Non League Finals Day, the culmination of a season’s cup efforts at Wembley. £25 for two games of football with the FA Trophy and Vase on offer and for some the once in a lifetime experience of playing at the national stadium.
Over 42,000 fans turned out across the two games, to see if first Chertsey Town or Cray Valley Paper Mills and then Leyton Orient would leave their respective levels having achieved the Double. When you think some 638 clubs started out on 1st September in the Vase and only two can make it to the final thats some achievement in itself.
I was born and bred in Kent, and despite Cray Valley being on that Kent/South London borderline, they’re Kent! Which meant a day in the Millers end of the ground, the last time I was in a fans end for the Vase final was back in 2013 when Tunbridge Wells came close to being the first Kent side since Deal Town in 1999-2000 to return as winners, but a 2-1 loss to Spennymoor extended that wait.
Chertsey stormed to the Combined Counties League title and like their opponents will spend next season at Step 4 and with it Trophy football, a last chance for at least a year to win this piece of silverware.
Neither side showed any sign of Wembley nerves during a pulsating first half, the Millers having to make a tactical adjustment early on with Chertsey enjoying success down both flanks sent Cray Valley from a back three into a four to counter the threat. But, it was Cray who took the lead through the impressive Gavin Tomlin scoring from an acute angle just inside Nick Jupp’s near post for a deserved lead. A lead that didn’t last long howevver, Town level just three minutes later through Sam Flegg, his initial free header coming back off the post and reacting quick enough to restore parity.
The second half was low on chances and excitement compared to the lively first forty-five, but stoppage time it came alive again, Town’s Michael Peacock firing well wide, the Millers ex West Ham and Barnet winger Anthony Edgar’s effort crashing back off the crossbar, inches away from putting Cray Valley’s name on the trophy.
That was to be the Millers best chance to win as Chertsey took the game by the scruff of the neck in extra time, a penalty converted by Jake Baxter right on the stroke of half time in extra time put Town in front for the first time on the day and Quincy Rowe curled a superb effort past Andy Walker to put the icing on the cake for Chertsey and heartbreak for Cray Valley.
The game can be about fine margins and had Edgar’s last kick of the ninety minutes been a yard lower the Vase was heading in a different direction, but both sides served up some good football on what has been described in the past as an energy-sapping pitch to play on. For Chertsey manger Dave Anderson, who announced his retirement once again shortly after the game, you can’t ask for a better way to depart than as a Double winner and Kent has to wait that little bit longer to produce a winner.
The Trophy can be a much more cagier affair. Last year between Bromley and Brackley was a very open game and went to penalties. Both Orient and AFC Fylde this year will the remember the game for very different reasons and once again very small margins decided the winner of this one.
Fylde returned to Wembley a week after Salford ended their dreams of promotion to the Football League for another 12 months but showed no sign of a hangover. Orient fresh from winning the title were looking to sign off from non-league football with the double themselves.
Once again both sides produced a good half of football either side of half time, Orient’s undoing became the woodwork. The post denied them three times during the course of the afternoon and you just felt that whatever the O’s tried it wasn’t going to be their day.
And Danny Rowe made sure Fylde took the Trophy back north with a stunning free kick, little that Dean Brill could do in the Orient goal. It was a goal fitting to win the game, to win any game. It will be argued they rode their luck maybe with Orient’s efforts on target but goals win games don’t they!
Justin Edinburgh has done a magnificent job guiding his side into League Two and re-ignited a club that was in super freefall before his arrival, you wouldn’t bet against more success coming their way either. Fylde meanwhile continue to go from strength to strength and will be expected to be in and around the play-offs again next season, and of course there’s a Trophy defence to contend with………….