Mouth of the Tyne: Delight for Hebburn Town but FA Vase joy is hurt by lack of fans

Hebburn Town players and staff celebrate winning the FA Vase

Hebburn Town players and staff celebrate with the FA Vase in front of a vast and empty Wembley Stadium. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

To play at Wembley Stadium has been the dream of many a footballer, to win something there a crowning achievement even on the most glittering of careers.

For non-league clubs those emotions are almost double. A team that may normally play in less than grandiose surroundings get to trot out at the national stadium in front of not just their hardcore support, but in front of thousands as their villages, towns and cities empty to celebrate the big day - and enjoy a big weekend of their own.

Consett and Hebburn Town players line up prior to the FA Vase final

Consett and Hebburn Town players line up prior to the FA Vase final in an empty Wembley Stadium. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

Hebburn Town got to do the trotting bit, they even got to do the winning, the 3-2 success over fellow Northern League side Consett an absolute treat and one that did justice to the occasion.

But the adulation at the final whistle and on lifting the trophy came from a sparse few.

Hebburn Town celebrate winning the FA Vase final.

Hebburn Town's Michael Richardson (left), skipper Louis Storey, chairman Vin Pearson and director of football Stephen Rutherford celebrate winning the FA Vase final. - Credit: JON WALTON/PA

I feel the pain too, because Hebburn is and was my hometown. I may have born and raised in neighbouring Jarrow, but I seem to have spent my life in Hebburn. Both grandparents lived there, I went to school there, I went drinking there, I lived there too for over 15 years before my mission to educate southerners began.

I used to go and watch the Hornets play with my Grandad, standing and giggling at the Hebburn hecklers, a bunch of old fellas who were never happy.

I watched Hebburn win the Durham Challenge Cup back in 1992 (what a team that was by the way - the prolific Stu Wright up front, future managers Tony Robinson and Scott Oliver and former Newcastle junior Paul Tinmouth just a few of them) and had been counting down the days for two seasons, knowing that the weekend in London with almost the entire town was going to be akin to the biggest and rowdiest reunions of all time.

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And then COVID-19 hit and suddenly those hopes disappeared.

Hebburn Town manager Kevin Bolam

Hebburn Town manager Kevin Bolam (second right) celebrates with Angelos Eleftheriadis (left), coaches Michael Mulhern and Jason Miller (right). - Credit: JON WALTON/PA

Both clubs wanted this to be a test event and there is no reason it couldn't have been. If you can get 4,000 people in for the FA Cup semi-finals and 8,000 for the League Cup final, then 20,000 for non-league day would have been more than adequate.

Considering there were close to a thousand crammed cheek to jowl inside the Crucible watching the World Snooker Championship final, that desire was not far fetched.

The powers that be though decided otherwise. Those dreams gone for players, staff, officials and fans alike.

Hebburn Town's Michael Richardson (fourth right) celebrates scoring

Hebburn Town's Michael Richardson (fourth right) celebrates scoring their side's second goal in the FA Vase final. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

And the thing is I know how good it would have been having seen South Shields take over the old stadium back in 2017 when they won it. Simply getting down Wembley Way that day took an age, as I bumped into old friends, some from Hebburn itself, and others who I hadn't seen in years.

This time the excitement I felt was completely lost by the large nagging feeling of guilt that I was there when tens of thousands of others weren't.

Those other that had made their way inside the stadium were all directors and committee man of their respective clubs. They still made a racket when the goals started flying in but it was never going to be the same.

Consett's Matthew Cornish (right) is tackled by Hebburn Town's Daniel Groves during the Buildbase FA

Consett's Matthew Cornish (right) is tackled by Hebburn Town's Daniel Groves during the much-delayed 2020 FA Vase final. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

And it was telling that Hebburn boss Kevin Bolam even referenced the Sports Club in his post-match interview, where 300 people had bought tickets to watch it on a big screen outside, in the pouring rain too as it happened.

He said: "I'm proud to have delivered this for the people of Hebburn. That send off yesterday [which saw hundreds line the streets outside their home] was fantastic."

"There's part of me wants to be at the sports club now. I grabbed a quick word with my wife who's there and she said it was bedlam. I hope people have taken videos."

Hebburn Town's Daniel Groves (left) and Consett's Ali Alshabeeb battle for the ball

Hebburn Town's Daniel Groves (left) and Consett's Ali Alshabeeb battle for the ball. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

The game itself was a brilliant spectacle, a great advert for non-league football at the lower level and a great advert for the Northern League itself, the equivalent of the spartan South Midlands League.

Consett's Ali Alshabeeb scores in the FA Vase final

Consett's Ali Alshabeeb scores the opening goal of the FA Vase final. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

Consett were twice ahead, Ali Alshabeeb from a narrow angle on 18 minutes and then Dale Pearson on 42 minutes, but Hebburn pegged them back instantly both times.

Consett's Dale Pearson (right) scores in the FA Vase final

Consett's Dale Pearson (right) scores his side's second goal of the game. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

First Amar Purewal escaped the clutches of his twin brother Arjun to finish off a good passing move and then Michael Richardson, the man of the match, tapped in after an initial shot had been well saved.

The second half was a bit more attritional but no less exciting. Both teams had chances to snatch it but it was substitute Oliver Martin who managed it six minutes from the end.

The final whistle was greeted by another raucous roar from the Hebburn handful but it was a game that deserved a bigger audience.

Hebburn Town's Michael Richardson celebrates

Hebburn Town's Michael Richardson celebrates winning the FA Vase. - Credit: JOHN WALTON/PA

I too am waiting for videos of the scenes from the Sportsy because that would have been amplified a hundred fold if they were here.

It is a shame they aren't, and completely wrong.

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