In one of 105 FA Vase First Round matches played over this weekend, AFC Uckfield Town travel to face the SCEFL Premier Division’s Tunbridge Wells FC on Saturday – the ninth annual Non-League Day.
Following victories over fellow SCEFL side Hollands & Blair (2-0) and Southwick (5-0) in the Vase’s two qualifying rounds, the game marks the Oakmen’s furthest ever progression in the competition since they were formed in 2014, through the Wealden FC and Uckfield Town merger – with Wealden reaching the same stage in 2006-07.
The record feat follows a number of landmarks, also, in this season’s Emirates FA Cup. Having never tasted victory in the competition before, Uckfield won three home ties, before almost playing host to a major upset, as Dartford FC of the National League South escaped with a 3-1 win after Callum Smith’s first-half goal.
Following only three defeats in the second half of the 2017-18 season, Anthony Storey’s side have carried momentum into the new league campaign, and currently sit 12th, with a game in hand on most sides above them. Their goalscoring has been led by Callum Smith, with 16 strikes in all competitions.
Player-joint assistant manager Shaun Loft, meanwhile, has pedigree in the Vase, after helping Rye United to the Quarter-Finals in 2011-12, and playing alongside current Uckfield midfielder Matt Maclean in the 2013-14 Semi-Finals for Eastbourne United. Loft commented “In the Vase, you’ve got a realistic chance of going far and having a real go. Like in the two runs I’ve been a part of in my career so far, you never know who you’re going to get – the draw could pan out any way, and if you beat one or two of the big boys along the way, you could get a favourable draw in latter rounds. But as we’ve said earlier in the season, any win in the cup competitions is a bonus alongside the league campaign, and it’s a great opportunity for the club to earn some more prize money.”
Saturday’s hosts, Tunbridge Wells, are managed by bona fide club icon Jason Bourne. The defender represented Hastings United and Sussex at youth level. Having not experienced promotion or relegation since their 1967 reformation, Wells’ greatest glories have come consistently in the Vase; they have reached the Fourth Round on eight separate occasions since 1974. With only four points to their league tally after ten games, Wells sit 18th in the SCEFL Premier, but led 2-0 before Punjab United struck four late goals in the previous weekend’s action.
With £825 on offer for the winners, the tie will be hotly contested between a side with newfound knockout ability, and another with an extensive history of performing under pressure. While form may come into play, the hosts – yet to win at home – promise vocal support for a much-anticipated inaugural cross-border derby.
Note – Manager Anthony Storey will be the guest of Gary King at 8:15am on Friday
Story by Will Hugall
Images by Ron Hill
Player-joint assistant manager Shaun Loft