Monday, 29 December 2008

Don't Bet Against It.

Many people, far more knowledgeable and experienced than I, have explained to me in recent weeks that the Fourth Round Proper of the FA Vase is when the competition really catches the imagination with fans. From this round on, ties are no longer regionalised, attendances will rise as will hopes, dreams and expectations. As 2008 draws to a close, we are now down to the last 32 teams and the relative few still standing must feel they now face a realistic chance of walking out onto the Wembley turf in May 2009.

But who are the favourites to lift the trophy? One thing is for sure, I can't tell you. I've absolutely no idea. Many of the teams still in the competition I have barely heard of; others I am slowly starting to recognise. Last season's finalists are holding onto their dream of yet another day at Wembley. In the next round, the holders, AFC Fylde (formerly Kirkham & Wesham) face a tricky journey to Needham Market in what will be, on January 17th, a repeat of last years' Semi-Final. The beaten finalists last May were Lowestoft, and they will host Witney United.

In the betting markets, there is only one bookmaker laying odds for the FA Vase. SkyBet do not, rather surprisingly, have AFC Fylde installed as favourites. That honour goes jointly to three teams, namely VT FC, Leiston and Lowestoft (odds 10/1) whilst AFC Fylde are slightly longer odds to retain the trophy (12/1). I can understand why Leiston are up there - they had a great FA Cup campaign this season, and Lowestoft. But VT FC? Who are they?

I guess the bookmaker can only derive odds based on League position and recent FA Vase history; I doubt that anyone at SkyBet has a detailed understanding of any of these non League clubs. VT FC are actually based near Southampton and in case you are wondering (I had to look this up) VT stands for Vosper Thornycroft, the name of a public limited shipbuilding and engineering company. VT is essentially a work's team. There you go - that is the one thing I have learnt today. As for their FA Vase pedigree, this is the first time they have reached the Fourth Round Proper. They are third in the Wessex League Premier Division having lost only one League game this season, and as a Step 5 team on the pyramid VT are therefore one of the highest ranked teams still in the competition. Joint favourite kind of makes sense then.

Down at the other end of the pecking order are FC Clacton and Stone Dominoes. Both are Step 6 clubs and currently lie mid-table in their Leagues, the Eastern Counties League Division One and the North West Counties League Division One respectively. At odds of 66/1 they are not fancied. But could they be worth a punt?

In the FA Vase, League position and ranking in the pyramid seem to mean little. When AFC Fylde won the competition last season, they were one of the lowest ranked teams competing. Last season was their first time in the competition and they entered at the earliest stage (First Round Qualifying). At this stage of the competition last year they were 66/1 outsiders. That alone is enough to suggest that any of the teams remaining have a chance to win it. Even FC Clacton or Stone Dominoes. You never know.

I am a crap tipster and usually lose any football bets I make, so if you are waiting for a tip, I'm afraid you are in for a long wait. All I know is that in a few weeks time, I will be at Bitton AFC (20/1) for their tie with Cogenhoe United (40/1). I have no idea who will win the game. However, there is a 1 in 16 chance that the winner of the FA Vase 2008-09 will come from that tie. Don't bet against it.

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