The FA Vase: Welcome to the Homelands

By David Bauckham

Editor's Note: The FA Vase concludes on May 9th, with a final at the iconic Wembley Stadium. An arena normally reserved for giants will play host to two minnows, vying for a prize that is too small to even be called a trophy or a cup, but one that still manages to draw attention from all corners of England. They'll play for the 'Vase' — an award appropriately after an item that's functional, commonplace, and not necessarily precious in the way that silverware is, but capable of holding extreme, earthly beauty all the same. 

That describes everything about this competition: Equal parts gritty and glorious, simultaneously average and extraordinary, and often graceless and beautiful at the same time.

These are people, not professionals, who get to live their football dreams for one day — but that opportunity has been forged by the fire of hard work, lost sleep, reshuffled priorities, heavy sacrifices, and rounds upon rounds of qualifying.

That's the journey you never usually get to see because there weren't national TV crews or high-profile journalists there — but there was one man who saw it all.

He's renowned football photographer David Bauckham, and he's captured the FA Vase from beginning to end. Here is his story.

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Now in its forty-first season, the FA Vase is a knock-out competition for clubs at Steps 5 and 6 of the English non-League Pyramid — in other words those who compete in the various County Football Leagues — with the reward of a Final at Wembley Stadium. 

The Vase effectively replaced the FA Amateur Cup in 1974, after the Football Association decided to abolish the official distinction between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ footballers.

My own Vase journey began at the 1st Qualifying Round stage, appropriately at Hoddesdon Town, the first winners of the competition. This was followed by a visit to Whitley Bay, winners of the trophy a record four times, in the following round. 

Over the course of twelve ties in nine rounds, I traveled approximately 3800 miles around England. One by one, the clubs were finally whittled down to just two that will walk out at Wembley Stadium on May 9th. They represent the ninth tier of English football: Glossop North End, once a Football League club, but currently residing in the North West Counties League, and North Shields, of the Northern League.

No matter the score, no matter the victor, the Final will represent something special for both sides, whose players will walk out on Wembley's green, knowing they achieved a dream.

The Vase Project will culminate in an illustrated book, to be published in September 2015, to coincide with the beginning of the 2015-16 competition.

Words and photos by David Bauckham. For more information on the Vase Project, and to follow David's ongoing journey through the heart of English football, be sure to follow him on Flickr and Twitter.