Ascot United versus Shildon AFC
FA Vase Quarter Final Replay
Saturday 9th March 2013
Final Score: 1-4
Ninety seconds… that’s how close rank outsiders Ascot United came to being in the semi-finals of the FA Vase.
The previous week saw the Berkshire-based team travel to the North to face Shildon AFC. Underdogs though they were, Ascot found themselves a goal to the good, when in time added on, Jamie Lee Owens headed Shildon back into the game. Extra time passed without incident and so both teams had to do it all again seven days later.
I travelled to the game with photographer, friend and contributor to the site, Andy Nunn. Andy carries some impressive kit… the core of which is a 1D MkIV coupled with a 300mm f/2.8 lens. Tasty!
We arrived a couple of hours early with the club officials preparing for the show ahead. The groundsman had done a fantastic job of ensuring the game was playable, especially after the deluge of rain from the previous two days. It’s a long way to come for the team from Durham and having a postponement would not have sat well with anyone. Thankfully the pitch had passed an inspection on the Friday afternoon.
Chatting to a couple of Shildon fans who had arrived early, it was clear how worlds apart Ascot and Shildon were. The town of Ascot and surrounding areas are, to say the least, affluent. Through the town, we passed Maseratis, Porsches, Bentleys and even a stunning gold and black Rolls Royce. Royalty descends on the local racecourse each year in one of the biggest meetings in the calendar. Wentworth golf course – home to the European PGA, is round the corner and the famous West course is open to the public (handicap permitting) at a mere £360 for 18 holes!
Shildon in contrast, is a town with industrial revolution connections. Coalfields and collieries, railways and mines. The area conjures up a typical northern town scene. It’s certainly not graced by million pound houses and flash Italian supercars.
And although the two football teams play at the same level in the national game (Step 5), again, there’s where the similarities end. Shildon are steeped in history. Formed as Shildon Town and affectionately known as the Railwaymen, life began for the club in 1890. In recent years, they’ve faced financial difficulties, but thanks to the ongoing efforts of the officials and supporters, the club has survived.
Ascot United are in footballing terms, only a young team. Founded in 1965, they soon moved to the world famous Racecourse where they continue to play to this day. United play a vital part to the local community and by definition, are one of the largest football clubs in the UK. Boasting 68 teams (yes… sixty-eight) and over 750 registered players, the club embraces football from all ages, gender and ability. The club is financially stable with over 100 volunteers playing their vital part and 46 businesses providing important sponsorship.
Ascot’s ground is modern but basic. The clubhouse, with changing rooms, large bar and food outlet was built in 1990 and is smart and clean. Placed adjacent is an ‘identikit’ stand with seating for around 100 or so people. The stand and clubhouse offer the only shelter from the elements… luckily, something that wasn’t needed on this occasion. The rest of the ground features a few areas of hard standing and the dugouts are on the opposite side. Behind the far-end goal lays part of the racecourse with the newly-built (at a mere £185million) and extremely-imposing racecourse grandstand towering in the distance.
As the two teams took to the field, Ascot with mascots, the home crowd cheered them on. Shildon fans, though outnumbered, had a secret weapon in the noise stakes… a bloody great drum! In fairness to the Shildon supporters, they sung and chanted throughout the match. These hardened souls had travelled a long way and they had every right to let Berkshire know.
As the name suggests, Ascot, known as ‘the Yellamen, were kitted in their Brazilesque Yellow and Blue. Shildon, a more fitting colour for the gloomy weather – grey (though they’ll argue it’s silver). It was the visitors that started much the brighter, causing their hosts problems across the park.
In the run-up to the match, the Shildon fans that I spoke to were worried about how their team would fare. The Railwaymen were ravaged by injuries and only had twelve fully-fit players, with others each carrying injuries on the bench. One supporter had said that she “wishes the game had been postponed so they could have some time to get their players fit.”
I’m pretty certain her outlook changed on 17 minutes when Danny Richmond’s cross found Jamie Lee Owens who hammered into the roof of the net to put Shildon 1-0 up. Typically, I had stayed in one location up until this point, when I decided to head behind the goal only to be caught unawares. Moral of the story: don’t move around whilst the ball is in play!
Shildon continued to pile on the pressure and on 38 minutes, they doubled their lead through Sam Garvie, who slotted past the ailing Ascot stopper, Chris Grace. Once again, I had been caught out. I’d snuck behind the barriers to capture the Shildon fans in full voice, only to miss the goal… again! Instead, I made best of the situation and snapped the travelling fans going crazy.
By this point, it was clear that Ascot had no answer for Shildon’s attack, and in particular, Owens and Garvie, who wouldn’t look out of place in a couple of leagues higher. At half time, a sullen look from the groundsman told me all I needed to know from the Yellamen’s point of view, as he said “Not even in it.”
Shortly after the break, Shildon put the result beyond doubt, when Garvie weaved past a couple of defenders and neatly placed the ball in the bottom corner. I’d learned from my previous errors and decided to concentrate more on the action. Ascot actually pulled a goal back a few minutes later but it wasn’t to be their day. In the end, the men of the moment, Owens and Garvie linked up to give the latter his third and Shildon their forth. Game over. Garvie would keep hold of the match ball as tradition for anyone scoring a hat-trick.
So Shildon march on to the FA Vase Semi-Finals where they will face Tunbridge Wells both home and away… the winner on aggregate progressing to Wembley. Having witnessed both teams in succession, my tip will be for a Shildon win… but Tunbridge, who knock the ball about so pleasingly, find their final touch, it could be a humdinger of a tie.
And Ascot should take much from this game and their FA Vase journey as a whole. This was, after all, the furthest they had been in the competition. As Glen, a club official said to me after the game. “At least we went out to a decent side. Great fans too. Being at home, the lads could also get the ovation they deserved.”
Author – Stuart Tree