Vase future in jeopardy

With clubs from northern England providing five of the contestants in this weekend's FA Carlsberg Vase quarter-finals, the Federation Brewery Northern League, in particular, can be proud. It has produced three of the last eight, a fine achievement, but one that may have sad implications for the future of the Vase.

If Guisborough, one of the three Northern League representatives, can see off Taunton, the Screwfix Direct Western League leaders, at their King George V ground on Sunday, three of the last four will be from the north.

Last season's final, between Clitheroe from Lancashire and Brigg from Humberside, drew a crowd of just 7,340 to Wembley - a long way below the Vase final record attendance of 26,487 for Sudbury Town against Tamworth in 1989.

The Football Association has already taken the controversial decision to ban clubs without floodlights from next season's Vase - a ruling which will lessen the grass-roots charm of the tournament. If this year's final draws another poor crowd, speculation that the final might be moved away from Wembley could become reality. That would spoil the dreams of all who enter the Vase, in which the appeal of the national stadium, rather than the competition itself, is what matters.

Such fears, however, will not spoil the fun for the Northern League. Its clubs made regular trips to Wembley in the days of the FA Amateur Cup, but last season none made it past the last 32. This term, though, it is all smiles for one of the country's most competitive but most hospitable leagues.

Before Guisborough's big day on Sunday, Whitby entertain Mossley, from the North West Counties League, tomorrow while Bedlington Terriers travel to Humberside to take on North Ferriby, of the Northern Counties East League. North Ferriby's attack will be led by Andy Flounders, the former Hull City striker who helped Brigg win the Vase last year. The only all- southern quarter-final pairs two Icis League sides: Northwood and Banstead.

In the GM Vauxhall Conference, Halifax have put their former manager, George Mulhall, plus the former West Bromwich midfielder Kieran O'Regan in temporary charge of team affairs following last weekend's departure of John Carroll and his assistant, Billy Rodaway.

The England semi-professional side play their first fixture this season on Tuesday, when they meet the Republic of Ireland at St Patrick's Athletic's ground in Dublin.

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