Whitley Bay hadn’t lost an FA Vase game in 1,420 days and twenty-nine ties. Paul Chow had scored in thirteen successive rounds of the competition and won at Wembley three seasons in a row. It was the club’s seventh time in the last sixteen of the Vase and West Auckland’s first. “In terms of the infrastructure of the clubs, it’s definitely David vs Goliath,” West boss Peter Dixon told the fa.com. On the pitch, though, the sides were more even: league-leaders West had already beaten second-placed Bay twice this season and, even without the cup-tied Elliot Gardner and John Campbell, Dixon was still able to field the likes of top-scorer Mattie Moffatt, Alex Francis – who featured in two FA Youth Cup runs during his time at Newcastle United – ex-Hartlepool United and Spennymoor Town forward Michael Rae and Mark Bell, Blyth Spartans’ goalkeeper when they played against Blackburn Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup.
The 1,293 fans – more than double Bay’s average attendance – were expecting a classic. Instead they got a forty-minute delay after a reckless 15th-minute challenge from Lee-Paul Scroggins left Francis with a double break in his leg. “Go on and win it for me,” the midfielder told his teammates as he departed the pitch in an ambulance. Scroggins, deservedly, was shown a straight red card. Francis had a three-hour operation.
In blustery conditions Whitley Bay’s ten men had arguably the better of the rest of the game – “Some of our players reserve their best performances for Vase matches,” Ian Chandler had said before the game. West, superbly marshalled in defence by Darryl Hall, were, as ever, fast and dangerous on the counter, leading to an increasingly nervy afternoon for the Bay faithful. There was only a minute of the ninety left when Moffatt headed in Martin Young’s corner from the right, prompting manic celebrations from the twenty or so West fans behind Kyle Hayes’ goal. Two minutes later Paul Robinson, Hillheads Maradona and three-time winner of the Vase, turned in a Robbie Dale shot to level the scores and all but guarantee a replay. “Bay equalise with the last kick of the game,” came the tweets. Except it wasn’t. In the sixth minute of stoppage time Hayes could only parry a Moffatt header and Rae’s close range finish sparked a celebratory pitch invasion from the bench as well as the stands. “There was stunned silence, a moment of anger and frustration, and then the home supporters cheered their team, who had lost an FA Vase tie for the first time in four seasons” Graham Yapp wrote in his report of the game. West go on to play the winners of the Bournemouth / Billingham Synthonia tie on the first weekend in March. For Whitley Bay, down to fourth in the table after league wins for Spennymoor Town and Sunderland RCA, it could well be the end of an era – but what a glorious one it’s been.