Promotion, and whether to seek it, is one of the on-going debates on non-league football. The grand idea of a football pyramid that can sweep the smallest of village teams right the way into the Premier League if they can achieve sufficient footballing success is an appealing one. But for many clubs, the reality tends to be more fraught. Ensuring that the cash is available to meet off-field requirements while maintaining a team capable of winning on a Saturday afternoon poses obvious problems. Keeping fans interested once the team reaches its natural level and sees title races fade into mid-table comfort is another challenge. For some clubs, particularly on the geographical margins, the practicalities of covering long distances to get to away matches every other week are too great a disincentive.
But there’s much to be said for the excitement of stepping up a level, testing yourself against new opposition and visiting new venues. And that was certainly true as Charnock Richard took their FA Vase bow at Whickham on Sunday afternoon.
It was pretty much Groundhopper central at the Glebe. The game was the only Sunday show in town, certainly in the north-east, and Whickham were rewarded with a bumper crowd of 242. The delayed arrival of the programmes – something of a tease at this turnstile – prompted a mini-stampede. Plenty were happy to sample the club’s promise of ‘lush pies’ in ‘the best café in the Northern League’. Beautiful weather helped, but maybe there’s a case for clubs reconsidering the old tradition of the Saturday 3pm kick-off in a search for more paying punters.
A big crowd for Whickham saw a big day for Charnock Richard. Like Blyth Town and Stockton Town in the Northern League, the Lancashire team has stepped up from Step 7 football (in the West Lancashire League, in their case) and is revelling in life at a higher level. First and foremost, after 20-odd years in local football, moving to the North West Counties League means a whole set of new places to visit and new teams to play. It’s not just Whickham, and a first ever FA Vase campaign – most league games involve new grounds and new faces. For a committee that brims with enthusiasm, promotion has clearly been an invigorating experience.
Then there’s the effect on the team. There was little sign of sluggishness following a couple of hours on the coach to Tyneside. Charnock Richard started well, hustling Whickham from the off and disrupting the Northern League team’s game. A Glebe regular lamented several players who were below par, struggling to complete a pass as the visitors pursued a non-league take on a Klopp-style gegenpress to stifle their hosts in the first half. Sam Parkinson’s close-range finish broke the deadlock close to the interval, although the away bench might have preferred less of a looping finish. Presented with an open goal by Carl Grimshaw’s pass, Parkinson aimed high. “Aargh, he’s missed it!” wailed the coach before watching in relief as the shot clipped the underside of the bar and dropped in.
Whickham improved after the break but couldn’t take their chances and a breakaway goal from Grimshaw gave Charnock a 2-0 win that was hard to quibble with. For Whickham, in decent form in Northern League 2, it was a disappointing exit from the competition they won back in 1981. For Charnock Richard, a further trip into uncharted territory awaits. The next round sends them to Harrogate Railway Athletic, who featured live on the BBC in 2007 when they hosted Mansfield in the FA Cup Second Round Proper.
The Glebe, Whickham, Gateshead, England
FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round, Sep. 11, 2016
Whickham 0 Charnock Richard 2 (Parkinson, Grimshaw)