May 16 2017: County champions

It’s 20 years almost to the day since Whitby Town crowned the first of my 12 FA Vase finals as Northern League chairman with a 3-0 win at Wembley.

Tonight they’re in the North Riding Senior Cup final against Pickering Town at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, after a decade of declining to enter and annually paying a £500 “exemption fee”.

The chairman, Graham Manser is the same; the chant – Sea-sea-siders  is the same, unless you were Joe Burlison who, disoriented at Wembley, sang Tee-Tee-siders instead. Charlie Woodward, club secretary on that memorable occasion, is also there, but in his role as a North Riding FA council member.

Charlie’s the great lad who on his business card declared himself a vision technician, but who everyone else supposed a window cleaner.

The stadium’s welcoming, the hospitality excellent,promotions for Ramsden’s, Boro’s  long-time sponsor, unmissable. “We sell jewellery, we buy gold, we don’t sell fish and chips.”

A good game is marred only by some foolish (shall way say) Whitby supporters among the 1,400 crowd who ignite several smoke canisters in the stand. These days the riot act is read only in the sports pages of the tabloids, but it’s fair to say that both the Boro and the County FA burn a few ears.

Whitby have long been in the Evostik premier division, had greatly hoped for promotion this season because mileage in the National League northern division is much less. Spennymoor Town manager Jason Ainsley, sitting alongside, confirms it. “Seven clubs in the West Midlands. Murder.”

Pickering lead at half-time through Nick Thompson’s wonderful 25-yard strike but concede three in the second half. Whitby may enter again.

Pickering are the northernmost team in the Northern Counties East League, have once or twice supposed – wholly wrongly – that the Northern League was trying to poach them. They’re supported by the league top brass who’ll also be at Wembley when Cleethorpes take on South Shields on Sunday. I fancy they’ll be disappointed again.

*It’s become a happy Wembley tradition that, after the match, friends and Northern League folk – the two, of course, synonymous – gather for a few beers in Mabel’s Tavern, 9 Mabledon Place, WC1H 9HZ. It’s about 50 yards south of Euston Road, more or less equidistant between Euston and Kings Cross stations and five minutes walk from the latter.

It’s a good pub – Mabel’s the ghost – and a chance for a convivial couple of hours. Freed from the need for post-match niceties, I should be there between 3pm and 5 15pm. It would be great to see everyone.

If anyone still needs tickets, I have three for the South Shields section  two £25, one concession. £40 the lot, or £30 for the two adult tickets.