Gyalog flowers to take Vase glory

Rupert Metcalf sees a Wembley occasion scripted for unsung heroes
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THERE is almost always a pleasing, old-fashioned innocence about the FA Vase final. Unlike most showpiece club matches played out beneath the twin towers, in which the combatants are often regular visitors to the national stadium, this tournament for the little non-League clubs usually produces finalists for whom the occasion is a novelty.

Such was the case yesterday, when Arlesey Town, from Bedfordshire, achieved something of an upset by battling their way to a 2-1 win over Oxford City. Before the game the supporters of both sides, many in family groups, mingled peacefully on Wembley Way, pausing for photographs and savouring the atmosphere.

Both teams were making their Wembley debuts at the end of successful league seasons: Arlesey have won the Minerva South Midlands League while Oxford City have secured their second successive promotion in the Diadora League, from the Second to the First Division, after moving up from the South Midlands two years ago.

It is to the great credit of all involved at Oxford City, however, that they are playing at any level. In 1988, six years after celebrating their centenary, they were evicted from their historic White House Ground by Brasenose College. Forced to quit the Diadora League, they did not resume in senior football until they were admitted to the South Midlands League in 1990.

Arlesey, a club with a similarly long but more modest history who started life in the Biggleswade and District League a century ago, seemed too aware of their status as underdogs early on yesterday, when they allowed Oxford too much space in the danger area. Steve Fontaine burst through to shoot just wide, then the same player's flick sent Paul Sherwood clear for a strong run and shot that was well held by Steve Young.

Both chances fell within a rocky first 10 minutes for Arlesey, but they found their bearings and took the lead with a fine goal in the 26th minute. There seemed little danger when Paul Palma collected a long clearance wide on the right, but he cut inside, beat Martin Brown and cracked a right-foot shot into the top corner.

Palma's next run, 15 minutes later, produced a pulled muscle which saw him replaced by Tony Ward - probably the first one-armed footballer (thanks to a motorcycle accident in Crete six years ago) to play at Wembley.

Oxford showed greater urgency after the break, and were level within nine minutes. Chris Fontaine bustled his way to the by-line and watched with glee as his brother Steve shot home at the far post after Jimmy Hamilton's first attempt had been saved.

City were looking good for a winner but Arlesey had other ideas. In the 80th minute Gary Bambrick's long free-kick was flicked on by Colin Hull for Sandor Gyalog, a 26-year-old plasterer of Hungarian descent, to seize his moment of glory with an unstoppable far-post volley.

Arlesey Town: Young; Cardines, Bambrick, Palma (Ward, 41 min), Hull, Gonsalves, Gyalog, Cox, Kane, O'Keefe, Marshall (Nicholls, 81 min). Sub not used: Dodwell (gk).

Oxford City: Fleet; Brown (Fisher, 60 min), Hume, Shepherd, Muttock, Hamilton (Kemp, 60 min), Thomas, Spittle, Sherwood, S Fontaine, C Fontaine. Sub not used: Torres (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).