The View from the Bar
So, last time out I gave you a brief rundown of our F.A. Vase history. But today I reckon I’ll get a bit more specific about things. Our first proper Vase run in living memory (well, ever, truth be told), came in the 1997-98 season. We’d already battled our way through against various opponents, starting with what had seemed like an unlikely win at Brockenhurst – our first win of the season – in the qualifying rounds.
But now we were just a few (okay, five) games from Wembley. And we got drawn away at Chard, from Somerset. We didn’t know much about our Western League hosts, but that’s one of the wonderful things about the Vase – it’s teams largely from the same level of football, but they could be from anywhere, and when you encounter someone from outside your league you just have to have a go and see what happens.
But then there was the question of how to get there. It was a week or two before Christmas, the third round, and the team and a good portion of the Cowes support were travelling down to the West Country by coach. I had to get back to the Island for a Christmas do that night and, since the coach party wasn’t due to get back till 10ish, I thought I’d make my own way down.
I can’t remember all the details, but I set out early and, after a couple of changes on the train found myself at Crewkerne sometime around 1pm on the day of the game. Cowes were still in the Vase, and I was on a mission, so it was all good, although I was starting to wonder otherwise as I trudged along Crewkerne’s seemingly endless high street in search of public transport to whisk me away to the doubtless glory that awaited twenty-or-so miles down the road.
But there were no buses. And I couldn’t find a taxi firm either, so I started walking. I stuck my thumb out, hopefully, since I never would have made it if I’d tried to walk the whole way. A good few cars had passed me by and I was beginning to get a bit downhearted as I trudged out of town into the Somerset countryside, but then as I headed uphill into what I’d normally have considered a lovely wooded glade (but at this point in time looked to me more like the gates to nowhere) I heard the gratifying hiss of brakes as a vehicle slowed in response to my outstretched thumb.
I looked to my right, expecting to see a benevolent dad on the way back from shopping in his Micra, or maybe a gaggle of skaters in a van looking for the local bowl. Instead, I looked up and saw Bill Murray, beckoning me (in his usual, hurried fashion) to the front of the team coach. I afforded myself a bit more of a look and was greeted by the sight of half the team having a right good laugh at my expense, then, towards the back of the coach, several of our supporters in similar good humour. It was a humbling experience, stepping onto the coach, but I have to say I was more than a little relieved to have secured a ride that would ensure I was there in time for kick-off, even if I did have to endure the taunts of the assembled travelling masses.
Not only was I there in time for kick-off, but, seeing as I’d arrived with the team, against the odds there was time for a good few pints in the homely Chard clubhouse before the game too. And it was probably a good job – it was by no means a classic, as I recall. Down the bottom end the keeper was likely below sea level, while at the other end his counterpart probably had popping ears. Yep, there was quite a slope, and in an afront to logic it proved to be quite a leveller as the teams huffed and puffed to a one-all draw.
Extra-time came and went and, predictably, no winner was found, so the game went to penalties. Luckily, I had thought before kick-off, I’d found a local taxi firm to take me back to Crewkerne. Unfortunately, the taxi was waiting for me as the captains and ref decided on the logistics of penalties and was tooting his horn furiously as the spot-kicks got underway.
And so I left, with the outcome unresolved. I had to get back to Cowes for a do that night, after all. After fifteen anxious minutes in the cab I called the Chard clubhouse from a public phone (remember them?) on the platform at Crewkerne station to enquire as to the final score. A dispirited voice at the other end of the line informed me that the visitors had won. Cue me jumping around like a loon as a sparsely populated train to Westbury pulled in at platform one.
I can’t remember what the do back in Cowes that night was like, but I made it. But I’ll never forget my trip to Chard, even if I did miss the grand finale.
Memories like that seem a lifetime ago, but they’re there, waiting to be had again this year. Will we be headed that way, or will it be our friends from Verwood? Let’s find out.
Enjoy the game,