From Fleetwood to Wembley

PUBLISHED: 17:10 30 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:59 04 March 2010

HEARTACHE: Lowestoft players troop off Wembley after their defeat in the FA Vase to Kirkham & Wesham

HEARTACHE: Lowestoft players troop off Wembley after their defeat in the FA Vase to Kirkham & Wesham

NON-LEAGUE football continued to blossom in 2008.

FA Cup runs, a Wembley FA Vase final and numerous wonderful games and occasions, the non-league scene continued to pick up more supporters.

Mike Bacon

NON-LEAGUE football continued to blossom in 2008.

FA Cup runs, a Wembley FA Vase final and numerous wonderful games and occasions, the non-league scene continued to pick up more supporters. MIKE BACON looks at some of the highlights on just why we LOVE NON-LEAGUE.

SITTING in the press box at the new Wembley Stadium, it felt good to be involved in non-league football.

While many seasoned hacks all over the country are never likely to sit in the comfortable surroundings of the new Wembley reporting on sides they cover, here was I reporting on Lowestoft Town in the FA Vase final.

Kirkham & Wesham, from near Blackpool were Lowestoft's opponents and although the day ended in defeat for the Suffolk side, it was my most memorable non-league day of the year.

FA Vase finals are not new to Eastern Counties League clubs, mainly thanks to the efforts of AFC Sudbury in the early millennium. But while they played finals at St Andrews, White Hart Lane and Upton Park, Lowestoft's big final day was at Wembley.

Indeed it was almost an all-Suffolk FA Vase final in 2008.

Needham Market, having been in the ascendency against Kirkham in the semi-final, had a final appearance snatched from their grasp when the eventual Vase victors sneaked a last-minute win at Bloomfields.

It was painful for Needham, their chairman David Bugg and manager Danny Laws.

More hurt was to follow for the Suffolk side when Soham Town Rangers pipped them for the Eastern Counties League title on the final day of the season at a packed Julius Martin Lane.

It was heartbreak high for Needham, who enjoyed a fantastic season, eventually winning the Suffolk Premier Cup and Eastern Counties League Cup. For most clubs that would have been a massive achievement, but in their hearts I suspect Needham would have swapped one, or both of those, for a Vase final appearance or league title.

At the other end of the Eastern Counties League table, Ipswich Wanderers and Newmarket Town were relegated.

Tiptree United, Ely City and Whitton United were all promoted from the First Division, Ipswich-based Whitton producing a late run to pip Hadleigh United and Diss Town.

Further up the non-league pyramid, Chelmsford City won the Isthmian Premier and already in the first half of this season look like they may be on their way to the Blue Square Premier.

Jeff King's side won the title by a massive nine points, so avoiding the play-offs and currently in Blue Square South, they are top and gunning for the Premier.

Now settled in at Melbourne Park, City are benefitting from having their own stadium and getting large crowds.

Wivenhoe Town won't forget 2008 in a hurry.

Relegated from the Isthmian Division One North, the Dragons almost saved themselves after Richard Carter took control of things at Broad Lane at the end of last season.

However despite bringing in a complete change of personnel, Wivenhoe didn't avoid the drop and moved into the Ridgeons Premier, where they started this season off like a train, before Carter and the club parted company with debts mounting.

Former Liverpool and West Ham full-back Julian Dicks is now involved with the Essex club, as it goes back to a few basics. It should be an interesting 2009 at Broad Lane.

In the FA Cup Leiston thrilled many non-league fans with their exploits in the world's biggest domestic knock-out competition.

After dispatching of Carlshalton, Carl Chenery's side beat Blue Square Premier side Lewes in a fourth qualifying round replay, before losing 2-0 to Fleetwood in the first round proper, after another replay, where they did themselves proud.

The only losers in 2008 were probably AFC Sudbury and Bury Town who inexplicably were moved into the Southern League midlands division after a re-shuffling of the leagues, creating huge financial cost with all the travelling.

But on the pitch, both sides are two of the youngest and most exciting in the region, Sudbury giving a good account of themselves recently against Oxford United in the FA Trophy.

As usual there were plenty of non-league managerial casualties during 2008, but the grass roots game can look forward to a bright future with attendances increasing and players getting better rewarded.

mike.bacon@archant.co.uk

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