The day started with a relatively short train ride from Bicester down to Wembley. Even on this local train there was a noticeable Hereford presence. Hearing that they had sold over 19,000 tickets, this was pretty obvious once we arrived under the arch. Yes, there were small pockets of amber and black bedecked Morpeth fans. There were even one or two early birds wearing the blue of Halifax and the black & white of Grimsby. However, everywhere you looked there were Hereford fans, resplendent in white and black, some even in their red training tops or red & black away kits. Whatever the colours, the bull was there, staring you in the face as you walked to the stadium.
In a normal match blog I would spend a paragraph or so describing the stadium. I'm not sure this is required with Wembley. Suffice to say, there are covered seating areas all around the ground, no actual clubhouse and certainly no little tea or snack hut. It's a fine stadium but doesn't have the character of, say, Hardenhuish Park or The Grove.
The day's action got off to an explosive start. Hereford and Morpeth Town had barely finished their handshakes and the last notes of the national anthem were still floating off down Wembley High Street when Rob Purdie found himself, ball at feet and with acres of space 25 yards out from The Highwaymen's goal. A touch to steady himself and a powerful low drive was arrowed into the corner of the net. The entire population of Hereford, crammed into three tiers of Wembley, went ballistic. What a start!
The Bulls were rampant for the first 25 minutes. Chance after chance went by, most noticeably when Haysham miscued from six yards out and when Grant hit the bar with a vicious dipping effort that beat the Town keeper, but still it remained at 1-0. Gradually Morpeth started to work thir way back into the game and you wondered if Hereford would rue their missed chances.
Sure enough, with just under 35 minutes on the clock, Horsell misjudged a cross and there was Morpeth captain Chris Swailes to bundle it over the line.
Morpeth would have been far the happier to be going in all-square at half-time.
Just before the hour mark a neat pass set Sean Taylor free and he finished at the near post to put 'Peth 3-1 up.
Hereford stepped it up again at this point but, in fairness, Morpeth still looked to be in control. Swailes was marshalling the defence well and Graydon, in midfield, was pulling all of the strings.
Into injury time and a tiring Hereford team were caught out by a neat reverse pass. Bell ran on and, with the aid of a deflection, made it 4-1.
The final score was hard on The Bulls but Morpeth deserved their win for the way they fought their way back from such a bad start.
The game was an absolute credit to Step 5 football, topped off by a lovely gesture from the Hereford team and staff, forming a guard of honour as Morpeth descended the steps with the trophy. A touch of class from the beaten team there.
As the Hereford section emptied, we made our way away from pitch side to grab a bite to eat and a drink before the second game. One slight gripe here. With two hours to kill between games, it would have been better to have been allowed out of the stadium for a while. However, there were plenty of announcements stating that, once you left, that was it. No re-admittance. I'm not entirely sure why this was the case but, rules are rules I suppose.
When we returned to our seats the Hereford section all but empty, a few Morpeth fans had stayed around and the previously sparsely populated Grimbsy and Halifax sections had filled up nicely. We settled in for the Trophy Final between promoted Grimsby and relegated Halifax. A sure-fire Cod Army victory, you would think?
There was no early goal in this game. in fact, it was a completely different style of match all together. Both sides seemed to be taking a much more cautious approach, making sure they didn't concede the first goal. It became apparent from quite early on that it was going to be a very close encounter, much closer than the league positions suggested.
Maybe it was a hangover from the play-off final or maybe we should credit Halifax's pressing but, for whatever reason, Grimsby were certainly not playing like the favourites that they were before kick-off. It was The Shaymen who had the early chances the best of which fell to Jordan Burrow, who shot wide. We were well past the half-hour mark before Johnson had to really stretch himself in the Halifax goal.
At half-time it was still 0-0 and, although it hadn't lived up to the excitement of the Vase Final, it was still an intriguing game.
Just over five minutes into the second half Halifax took the lead. A Cross from the left was palmed out by the keeper and, when it was only half-cleared to the edge of the box, McManus fire it back over the keeper into the far corner. It was a very good first-time finish which sent the massed ranks of Shaymen wild.
Try as they might, Grimsby never really seems to get going and with Halifax captain Nicky Wroe orchestrating the midfield, The Shaymen dug in to spring the second upset of the day. In the end it was a well deserved win for Halifax and, hopefully for their supporters, a sign of better things to come next season. Grimsby, meanwhile, will console themselves with a place back in the Football League next season.
All in all, a wonderful day of football. As a neutral, it was good to see both games won by the teams that deserved it most on the day. So, what were my highlights?
Having a day at Wembley with my Dad
Hereford FC's supporters
Hereford's guard of honour
Morpeth's second-half display
The Halifax winning goal
In Cod We Trust banner
Keith Graydon's performance for Morpeth
Let's hope that Non-League Finals Day becomes a regular calendar event and, next year, let's also hope that the FA gives it a little more respect by not scheduling an international match for the same day.