Epilogue — Littlehampton Town vs. Newport Pagnell Town — FA Vase Final — 22/05/22
Maybe my favourite footballing day of the year, and the hottest ticket in town.
And while, unfortunately, one of those passes was not in my hand, I still had digital access to two cup finals in one afternoon — it’s a wonderful world sometimes.
Kicking us off first was the FA Vase final.
Littlehampton Town, champions of the Southern Combination Football League Premier Division, with 59-goal striker Joseph Benn among their ranks, would be taking on Newport Pagnell Town of the United Counties League Premier Division South.
Trips to Wembley are rare at the best of times, but for these two, for these thirty-six players, two managers, two sets of staff — there won’t be many who’ll be coming back.
And that — that — is just some of the beauty on display here.
The whole host of fresh characters (to most eyes) were ready to leave it all on the hallowed turf. Newport Pagnell had seen off Harpenden, Leighton, Buckland Athletic, and the mighty Hamworthy, while Littlehampton put Moneyfields, Deal, Sheppey, and North Shields (among others) to the sword — but not Athletic Newham. The Marigolds were dismantled 5–0 by Athletic Newham, only for the result to be overturned thanks to the victors on the day having fielded two ineligible players.
A sign, perhaps, that Littlehampton were meant to be here today. Or maybe a Final Destination-style omen that their days were always numbered…
And so, to the match.
Littlehampton were already down their set-piece specialist thanks to a devilish suspension that not only saw him miss a Wembley final, but also two other cup finals when their player-manager and second-highest scorer George Gaskin came out the worst in a brutal collision that saw him stretchered off with a head injury.
By that point however, The Swans of Buckinghamshire had already taken the lead thanks to an absolute worldie from Kieran Barnes. Ball headed out of the box from a corner, one bounce twenty yards from goal, and THWACK, a dipping, swerving effort into the top bin sparking fantastic celebrations — Barnes watches his shot hit the back of the net, turns and sprints to the bench, his drawstring bouncing about, his face so overjoyed it doesn’t know how to show it, before a slide on the turf, and a smother from his teammates.
The first half ends with Newport Pagnell on top, and Littlehampton down, not only a goal, but also a George Gaskin, and a Scott Kirkwood.
The Marigolds could still be seen as the favourites though.
They’d been using the training facilities of their close neighbours (and Premier League side) Brighton & Hove Albion in preparation for the game on the silky Wembley surface, but dancing shoes aren’t enough — you gotta know the moves.
And Newport Pagnell had ’em all.
It was Ben Shepherd at the double in the second half — one tap home amidst a scuffle in the box, and the second a penalty to make it three. The Swans were finding the spaces and then, vitally, exploiting them. Littlehampton couldn’t get a foothold as their opponents seized every portion of the pitch and saw the game out to lift the FA Vase.
In a post-match interview, Ben Shepherd stated that he’d never scored two in a game — one hell of a place to do it. He also stated that he feared for his health regarding the incoming celebrations — that’s how I’d wanna go too.
At the end of the day, Littlehampton had the big scorers, fifty-nine goals that couldn’t quite become sixty, they had the access to facilities — they brought their dancing shoes. But Newport Pagnell weren’t worried about dancing — they laced up their football boots and utilised an outstanding gameplan to play their opponents off the most famous park in the game.
It just made me wanna be there.
From half the population of Newport Pagnell rocking up to cheer their side on to victory, to the scant allocation of tickets with the FA Trophy final beckoning, I immediately bemoaned my inability to attain a ticket. But finances and location I can come to terms with — I’ll be better prepared next year perhaps.
When I went six years ago to sit with the Hereford fans during their FA Vase final defeat, to then have half of Wembley to myself and my friend for another cup final — that’s enough to make me wanna go again. But to see those players relish the moment, to enjoy their infamy, to play in a Wembley cup final; to see what it really means to real people. That’s what it’s about.
Also, where were the Bromley and Wrexham fans? The ticket is for both games. Why wouldn’t you go to two games when you have a ticket for them both? What else would you be doing other than watching football? What’s up with ya? Enjoy your final though — if the magic of the one that preceded spills over, you’re in for a good ‘un.
Keep it streets ahead,