Monday, 25 August 2008

Chasing The Vase

It has been a rather hectic summer for me. After last season's FA Cup exploits, in which I travelled over hill and dale in search of real football, I have had little time to sit down and reflect on what was quite an experience. Writing a blog, fielding newspaper interviews, even a slot on the radio and a brief appearance in front of a TV camera were all alien to me and somewhat surreal. Not to mention the great football along the way.

But I entered the summer months, with Euro 2008 and the Beijing Olympics on the horizon, knowing I was going to be kept very busy. The FA Cup blog turned into an FA Cup book; details, if you are interested, can be found here. Writing a book is a first for me, and as much as the FA Cup journey itself was a real eye-opener, so was publishing a tome about it. I have learnt so much in a short space of time. Whoever said "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" was wrong, frankly. But that is a different story - suffice to stay I have not stood still for four months.

Whilst all that was going on, I had in the back of my mind plans for a significantly more low-key venture for this new season, 2008-09. Many have asked "would I be doing the FA Cup journey again?" The answer? Maybe in a few years' time, but not again so soon. But I felt as if I should do something. I enjoyed many, many things about the FA Cup last season: the new grounds; the travelling to uncharted parts of the country; making new acquaintances and friends. But the fondest memory is that of watching non League football, down in the lower reaches of the English football pyramid. The tiny grounds, the part-time clubs, the small but dedicated helpers, all in places I'd never heard of before.

So for this season I have chosen to take a butchers at the Vase - the FA's knockout competition for clubs at Steps 5, 6 and 7. Another journey to Wembley is on the cards and seems appropriate. Last season's FA Vase winners were Kirkham & Wesham (since renamed AFC Fylde) who beat Lowestoft in the Final. Those names alone give you an idea of the level of football we are talking about. I know I won't attract as much interest as I did last season, but that's not why I'm doing it. Getting into the matches will be far easier; the only real challenge will be the possible distances to travel, once again a potential nightmare if I should be faced with a mid-week replay. I'm already looking forward to a journey into the unknown, and having no control over where in the country I will be sent or who I will meet along the way.

As the publication date for my FA Cup book approaches I can begin to breathe a little easier and focus on my 2008-09 journey. This season 513 teams have entered the FA Vase and I will start (as I did last season in the FA Cup) with my local club, Chertsey Town. They have been drawn away, in the First Round Qualifying (on Saturday 6th September 2008) to Sussex County League Division One side Oakwood.

Never heard of them? No - neither have I. This is where the fun starts.


Dave said...

Brilliant! This sounds awesome. If there are any down my way, would love to come along.

Good luck!

Ollers said...

Thanks Dave - I wouldn't be surprised if I end up in your neck of the woods at some stage! I have a feeling I'll chalk up more miles than I did last season. Coming to a town near you...!