The View from the Bar
For Cowes fans of a certain age the F.A. Vase holds a definite allure. Catch them right, more often than not over a pint of mild in the club, and you can guarantee they’ll go all misty-eyed and start reminiscing about the great Vase runs of yonder year.
And I’m one of them. But it wasn’t always thus. After a few tentative (and uniformly unsuccessful) forays in the F.A. Trophy, Cowes first entered the F.A. Vase in the 1974-75 season but, after a first round replay win over Hungerford Town, Brockenhurst came to Westwood and put a swift end to our Wembley dreams with a 3-1 victory. The following year saw victory at Seaford followed by defeat at home to Fareham, and in the next three seasons we fell at the first hurdle.
And then that was it for the next seventeen years, with no entry to a national competition and no dreams of Wembley. Well, dreams, but no matches, and in fairness we struggled to get anywhere in any cup competitions through the 1980’s, with a Russell-Cotes Cup Final in 1981 the high point, and ignominious exits to Island League teams in the Gold Cup and Hampshire Intermediate Cup the norm.
But then we started being a cup team. We won the Hampshire League Cup in 1993 (as well as reaching the Hampshire Senior Cup semi), made the League Cup final again the following year, and in 1995 secured our first Gold Cup win for thirty years.
And then it was back. In August 1995 we could once again start dreaming of a visit to the twin towers when, for the first time since 1978, we entered the F.A. Vase again. The result? Well, we lost to Gosport. And the following year went out at Christchurch at the first attempt. But then came the 1997-98 season, when our run extended to eight games (including two replays), and we made it to the fourth round, coming within just a couple of minutes of beating previous season runners-up North Ferriby in front of 800 supporters at Westwood, before being edged out in the replay on Humberside. Great trip north that was though, and to this day by far the longest trip I’ve ever made supporting Cowes.
The following season was a massive anti-climax, getting beat first time out at Tiptree (having walked for about an hour from the nearest station to get to the game), but in 1999 we embarked on our best-ever run, battling our way to the fifth round (just three games from Wembley) and a home draw against Taunton. Battling was about right – no-one who was here will ever forget the fourth round tie with Tilbury, when the match made the lead story on both the front and back pages of the County Press – the back page recounting a late strike from Jamie O’Rourke that sent us into the fifth round, while the front page concentrated more on the on-and-off field disorder that prompted the arrival at half-time of twenty-or-so of the local constabulary, including a dog-handling unit, to marshall the, ahem, rowdy visiting support into the far corner of the ground. I’m not sure there’s even that many police left on the Island, thankfully I reckon Shaftesbury are unlikely to bring eight-odd gnarly east-London dockers down with the today…
The 5th round could have been the greatest day in our recent history, and in many ways was, with over a thousand supporters here at Westwood including a couple of hundred from the West Country. The footballing gods conspired against us that day though. We’d have struggled containing Taunton’s live-wire frontline with a full side, but as it was a team ravaged by injury and sickness found themselves on the wrong end of a seven goal pasting.
Since then, despite a couple of promising-looking runs (notably in 2007 and 2011 when we made it to the 3rd round), it’s been largely false starts. But the dreams can start again today, and at 5 o’clock today will still be alive for either us or Shaftesbury. Oh how I hope it’s us…
Enjoy the game.