fa vase wembley panorama The FA Vase. (Image: thefa.com)

What is the FA Vase in English football?

Well, the defending champions are Warrington Rylands, who play in a 1,345-seat stadium and were also just promoted from the North West Counties League Premier Division. So one thing the FA Vase is not is glamorous.

Players competing for the ball in a football game.

Whitley Bay take on Abbey Hey in an FA Vase match in 2008. (by ChrisTheDude at English Wikipedia., CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

There are many leagues and cups in English football, from fully professional like the Premier League, Football League and League Cup to the “everybody gets to play” FA Cup. The FA Vase is the least of these, the competition farthest down the Football Association’s pyramid of leagues. But for the clubs in it, it is certainly the biggest thing they can win, and their very best chance to get to Wembley.

History of the FA Vase

In the old days, there was a clear distinction between professional and amateur clubs, at least officially. But in the early 1970s, the FA acknowledged that even many “amateur” players were, in fact, paid something to play, and the distinction was abandoned.

To that point, “amateur” clubs had played in the FA Amateur Cup, but that was scrapped in 1974, to be replaced by the FA Vase. Eligibility has changed over the years, but these days it is reserved for teams in “steps” 5 and 6 of the National League System — also known as tiers 9 and 10 of the overall pyramid.

Structure of the FA Vase

The FA Vase is a tournament that consists of a total of nine rounds: two qualifying, followed by six “proper” rounds, then semifinals and a Final, the last of which is played at Wembley Stadium.

There are various ways a team can be exempt from the qualifying rounds, but for the 2021-22 FA Vase, 406 clubs will start out in the qualifying round the weekend of September 11. Winning clubs in this round get £525, which is about $727 US. We would love to know what some of them do with that money!

After another qualifying round, when another 161 teams join, it’s on to the First and Second Rounds Proper in October and November, during which the final 51 teams join. By the time you get to the Final, the winning club gets £30,000, or about $41,500 US.

The 2022 FA Vase Final is Sunday, May 22, 2022.

Warming up for a football game at Hillheads Park.

Hillheads Park is the home of Whitley Bay FC, four-time winners of the FA Vase. (by Roger Cornfoot via Wikimedia Commons)

Who Plays in the FA Vase?

Just a quick glance at some of the clubs in the 2021-22 FA Vase:

Whitley Bay are the only four-time winners of the Vase, and the only club to win it three straight years. They hail from the Northern League, which has dominated the Vase in recent years, providing a finalist for the 10 seasons that ended in 2018. Whitley Bay is in the Newcastle-Sunderland area in the North East of England.

AC Liverpool are obviously not that Liverpool, but that’s where they came from. In 2008, disgruntled with the price of Premier League football and the American owners of Liverpool FC, 1,000 fans formed this club on a one-member, one-vote system. There’s a similar club called FA United of Manchester.

Maccabi London Lions are an all-Jewish club in Barnet, London. They grew out of a Sunday League club in 1995, and they are currently in the Combined Counties League. The farthest they’ve ever made it in this competition is the Second Round, and according to Wikipedia, their all-time largest crowd was 197 in 2017!

British Airways FC is, or was, just what it sounds like: a team for employees of British Airways. That company was formed by merger in 1974, and eight years later the two football clubs joined. A history of the club says that, in 1982, “There were 15 adult teams comprising of BA Staff from office workers to pilots, engineers and from baggage handling to IT programmers.”

Wembley FC was formed in 1946, simply because people in the area around England’s national stadium thought it odd they didn’t have a club. So they formed one. And while they do play in Wembley, they don’t play at Wembley; they have to earn that like everyone else! Their ground, Vale Farm, has a capacity of 2,450 but was England’s base of training during their historic 1966 World Cup win.

Bury AFC, for Association Football Club, are a fan-owned team formed in 2019 when it became obvious that Bury FC, in existence since 1885, was going to go out of business. They were kicked out of the Football League, so a bunch of their fans formed Bury AFC. Their first game, in fact, was in the 2020-21 FA Vase, but they lost it, 2-1, away at West Didsbury & Chorlton. This season they are in the almost impossibly-named North West Counties Football League Division One North, at tier 10 — six below where the original Bury FC was last seen.

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