Saturday, 9 February 2013

Spennymoor Town 4 Bemerton Heath Harlequins 2

FA Vase, fifth round
Attendance: 398

Bemerton Heath Harlequins. What a splendid name. It fair leapt out of the draws for the latter rounds of the Vase – and was reason itself to travel to Co Durham for today’s tie at Spennymoor. For the uninitiated (and that will be most of you) Bemerton Heath is a district of Salisbury – just down the road from the equally wonderfully named Fugglestone St Peter. One of the many things I like about the Vase is that competing clubs hail from such small places you often have to look them up. As the FA Cup goes to seed it was nice to get back to basics in the Vase – and on a benign winter’s afternoon and in a crowd small enough not to feel conspicuous taking pics.

This was one of the biggest matches in the 24-year history of the Harlequins and Spennymoor were seeking to reach the quarter-finals of the Vase for the first time. However, in view of Friday’s sell-out top of the table clash against Darlington 1883 and put in a historical context, the game wasn’t such a big deal for the hosts which may account for the slightly low-key atmosphere for a match which puts the winners two wins from Wembley. (That said, today’s gate still exceeded all but three in the Conference North). In their pre-2005 incarnation as Spennymoor United the club played in the Northern Premier League, reached the semi-final of the FA Trophy (in 1978) and were regulars in the proper rounds of the FA Cup.

The Northern League lends itself to black and white photography
Following recent improvements to the substantial and smart Brewery Field ground including new floodlights officially switched on only last week the Moors are carefully gearing up for promotion back to the Northern Premier League in a manner which reminds me of Staveley Miners Welfare. The old terraces behind one goal and pronounced slope of the pitch are the only hints of the ground’s 106-year past. I particularly liked the new continental-style dugouts with a garden fence arrangement running behind and above them, an ideal position from which to do ‘Kilroy was here’ impressions and share views with the coaching staff.

Spennymoor were hot favourites for this tie as, indeed, they are for the competition. They have been Northern League champions for the last three seasons, are unbeaten in the league this season and were drawn at home for the fourth consecutive round.

Despite all that they went behind to a surprise Harlequins goal after just two minutes. (From the cheers it didn’t look like many had made it up from Wiltshire and you can hardly blame them). You always felt this was a temporary set back, though, and so it proved. The dominant Moors hit back with two goals before half-time. To their credit the Harlequins stayed in the match and grabbed an unlikely equaliser on 54 mins. It wasn’t long before the Moors had regained the lead, though, and they rattled in a fourth to end the contest with three minutes to go.

During the second half I sat in the grandstand. Next to me I chatted to a 90-year-old who spent 16 years as the secretary of the local RAF association (don’t know why he told me that but I tried to look impressed) and a 78-year-old with a jumble of teeth who has been coming here since 1957. He shaked me by the hand as we bid farewell at the final whistle. For me, this, as ever, is likely to be a one-off unless the Moors play  Guernsey at home in the quarters or semis. Now that would be an even more novel southern visitor that it would be hard to resist.

Style notes: The Harlequins away strip (sadly not diamond patterned like their home strip) was all orange and the goalie sported a clashing shade of lilac. I liked the ad for a hairdressers in the programme: ‘Support the Moors in style with Streets Ahead hair salon’. From a quick scan of the elderly gents around me a short back and sides is the most elaborate coiffure required by spectators.

Star connection: Frank Skinner’s dad played for Spennymoor before the Second World War.

Further viewing: For some great pics of the Harlequins scenic home ground and magnificent clubhouse click here. Hardcore Vase fans will also enjoy this complete recording of Bodmin v. Gornal Athletic on the Cornwall Channel.