first underground station.
The Metropolitan Line whizzes me to Wembley in 15 minutes, passing through Kilburn, Dollis Hill and Neasden, home of Lefty Pevsner, Sid and Doris Bonkers and ashen-faced Ron Knee, whose doings are chronicled in Private Eye, by Our Man In The Dirty Raincoat, E I Addio. As a football journo myself, I understand the trials and tribulations he must go through. Why, only on Saturday, I was desperately trying to file my copy to The Observer as the coach rattled through several mobile blind spots around and about Kirby Stephen. It’s a hard life.
After bumping into the former Morpeth Town secretary Les Scott ( a man almost as large as me; small earthquake in North London), I sit in a small café, drink a Latte and eat the sixth sandwich of the day. Cheap and decent, I tune into an incomprehensible conversation between two old codgers from Leicestershire. They call the attractive Polish waitress “Me duck” and she clearly does not know whether to be offended or outraged.
Enter the stadium and I must say what an improvement it is on the urine-smelling, concrete-crumbling dump it has replaced. The concourse area is civilised, the toilets are cramped but clean and the stewarding is effective. Mind you, there are only 8,000 in the place; whether Stoke and Citeh fans will agree after next week is open to debate. I take my seat and chat to the guy next to me. I tell him I am a Sunderland supporter and he says “Just my luck to be sat next to a Mackem”. I tell him that the Bay manager, Ian Chandler, is one as well and that puts him in his place. I stand on his son’s foot – for an eight-year-old he wasn’t that tough.
The game begins. Coalville have slightly more support and start better. They are direct and look to feed their two forwards, Moore and Murdock (not Charles and Rupert).
Bay score. Craig McFarlane, who had been on Sunderland’s books, breaks down the right and puts in a great low cross, which the prodigious Paul Chow turns in. The Mag in the next seat turns to me and smiles. We are united in the cause of North East football. When I was here two years ago, there were as many black and white shirts as blue and white ones. Not so this time round, I am pleased to say. I can give my wholehearted support to the Whitley cause.
Half time and I dig a pork pie out of my rucksack and pay a visit to the toilet. The steward tells me that I must have my ticket to get back in. His supervisor overhears and tells him not to be so silly – “If he didn’t have a ticket, how did he get here in the first place?”; an interesting philosophical question.
Coalville continue their tactic of knocking the ball long to the far post. Moore heads a good equaliser
Bay back in front through Lee Kerr, who directs a clever header across the Coalville keeper. Cue celebrations, but not wild enough for me and Mag to hug each other.
After battering the Bay goal, crossbar and post and coming up against a stunning performance from the veteran keeper Terry Burke, Coalville,s Adam Gooby headed home an equaliser at, surprise, surprise, the far post. Doom and gloom amongst those Bay fans booked on early trains as extra time now looks a possibility. Having learned my lesson yesterday at Bolton, I decide to stay until the end.
Ecstasy; once again, McFarlane scampers down the wing and is fouled. From Kerr’s free kick, the ball is not claimed by a hesitant keeper and Chow is there to bundle it over the line. I hug the Mag; he hugs me; our eyes meet; we are as one.
Whitley’s skipper Damon Robson lifts the Vase yet again. Ian Chandler has now won it three times as a manager and once as a player. Is he a future Sunderland manager? The Coalville players look absolutely drained. They won’t be back as they have been promoted to the Evo-Stik League; Bay finished third in the Northern League, so no promotion for them and a chance to make it four in a row – unless Shildon can do for them next year.
Back on the Tube; the new Olympic Way is much wider and the station concourse is much improved, but it is still a drab setting for a National Stadium. Looking out from the balcony before the game at the massed ranks of Curry’s, Allied Carpets and Furniture Village spread before me is hardly inspiring. Most of the Exhibition Halls from the 1923 Empire Exhibition have gone now, to be replaced by parking spaces and burger vans – and a madman complaining about the sale of halal meat inside the ground and suggesting that Sharia Law (Denis’s daughter by any chance?) is imminent.
A pint in Mabel’s Tavern where I fail to admire Ray Wilkins chalk stripe suit as he analyses the so called “big game” to death. After that I move on to The Euston Flyer to meet Northern League luminaries and friends celebrating a famous victory. The League chairman Mike Amos, an Arsenal fan, avoids any mention of the drubbing they have received at Stoke and accentuates the positive. St Pancras looks wonderful. It’s my favourite building in the world after Timothy Taylor’s Brewery in Keighley and the Stadium of Light.
Back to Doncaster on an empty East Coast train to Hull. The quiet coach really is, apart from a very fat and drunk man heading for Hull, who belches, breaks wind and talks to himself while consuming copious amounts of Stella. There but for the grace of God……..
Change at Doncaster onto Darlington bound train. Once again the quiet coach isn’t, this time due to several people failing to understand that Quiet means that mobiles should not be used. Stalin wouldn’t have allowed this.
Back home, cat fed, last sandwich scoffed and a celebratory glass of Bailie Nichol Jarvie bringing a grand end to a grand weekend. Football; dontcha just love it?