Football: Vase offers meeting of mergers

Non-League notebook
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The Independent Online
Tomorrow the FA Carslberg Vase reaches the fourth-round stage, after which 16 teams will feel they have Wembley very much in their sights.

One tie which brings two very different clubs together sees Collier Row & Romford travel from suburban Essex to rural Wiltshire to take on Bemerton Heath Harlequins. Both clubs have been in existence for less than a decade and were formed as a result of mergers. Harlequins played their first game in 1989 when Bemerton Athletic of the Wiltshire League joined with two lesser local clubs, Moon FC and Bemerton Boys FC, and they now play in the Jewson Wessex League.

The merger of Romford and Collier Row was more recent - last summer - and more contentious. Romford, once one of the country's strongest amateur clubs, were reborn in 1992, 14 years after the original club folded. They played in the Essex Senior League but lacked their own ground and had to share with Hornchurch, so upward progress was in jeopardy.

Early last year John Goodwin, father of the Romford chairman Bradley Goodwin, gained control of Collier Row, of the Icis League Second Division, who play at the Sungate ground on the northern edge of Romford. Although Collier Row were in severe financial difficulties, not everyone was happy with the merger and Fred Mills, the outgoing Collier Row chairman, launched a vain legal challenge to block it. Next season the club will just be known as Romford and Collier Row's colours and crest will have disappeared.

The Goodwin family want to see their club in the GM Vauxhall Conference - but of more immediate interest is this season's FA Vase. Collier Row & Romford saw off this column's tip for the Vase, Braintree, on a frozen pitch just before Christmas, since when their manager, Donal McGovern, has strengthened his squad by signing Gus Caesar, the former Arsenal defender. He has joined another Highbury old boy, Martin Hayes, the former West Ham goalkeeper Allen McKnight and the prolific striker Steve Portway at Sungate, where the future looks bright.