The FA Vase takes centre stage again this weekend, with 202 teams all dreaming of a Wembley Final as they battle it out in the First Round. This is often called the First Round Proper, a title that I struggle with. Referring to this as the first 'proper' round seems to belittle the efforts of the sides who have fallen along the way in the preliminary and qualifying rounds. For each of the teams involved, the first 'proper' round is the first game that they themselves have taken part in. So, I prefer to just call it the First Round.
The Vase is very much a favourite FA competition here at BotP. Don't get me wrong, the FA Cup and the FA Trophy are also fantastic (especially when Stourbridge are still in them), but there is something extra magical about the Vase. It gives small clubs the opportunity to make a mark, put their club and community on the map as well as have that, possibly, once in a lifetime chance to play in a Wembley Final. Surely the dream of every budding footballer from an early age?
Eastwood Community play in the Central Midlands South, alongside Sherwood Colliery. The club was formed after Eastwood Town folded in 2014 and this is just their third FA Vase outing, having never progressed past the qualifiers previously. They will be grateful for a home time as they face Step 6 side, Dunkirk.
Risborough Rangers and Welwyn Garden City before bowing out with a 1-0 defeat at Ipswich Wanderers. They face a tricky trip to Step 5 outfit Cray Valley (PM).
2015 winners, North Shields, are also into Round One and face an interesting home tie against NCEL Premier high-flyers, Handsworth Parramore.
Another Northern League side, Whickham, who won the Vase when still a Wearside League team, face an all North-East clash when they welcome Stockton Town, freshly promoted into Northern League Division One.
Moving away from the North-East for a while, both Sholing who won in 2014 and Deal Town, who were the last winners at the old Wembley Stadium in 2000, face tricky away ties. The Hoops travel to freshly promoted Combined Counties Premier side, Balham whilst The Boatmen face the daunting prospect of taking on Hellenic
League leaders, Highworth Town, who have a 100% record this season.
Finally, travelling back to the North-East, Dunston UTS who won the competition in the 2011-12 season, have been drawn at home but face a difficult task against North-West Counties Premier side Burscough, who were playing Step 4 football last season in the NPL North. The Fed's Wembley victory, 6 seasons back, came against fellow Northern League outfit, West Auckland Town, who are one of four beaten finalists still battling it out this season. The other three being Tow Law Town, Bedlington Terriers and Epsom & Ewell.
As mentioned above, Tow Law face a home tie with Bridlington Town in Round One. The Lawyers lost 1-0 in the 1998 Final to Tiverton Town. A year later, Tiverton defeated Bedlington Terriers by the same score. This season Terriers have a Round One home clash with North-West Counties side, Charnock Richard.
Epsom & Ewell were beaten 2-1 by Hoddesdon Town in the first ever FA Vase Final back in 1975. They have since been to Round Four on three occasions, the last one being in 2009-10 campaign. They face a tough away tie at newly promoted SCEL Premier side Rusthall.
From this point of the Vase onward, BotP will be following (in most case, virtually because getting to all the games is not an option) a team all the way to the Final in May. Our start point will be Pinxton FC, who feature in this weekend's Six of the Best.