Having had one route to Wembley firmly closed, so another one opens in the form of the FA Vase and we look forward to welcoming our old friends Epsom & Ewell to Goring’s Mead for Sunday’s 1st Qualifying Round tie.
It’s eleven years since we last come up against The Salts, and a further three since we were eligible for entry into The Vase, but there is no time for nostalgia as Dom Di Paola’s men look to bounce back from the disappointment of Monday’s first defeat of the season. To have exited the FA Cup at such an early round is an obvious frustration to everyone, tempered only slightly by the recognition that a club of our standing has little – if any – chance of winning the competition. The FA Vase, however, provides a more realistic proposition of reaching the latter stages and, who knows, a trip to Wembley! Epsom & Ewell were, in fact, beaten finalists in the inaugural Vase competition in 1975 that attracted a crowd of 9,000 to the famous old stadium while Deal Town, who put paid to our interest in the FA Cup last week, won the trophy in 2000. Dom, himself, took East Preston to the last sixteen just two seasons ago so knows what it takes to succeed in the competition.
We could hardly have wished for a tougher challenge with which to reacquaint ourselves with the Vase, though, as Epsom are currently unbeaten in the Combined Counties League Premier Division after five matches. Like ourselves, their only defeat this season came in the FA Cup when Erith & Belvedere scored four goals without reply at the Surrey club’s temporary base at Chipstead FC, a club with which they have been sharing since the start of the 2012/13 season after previously co-habiting with Banstead and Merstham following their move from their old West Street ground twenty-two years ago.
Despite having played each other more than fifty times, this will be our first-ever meeting in the FA Vase. The match will take place on Sunday to avoid a clash with our landlords, Horsham YMCA, who host FC Elmstead on Saturday.