The FA Vase is a knockout football tournament that was created for the 1974/75 season to replace the FA Amateur Cup. Entrants come from the ninth and tenth tiers of the English football pyramid, such as the Counties Leagues’ Premier and First Divisions but also teams below this who meet the stadium requirements. The teams above this level in the National League enter the FA Trophy.
As with other tournaments run by the FA, the FA Vase Final is held at Wembley Stadium. Whitley Bay hold the record for the number of trophies won with four, including a hattrick of wins between 2008/09 and 2010/11.
FA Vase Winners By Year
|2018–19||Chertsey Town||3–1||Cray Valley Paper Mills|
|2017–18||Thatcham Town||1–0||Stockton Town|
|2016–17||South Shields||4–0||Cleethorpes Town|
|2014–15||North Shields||2–1||Glossop North End|
|2013–14||Sholing||1–0||West Auckland Town|
|2012–13||Spennymoor Town||2–1||Tunbridge Wells|
|2011–12||Dunston UTS||2–0||West Auckland Town|
|2010–11||Whitley Bay||3–2||Coalville Town|
|2008–09||Whitley Bay||2–0||Glossop North End|
|2007–08||Kirkham & Wesham||2–1||Lowestoft Town|
|2006–07||Truro City||3–1||A.F.C. Totton|
|2005–06||Nantwich Town||3–1||Hillingdon Borough|
|2004–05||Didcot Town||3–2||A.F.C. Sudbury|
|2003–04||Winchester City||2–0||A.F.C. Sudbury|
|2002–03||Brigg Town||2–1||A.F.C. Sudbury|
|2001–02||Whitley Bay||1–0||Tiptree United|
|2000–01||Taunton Town||2–1||Berkhamsted Town|
|1999–00||Deal Town||1–0||Chippenham Town|
|1998–99||Tiverton Town||1–0||Bedlington Terriers|
|1997–98||Tiverton Town||1–0||Tow Law Town|
|1996–97||Whitby Town||3–0||North Ferriby United|
|1994–95||Arlesey Town||2–1||Oxford City|
|1993–94||Diss Town||2–1||Taunton Town|
|1992–93||Bridlington Town||1–0||Tiverton Town|
|1986–87||St Helens Town||3–2||Warrington Town|
|1984–85||Halesowen Town||3–1||Fleetwood Town|
|1982–83||VS Rugby||1–0||Halesowen Town|
|1981–82||Forest Green Rovers||3–0||Rainworth Miners Welfare|
|1978–79||Billericay Town||4–1||Almondsbury Greenway|
|1977–78||Blue Star||2–1||Barton Rovers|
|1974–75||Hoddesdon Town||2–1||Epsom & Ewell|
The FA Vase, and indeed the FA Trophy, are two competitions many football fans possess little knowledge of. Although far from the most cherished prizes in English football, the pair ensure that clubs far down the footballing pyramid have a genuine shot of some relatively significant silverware. The FA Trophy features teams from the fifth to the eighth tier of English football, while the FA Vase covers teams across the ninth and 10th tiers, steps five and six of the National League System.
The FA Vase is, therefore, the least prestigious nationwide tournament run by the FA, not that you would ever guess that from the faces of the winning players, of course. For the one club that does survive the long battle until the very end, it is a huge achievement and one that will live long in their memories. Partly this is because the final of this competition is typically held at Wembley and how many footballers can boast they have played a cup final there?
The exact numbers of clubs that take part in the FA Vase tends to vary year on year but there are usually at least 600, meaning this is one extremely difficult trophy to win. The fluctuating and large huge number of entries does pose something of a challenge for the schedule planners but they always find a structure that works. In more recent iterations of the competition, the format has included two qualification rounds and eight ‘proper’ rounds.
One thing to note before we dive into how the Vase works is that for all rounds, up until the fourth round proper, draws are made on a geographical basis. This prevents a situation in which some side located near Newcastle faces an 800-mile round trip for a one-off match in Plymouth.
The first round of qualifying is the largest round in the tournament as it usually sees at least 200 fixtures played, meaning there are 400+ teams involved. It features a mixture of ninth and 10th tier teams from all across the country. The vast majority of fixtures end up being played as planned but you will notice that not quite all of them do. Most often this is because one of the teams was not accepted into the competition or they withdrew after the draw was made, whether voluntary or having been forced to. In such cases, the result will be marked down as W/O, which stands for a walkover. This effectively gives the other team a free pass to the next round.
Most first round qualifiers go according to plan though and for each fixture, one side will progress and the other will face elimination, with their cup dreams shattered for another year. This brings us to the second qualifying round in which the 200+ winners from the first round join over 100 new teams who still need to qualify. A new knockout draw is then made and this will help determine which clubs will join the first round proper.
In other cup competitions, teams higher up the footballing pyramid do not join until the later rounds. In the FA Cup, for instance, there are six qualification and preliminary rounds before the first round proper, the moment that League One and Two teams join the fray. The FA Vase works rather differently though as it only covers two levels of the footballing pyramid and teams from both can start in the first round of qualifying.
So, why is it then that some teams have to qualify while others join the competition in either the first or second round proper? The answer is not simply luck of the draw as the FA has specific rules on which teams are able to skip qualification. The exemptions for eligible teams are as follows:
- A team that played in the FA Vase the previous season and finished in the top four of a Step 5 league (ninth tier). These will go straight into the first round proper, unless they secured promotion. In the case of promotion, the club would take part in the FA Trophy instead.
- A team that played in the previous season’s FA Trophy and were relegated from a Step 4 (eighth tier) league. Such clubs will also join the Vase during the first round proper.
- To start in the second round proper, a team must have reached the fourth round or later during the FA Vase the previous season.
So, skipping the qualification stages relates to either a team’s league performance or their performance in the Vase itself. In the case of the latter, success breeds success in many ways as if you join the competition at the second round, it becomes a lot easier to reach the fourth round as only two victories are required. Matches at these later stages are tough though with massively one-sided affairs being in a distinct minority.
Now you know which clubs can join the Vase during the proper rounds, you ought to know that from here on out it is a straight knockout competition to the final. The surviving qualifiers join a fairly small selection (approximately 30) of new teams in the first round proper. Those that prevail in their ties move onto the second round proper where the final batch of new entries is added into the mix. As with the first round proper, exact numbers vary year on year but usually it is between 20 and 30. What you can be more sure of is that the new entries will bring the number of teams in the competition up to 64. This is later whittled down to 32, 16, 8, 4 and then we are left with just our two finalists.
It has been mentioned before but it is worth repeating that the FA Vase gives teams in the ninth and 10th tiers of English football the chance to play a match at the home of the national side. This is quite an opportunity as for the vast majority of these players, they will never have a realistic opportunity to play a match at such a huge stadium. Many of the teams involved play at tiny grounds in front of a few hundred people at the best of times. A day out at Wembley though would see them play in front of tens of thousands of spectators. Of course, most of these will be neutrals but it is still a moment to savour for the players involved.
Exact attendance figures for the final vary but in recent years they have been comparable to that of a notable Premier League fixture as you can see in the figures below. The reason for the massive jump between 2015 and 2016 is because starting in 2016, the FA Trophy and FA Vase were played on the same day. In addition to this, starting from this year BT Sport decided to air both fixtures live so suddenly the FA Vase final had a lot more viewers than it previously did.
It is worth mentioning that Wembley has been the designated home of the FA Vase final ever since the competition was launched, but a few finals have taken place elsewhere. In the past, whenever there was a replayed final, Wembley would not re-host and instead another neutral venue would be selected. There were four replayed finals in the history of this competition before the rule was scrapped with the City Ground, London Road, Elland Road and Bramall Lane called upon as venues at which to find an outright champion.
There was also the gap between the old Wembley closing and the new Wembley opening its doors. During this interim period, the FA Vase final took place at four different grounds: Villa Park, the Boleyn Ground, White Hart Lane and St Andrew’s.
The global health crisis that began in 2020 and the subsequent government restrictions meant that for many weeks non-league teams could not play one another. With fewer available weeks in which to squeeze in matches, the FA Vase scrapped all replays and instead stated that should two teams draw after 90 minutes then a penalty shootout would be called upon immediately afterwards. This meant that all rounds across the tournament featured just one-legged matches. This included the semi-final which in previous years had been played across two legs (home and away games).
The only match to remain unchanged was the final as for this, in the event of a draw, teams would play the standard 30 minutes of extra time prior to any penalty shootout. These changes which were first implemented for the 2020/21 competition and though they were not stated as being permanent, it is possible the FA sticks with the approach.
Walkovers, Rule-Breakers & Abandonments
As mentioned a little earlier, some FA Vase matches are decided without a ball being kicked in the case of a walkover. This is something that can happen at any stage in the competition, and it commonly does, although you are more likely to see it within the qualification rounds. In addition to this, the FA Vase will often see teams kicked out from the competition after their match has been played. The most common cause is fielding an ineligible player, something that does catch at least one side out every year.
You also have games that are played but which do not make it to the full 90 minutes. This can be through a wide variety of reasons but most commonly waterlogged pitches or a player sustaining a major injury. In the event of an abandonment, the game will simply be replayed at a later date.
Not only does the FA Vase give teams on the fifth and sixth steps of the National League System a shot of securing a trophy but it is an additional source of income too. Those that are eliminated early only end up with a few hundred quid but for those that can reach the later knockout stages, the prize money served up can make something of a difference. If a team that starts in the first round of qualifying survives all the way to the final and wins the showpiece event, which is far from unthinkable, they would net themselves a total of £47,550. Note that these figures are from the 2021/22 Vase and they are subject to change over time.
Most Successful Clubs
Whitley Bay are not a team you ever want to meet in the final of this competition. They are yet to taste defeat across four appearances at the very last stage of the competition, the most recent of which came in 2011. With four Vase titles to their name, the costal side are unmatched when it comes to success in this tournament. What makes their record most impressive is that three of their wins were consecutive (2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11), something never seen before in the history of the competition. You can hardly call any of them lucky either, particularly the 2009/10 final in which they trashed Wroxham 6-1, the biggest Vase final win of all time.
Whitley Bay do not face an immediate threat to their crown either as the only team on three wins, Billericay Town, play in the National League South and are therefore ineligible for the Vase. For them to stand a chance of another Vase success they would need to face three relegations. It is not as though they have a recent knack for the competition either. All three of Billericay’s wins came in the first five years of the tournament starting and they are yet to even reach the final since.
Moving further down the list there are three teams tied on two trophies lifted: Tiverton Town, Halesowen Town and Brigg Town. With only five teams in total having multiple Vase wins, it shows how challenging winning this competition is. In addition to having so many teams competing, clubs can easily find they are no longer eligible for it following a promotion or relegation. There are also a couple of instances where former winners no longer exist (Yeading and Colne Dynamoes) so for these it is impossible for them to add to their tally.
For every winning finalist we have had over the decades, there has always been one disappointed runner-up. There is a long list of teams that have ended up beaten in their sole final appearance but only three clubs that remain without a win have lost more than this. West Auckland Town and Glossop North End both have the unwanted record two finals played, two finals lost but nobody has been more unlucky than AFC Sudbury. Quite incredibly, the Suffolk based club lost three consecutive finals starting in the 2002/03 season. It must be something to do with the area as Sudbury Town, who merged with Sudbury Wanderers to create AFC Sudbury, also lost the 1988/89 Vase final following a replay.
FA Vase History
The FA Vase has been in operation every year since 1974. It was largely seen as a replacement for the FA Amateur Club which had been abolished the same year as the FA decided to do away with official amateur status. The Vase was not quite as strong as the Amateur Cup used to be though as some of the top amateur sides at the time began playing in the FA Trophy. In recent years the competition has enjoyed some additional prestige as the Vase and Trophy finals were moved to the same day, at the same ground (Wembley). This move saw the Vase receive live television coverage courtesy of BT Sport, exposing this very competitive cup to many football fans who may never have even heard of it previously.
Unlike in other cup competitions, the FA Vase has seen some huge victories over the years, especially in the earlier rounds. Hinkley AFC broke the existing record in 2021 though when absolutely hammering St Martins 18-0. The game did not even take place on Hinkley’s own turf, rather they were using a 3G surface provided by the hapless hosts.