Saturday, 13 September 2008

Hassocks in Sussex

The draw for the first three rounds of this season's FA Vase were all made at the same time so I have known that I would be spending at least three Autumn Saturdays in the county of Sussex. After starting my journey at Oakwood in the First Round Qualifying, the draw deemed that winners of the Oakwood v Chertsey Town tie (and therefore me) would be off next to either Hassocks or Three Bridges, both Sussex County League teams. Hassocks won a gripping tie 4-3 (after extra-time) to set up a Second Round Qualifying tie next Saturday against my local club. Both Hassocks and Chertsey Town already know that the winners will face a trip to Arundel, another Sussex outfit, in the Third Round Qualifying.

I am extremely pleased with these draws. My friend David Bauckham has been involved in, and associated with, Sussex football for a long time; primarily with Eastbourne Borough but also, through his love for the local game, county football in general. His passion has manifested itself in his excellent Nomad Online website, the directory for non League football in Sussex. Last season he also produced a wonderful book, along with Terry Buckman, entitled 'A Season Of Sussex Soccer' which is well worth a read. So for me to spend the early rounds of the FA Vase in Sussex is a real coincidence but no less of a treat. By all accounts, Hassocks and Arundel have grounds in two of the most picturesque settings in the county and I'm looking forward with great interest to visiting both.

I am doing this FA Vase venture this season for a number of reasons. One is to get me along to watch more non League football. Following the FA Cup last season was a fantastic experience, but the real joy for me was the involvement I had with non League clubs in the earlier rounds. I also want to understand what the FA Vase means to clubs these days, and what it means to their fans. The phrase 'glory hunter' may spring to some minds; someone who starts with a team he supports but then simply watches the winning team all the way to the Final, supporting different teams along the way? Well, no, far from it. As I did last season in the FA Cup, I attend all games as a 'neutral' and show no allegiances. I cannot even lay claim to be a bona fide supporter of Chertsey Town; they are indeed my local club, down at the bottom of my lane, but I have seen them only a handful of times in the eleven years I have lived in the town. In essence, this is me trying to better my own understanding of the FA Vase and football at this level and, consequently, share some of it with you. Plus, of course, you can't beat the thrill of a journey into the unknown. There is probably no more appropriate a place to start than in county football.

But first things first; a trip to Hassocks awaits me this time next week. Sussex bound once again; I now just need to find out exactly where in the county I will be headed.

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