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Iron forging a strong future

Football: Non-League notebook
None of the 340 clubs involved in FA Cup preliminary round matches this week will be appearing at Wembley next May. The same cannot, of course, be said for the 184 teams embarking on this season's FA Carlsberg Vase campaign, which kicks off tomorrow. While the favourites for a day out beneath the twin towers on 10 May do not normally enter the Vase until the second round proper in November, there are some strong contenders in this weekend's first qualifying round.

Braintree Town were a thriving Southern League club until, last summer, they decided to make the switch across the pyramid to the Icis (Isthmian) League to cut down on their travelling costs. The Iron, as the Essex club are known, could have held their own in the First Division of the Icis alongside the likes of Aldershot, but their voluntary move meant they had to start - like Wealdstone, who did the same thing the previous year - in the Third Division.

Braintree's reduced status has also led to a shift from the FA Trophy to the Vase, in which they travel to the Cambridgeshire side, Somersham Town, tomorrow. The home team will need a strong defence, because the Iron have knocked in 17 goals in their last three games - including a 5-0 romp in the FA Cup at Southend Manor in their most recent outing.

Keith Martin, the Braintree manager, has forged a squad containing some of the best non-League players in East Anglia, including Gary Bennett, who won the Conference/Trophy double with Colchester in 1992. Despite their scoring feats, Martin said last week that he felt his side had not reached the standards set last season. When they do, they should take some stopping, and they are this column's tip to win the Vase.

Also worth a bet in the Vase are Wealdstone, who entertain Kempston Rovers on Sunday, and the up-and-coming Somerset club Bridgwater Town, who head west to St Austell tomorrow. Bridgwater drew an impressive crowd of 1,112 for their Screwfix Direct (Western) League derby against Taunton Town last week.