As the FA Vase returns this weekend for its Third Round stage, AFC Uckfield Town hope to continue their recent success in the competition with a visit to Berkshire side Binfield FC, writes Will Hugall.
The Uckers, on the back of a first appearance at the same stage last season, as well as six wins in their last seven Vase matches, can certainly boast an impressive recent pedigree in the competition – one extended by victory at Walthamstow FC earlier this month in the Second Round.
Their hosts this weekend, however, can argue to be cut of the same cloth; a side who rose through the ranks in Berkshire, first as a village team in minor county divisions, and who can now argue to be one of their region’s best sides at the ninth tier, with this being their fourth Third Round appearance.
For several other reasons, too, this draw for the Uckers sets up an interesting challenge.
Not only faced with a 140-plus-mile round trip, Anthony Storey’s side will also have to overturn the poor fortunes of other Sussex clubs if they are to achieve victory against the Moles.
In the last decade, Crawley Down, Ringmer and Chichester City have all lost meetings just outside Bracknell, with the Moles unbeaten from four meetings when including an original 2-2 draw with Ringmer in 2011.
In addition, the Hellenic League Premier Division side have invested in Vase-winning experience this season, as defender Tom Melledow has joined from Thatcham Town – only 18 months on from skippering the fellow Berkshire outfit to victory in the 2018 Final.
Far from announcing their designs on a first Wembley appearance, unlike the Uckers’ Second Round opponents, however, the Moles’ history cements them as one of the more humble stories of this season’s competition.
Formed in 1892, the club only spent eight seasons outside of district divisions in their first century of existence; competing in the Great Western Combination from 1946 to 1951, and first joining the Chiltonian League in 1989.
One of the Chiltonian’s best sides in the 1990s, they benefited from the league’s merger into the Hellenic League from 2000, and after promotion to the Premier Division in 2009 have since never finished in the bottom half – with a finish of 9th last season.
This season, they sit 7th after 11 matches, and like the Uckers have enjoyed several highlights in knockout competitions; winning four Vase ties to get to this stage, and from a total of 59 goals, scoring 38 of those in cup matches.
The Uckers, by contrast, can boast not having been beaten within 120 minutes in any cup competition; a factor of being hard to break down which Moles boss Roger Herridge has acknowledged in his pre-match comments.
That record is underlined by a current run of ten matches without defeat in all competitions, during which Storey’s side have won eight times – albeit with away draws at East Preston and Loxwood proving frustrating.
It is a testament to Storey’s management that the Uckers have the chance to achieve a second consecutive Fourth Round appearance this weekend – having never won a Vase match as a club before 2018-19, or even avoided defeat away in an FA competition before 2017-18.
Alongside three fellow SCFL sides in the Third Round this weekend, the Uckers are in fine company in carrying Sussex’s flag, with only five other divisions being better represented – all of which, other than the SCEFL, covering a significantly larger area.
In their search for further Vase success, therefore, the Uckers will know that they will again be tasked to produce one of their finest performances.
With the added bonus of £1,125 and a bye to next season’s Second Round for the winners, motivation for the competition will need no further stoking, and it will be down to what will surely be a classic cup meeting to decide who progresses.
The FA Vase Third Round tie between Binfield FC and AFC Uckfield Town kicks off at 3 p.m. this Saturday at Hill Farm Lane (Binfield, RG42 5NR), with directions to the ground available here; https://www.binfieldfc.com/contact, or at https://www.footballinbracknell.co.uk/features/away-days/29659/guide-binfield-fc-hill-farm-lane/.
Admission is £6 for Adults, £3 for Concessions, and free for Under-16s.
Updates will be available throughout the match from the @AfcUckfieldTown Twitter page, as well as live on Uckfield FM, with the Saturday Sports programme with David Eggleston from 2-6 p.m. A full report will also follow in the hours after the match, first available here on the Uckfield FM website.
Come on you Uckers!