Non-League Finals Day Review

Written by Connor Lawson

For those who don’t know, Non-League Finals Day is an event at Wembley which sees both the FA Vase and FA Trophy finals played in one day. Tickets are cheap and the atmosphere is good.

This year, for the first time, I headed to Wembley for the event, something I was intending on going to last year. The weather was beautiful and I set off at 9:30, excited for the day ahead.

I got tickets for the Brackley end, as they are a local team to me and I have visited them a few times in the last couple of seasons.

Upon arrival at Wembley, we looked around for food as it was almost midday. Upon having a look at some of the extortionately priced burger vans, we decided to head for the McDonald’s on Wembley Way.

We made it into a sun-soaked Wembley just before the FA Vase final between Stockton Town and Thatcham Town kicked off.

Stockton Town are members of the Northern Football League Division One, at level 9 of English football. They took an impressive number of fans to Wembley, who made plenty of noise throughout the game, so fair play to them.

Their opponents were Thatcham Town, located in Berkshire and playing in the Southern Football League Division One West, level 8 of English football, just one above their opponents. They, too, brought a good number of fans to Wembley.

The game started off rather cagey and neither side wanted to give too much away until Stockton conceded a penalty in the first half which Thatcham’s Shane Cooper-Clark despatched.

Stockton tried their best to get back into it and they had a fair few chances to do so. Thatcham also had their share of chances, hitting the crossbar on one occasion.

However, to the delight of their fans, and to the dismay of the families and friends of the Stockton players sitting in the ‘posh seats’ to my right, Thatcham held out and won the FA Vase by a 1-0 scoreline.

The next match was the one I really came for, Brackley Town v Bromley.

There was a significant break between the FA Vase final ending and the FA Trophy final beginning, so we decided to go up onto the concourse to escape the scorching heat (which was already starting to burn me) and to grab something to eat.

Now, if anyone who manages catering at Wembley is reading this, your food is appalling for the price you charge. I purchased some onion rings for £3.50, which came out an oddly dark colour and rather soggy and chewy.

A lady sent back a burger she had ordered whilst I was waiting for my disappointing onion rings, and it was honestly pure black. I then heard the chef say to one of the kiosk workers not to accept any food that was sent back. Classy.

One notable feature of the Wembley concourse is the sheer amount of revenue seeking, manifested into popcorn stands, slushy machines, pick ‘n’ mix stands and ice-cream. It is clear that money is taking over the game, in case you needed any reminding.

With the dodgy Wembley food setting in my stomach and my knees now turning bright red with sunburn, I sat down to watch what was possibly the most entertaining game of the season.

Bromley had brought a significantly larger number of fans than Brackley at 16,000, as a result of other fans of London teams turning out to support them.

Brackley had 6,000, almost half of the population of the town, a quite remarkable achievement.

The game started off very end-to-end with neither side showing any sign of fear that they might give something away. Both sides had good opportunities to score in the early exchanges.

Omar Bugiel opened the scoring for Bromley in the first half, after Adam Mekki opened up the Brackley defence and rolled in the striker, who put a cool left foot finish into the bottom corner.

At that point, I thought that would trigger Bromley dominating the game and going onto score a few more based on the fact they were a league above Brackley and had had a decent season in the National League.

Brackley came back at them, though and carved out a few half-chances of their own.

Bromley could have made it two but Danny Lewis saved from a good volley from George Porter.

Half time came and it had been a fairly even affair, but Bromley certainly felt comfortable in their lead.

Brackley seemed to come out all guns blazing in the second half, with James Armson going close early in the half with a left footed curler.

Then, Brackley had a flurry of chances which they really should have scored from. The first was when James Armson forced Bromley keeper David Gregory to poke his close range effort onto the post.

Aaron Williams then had a big chance soon after. Gregory saved his initial attempt, but the rebound fell nicely to Williams. However, his second effort was cleared off the line by Jordan Higgs.

James Armson missed yet another chance, and perhaps the best one of the game, when he put the ball over the top after a lovely cut back from Williams.

Just as Brackley were committing men forward, Bromley broke. Substitute Brandan Hanlon broke free of the Brackley defence, but Lewis made a fantastic save to keep out an shot that would have killed the game off had it hit the back of the net.

Brackley were becoming desperate now, and I personally was starting to think this just wouldn’t be their day, despite undoubtedly being the better team.

However, in the 95th minute a miracle occurred. Matt Lowe, who had played fantastically well all game, had a low effort from outside the box. It rebounded off the post and was turned into his own net by Roger Johnson as he tried to stop Gareth Dean from slotting it home.

Cue jubilation in the Brackley end, as the players, subs, management and fans went wild for a goal they truly deserved. It was perhaps my favourite moment of the season.

Brackley had managed to take the game to extra time, and even the most ardent Bromley supporter would have to concede that it was no more than they deserved.

Extra time produced a few chances, with a heading from the aching Bugiel going wide, and Aaron Williams flashing an effort across the face of goal which agonisingly missed everyone.

The final was going to go all the way, and penalties approached.

The penalties were to be taken up the Brackley end. Bromley scored their first, and Brackley’s Shane Byrne had his penalty saved by Gregory, putting Bromley in pole position.

The next lot of penalties were scored by both sides, until it was 4-3 to Bromley on their fifth penalty and Bugiel had the chance to win it for Bromley.

I was thinking only negative thoughts at this stage, such as how harsh it would be for Brackley to lose considering how well they had played throughout the whole game.

I turned to my cousin, and he said “he’s gonna miss”, a claim which I quickly dismissed as I prepared for disappointment.

To my relief and delight, Bugiel fluffed his lines and skied the penalty, sending the Brackley fans into raptures. Glenn Walker then stepped up and put away his penalty to take it to sudden death.

Bromley captain Jack Holland then stepped up and hit the post, meaning that if Brackley scored their next penalty, they would be FA Trophy champions.

I said to myself “we are on the edge of history”, as Andy Brown approached the penalty spot. He put it away and won the FA Trophy for the first time in the history of Brackley.

It was exactly what they deserved, especially after cruelly missing out on promotion to the National League the week before in the National League North play-off final.

The players lapped up the applause and appreciation and celebrated their spirited victory.

Overall, what a day Non-League Finals Day was. Two exciting games, the second probably more exciting, and two trophies won.

As I left Wembley after 7 hours spent at the national stadium, with sunburnt knees, arms and nose, I reflected on what had been a fantastic way to finish the season.

I highly, highly recommend attending next year if you have not been before.

Congratulations to FA Vase and FA Trophy winners Thatcham Town and Brackley Town and commiserations to Stockton Town and Bromley.