Saturday, 5 March 2011

Dunston UTS 1 Whitley Bay 2

FA Vase quarter-final
Attendance: 1,496

I like Whitley Bay. I had a memorable foggy afternoon at Hillheads in the Cup five years ago and, when I worked for a Newcastle PR agency, sometimes stayed over in the town and had some great bike rides up the coast. But it's time they gave someone else a turn in the FA Vase. As winners in 2010 and 2009 the players have twice had the once in a lifetime experience of playing at Wembley. With so many entrants of similarly high rank, the Vase should be a competition in which, to coin a lotteryism, it really “could be you” – which means Bay surrendering one of the Wembley berths but, if their progress through this season’s competition is anything to do go by, they’re very reluctant to do so.

I have a small soft spot for Dunston UTS too. They were formerly sponsored by the neighbouring brewery which was a PR client of mine. I was once photographed holding one of its alcopops called Venom with a snake around my neck. Despite this media coup, Dunston remains considerably better known as the place where Gazza was raised and for being around the corner from the Metro Centre.

From the moment I got to the ground I realised that I was back at the raffle ticket and ice-cream tub level of non-league football. A raffle ticket was what I was handed as I pushed my way through the knee-high office block-style turnstile and a tub is where my £6 went. Entrants at the other end of the ground were administered from a bus shelter, the most resourceful use of such street furniture that I’d enjoyed since Ryton and that takes some beating. The programme was a black and white photocopied affair – but it made a nice change to get one.

Groundhoppers were much in evidence many taking pics of the clubhouse and toilet with a paparazzi-like fervour that made you wonder if His Royal Gazzaness was about to step out of the closet. They won’t have had much else to photograph for the UTS Stadium (UTS is the sponsoring engineering company, by the way) is completely unremarkable: just two short stands with corrugated steel fascias either side of the pitch which is enclosed by a rail and hardstanding. Still, I wasn’t here for the scenery on this occasion but the contest.

The hubbub of conversation at pitchside was more akin to the produce tent of the Northumberland County Show than a feisty Tyneside derby, exuding a convivial rivalry at most. In contrast to my previous outing at Chorley, there was certainly no need for segregation and the only temporary barriers in evidence fenced the route from the changing rooms to the pitch. A handwritten sign read: “Toilets Disabled + Other”. Wonder what the ‘other’ was. Women? Hermaphrodites?

The atmosphere was lacking a bit, to be honest. Newcastle playing at home knocked a few off the gate which can’t have helped. Competing in the same division these two sides know each other all too well and will be meeting again in 10 days. It was like Venus and Serena playing each other in tennis finals. Well, a teeny bit. In a Northern League sort of way. I’d much have preferred to have seen Torpoint Athletic from Cornwall sent all the way up here. This is the tie that the north-east didn’t want. You also sensed that for Bay this wasn’t exactly a big deal. Many of their fans wore their 2010 Wembley replica shirts to underline the point. In contrast, today was, according to the programme, “undoubtedly the biggest match in the Dunston’s history”. They have so few fans, though, you wouldn’t have known.

I was so desperate for a home fans buzz I stood in front of a bloke with a mini-England vuvuzela, one of about just a dozen vocal Dunston supporters. “You’re just a town with a lighthouse!” they bawled at the oppo. You could tell they weren’t used to chanting.

Dunston should’ve take an early lead with a header but did get the advantage on 35 mins when Bulford burst through and confidently beat the Bay keeper in a one-on-one. I wanted to cheer but felt a bit awkward about doing so since, at that point in the match, I was surrounded by Bay’s yellow and blue. Both sides played some quick, tidy football without creating many chances. The second half was better. On 56 mins Chow stroked the ball home from a nod-down. The match was nicely poised as it entered the final quarter and an atmosphere was building. If only Dunston could edge ahead again …

Dunston had some good pressure and chances, one effort being tipped over the bar by the Bay goalie. Then, with a degree of inevitability, at the other end Kerr flicked on to Chow who rounded the Dunston keeper and banged in the winner from a tight angle. I suppose that's what you call Chow Mean if you're a Dunston fan. Throughout Bay had more self-belief (borne from their outstanding record in the Vase) and, in the end, that was the difference between the sides.

Oh, well. Bay have applied for promotion to the Northern Premier League this season. Let’s hope they get that opportunity by winning the title and then go on to greater things – leaving just Dunston and the other small fish in the small pond.

Clips and pics: Click here for a short video. Prize for anyone who can work out what the guys behind me were saying. Being a southern woos I don't have a clue. There are some good action shots from the game here.

Nicknames of the season: Today was what must surely be dubbed ‘Clash of the tea biscuits’ in the Northern Premier League where The Gingerbreads (Grantham Town) took on The Gingerbread Men (Market Drayton Town). Just down the road is Spalding United, nicknamed The Tulips, another monicker unlikely to strike fear into oppositions’ hearts. And, while we're at, a prize for the most obvious but pertinent nickname in the land. Vase fifth rounders, Stansted? The Airportmen, of course.

Northern League Day: Coming soon ... on April 9. Click here for more info. (The bloke on the right in this pic reminds me of Frank Skinner).


Andy said...

Nice report, Paul.

I missed this game as I was getting a Northern Alliance fix at Cullercoats and decided to pencil in the Dunston v Spenny semi-final game this week.

I always had Bay down to win; they'll get to Wembley again this year and then hopefully get promoted.

NewcastleDavey said...

Great report Paul and I love the photographs! Especially the fourth one down where my brother and I can be seen loitering next to the scarf man... A tough assignment for the Bay and it really could have gone either way towards the end. Come up for the 2nd leg of the semi on April 2nd!