GLOSSOP North End have their eye on an historic treble. Victory at Wembley on Saturday would make them the first club to add the FA Vase to a league and cup double.
Standing in their way are North Shields, a capable club from the banks of the Tyne who finished fourth in the Northern League, only five points behind champions Marske United.
The Hillmen arguably start as favourites, having won the North West Counties League in impressive fashion. Even so, their opponents have a lot going for them.
They are managed by former Blackburn, Aston Villa and Newcastle midfielder Graham Fenton, they have a lethal striker in Gareth Bainbridge, and their native North East has a purple pedigree in the Vase. Clubs from the region have appeared in the last six finals, winning the first five.
Glossop boss Chris Willcock knows all about the obstacles lying between his side and Wembley glory, but believes all can be surmounted.
“Gareth Bainbridge has scored 102 goals in 79 appearances at a very competitive level and a lot of clubs are looking at him. He’s a key man and we’ll have to keep him quiet. But we’ve already had to deal with various other leading goal scorers and Bainbridge is no different,” he commented.
“There’ll be no special treatment. We’ll just be looking to do what we’ve been doing all season.
“In Graham Fenton, North Shields have – I won’t say a very experienced manager in charge, but they do have a very experienced man. He’s a former Premier League footballer who’s still cutting his teeth as a boss.
“He’s been there and done it and knows what it’s all about. He’ll be relaying his wealth of experience to his players and I’m sure he’s built up a very good spirit. Graham will have prepared North Shields in the right manner and it’ll be a very tough game.
“I don’t expect favours from them in any way, shape or form. It’ll be up to us to go and beat them.”
Willcock has no injury problems and already knows his line-up. However, the players will only find out at the team meeting on Saturday morning.
He said: “Training has gone very well and everyone’s fighting for a place at Wembley. In one way it’s a nice problem to have but I know I’ll have to let some individuals down on the day. It’s a shame but that’s the nature of football as 22 into 16 doesn’t go.”
The Hillmen are heading south tomorrow (Thursday) and will be based in the picturesque Buckinghamshire town of Marlow on the banks of the Thames.
On Friday morning, thanks to Glossop’s connections with the Hill-Wood family, the players will be training with the Arsenal squad at London Colney. In the afternoon they get a tour of Wembley.
Following the final, and no matter what the result, North End will be hosting a reception at the Marlow Hilton to which all fans are invited. On Sunday they return home.
Willcock quipped: “We took 6,000 supporters to Wembley in 2009 and this time I think the figure could be more like 10,000. If that’s right Glossop could be a ghost town this weekend and for the first time ever it’ll be possible to drive through the centre without stopping.
“But if that is the case it’ll be because everyone’s at the Vase final and that’ll mean great encouragement for the team.”
Shields manager Graham Fenton has had little to say about the final so far, but his team captain, Kevin Hughes, has told the Newcastle Chronicle of his confidence.
He said: “If we get it right on the day I think we can beat anybody. But we need to turn up. We need 11 players to function properly, and if we do that we should have no problem.
“Our manager’s been to watch Glossop and reported back that they’re a very good team.
“We’ve worked a bit on how they like to set up. You’ve only got to look at what they’ve done this season, winning the league and a few cups, to see how good they are.
“They beat Dunston UTS in the fifth round so, obviously, they’re going to be a very strong side.”
Willcock is of a similar opinion about his own team’s chances. “I’m by no means arrogant but I am confident about our chances. After winning two pieces of silverware I have to be. We had an extremely good league campaign and then won the league cup. There’s a great spirit among the lads and we’ve got lots of good supporters,” he said.
“But I’m sure North Shields will be feeling the same. Having got all the way to Wembley both sides will believe they can win the Vase.
“Considering our own path to the final it wouldn’t surprise me if there was extra time on Saturday. We haven’t anything the easy way in the Vase, especially over the last four rounds.
“Whatever happens it’s a very special week. The club and its workers are revelling in the build-up and the excitement just keeps on growing. It must increase by about 20 per cent every day.
“The chance of making some history by winning the treble is one of our main motivating factors. But when all’s said and done it’ll be another working day for me, just as they’ve all been this season.
“That’s the way I’ll go about it. I’ll only enjoy it if we win.”