The dust has been given a chance to settle following Morpeth’s stunning FA Vase final victory on Sunday, but it’s probable that Nick Gray and his squad will still be feeling the effects of the celebrations that will have inevitably followed their emphatic win that few could have foreseen.
“I’m going to have a few drinks, I’m going to have a dance, I’m going to sing, I’m going to treasure the moment.” Gray said, with a smile beaming across his face, aware of the stylish smash-and-grab his side had just performed, fully befitting their Highway Men nickname, but perhaps still not fully believing it had happened.
It was a feeling that was spread out across the team, with players and staff alike struggling to comprehend the enormity of the achievement they had just pulled off.
“It doesn’t even feel real” admitted Morpeth’s third goal-scorer Sean Taylor. “It’s everything I’ve been dreaming of for the last two or three months and it hasn’t even sunk in yet. It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
Those sentiments were shared by striker Luke Carr, with whom Taylor also shared a space on the score sheet. “I’m lost for words,” he said. “It’s totally unbelievable. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Also on the score sheet was the experienced Chris Swailes, whose somewhat unconventional chested goal wrote his name in the record books as the oldest player to ever score in a final at Wembley, but the 45-year-old, and now three-time FA Vase winner, remained humble about his achievements. He said: “It’s great to score and great to play at my age, but to get here and to win with Morpeth Town, that’s the over-riding factor.
“Sometimes people make it about me and talk about me being a triple-winner, but I want to make it plain and simple it’s about those lads in the dressing room and the lads who didn’t make it down today but played their part as well. The most important thing is taking that trophy back and it was our turn this year.”
With the book-makers piling the odds up against Morpeth, some offering as much as 6/1 for a shock Hereford defeat, it is understandable that the Highway Men might still be struggling to come to terms with their success. Indeed, the task could easily have seemed like a gargantuan one to most observers prior to kick-off, but inside the Morpeth camp, the outlook was different.
“We were underdogs in the minds of everyone but the people in our dressing room,” said Gray.
“We knew that we were classed as the underdog at the start. That’s fine, someone’s got to be favourites and so the other team has to be underdogs. I had been and studied Hereford. I’d watched them about five times this season, so I knew their strengths and weaknesses and I knew we could beat them.
“I said to my players this week, ‘you’re going to win this’. We had a mindset. There was no negativity. They might have had 20 odd thousand fans, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is our 11 men against theirs and after the 90 minutes I don’t think anyone could complain about the result.”
Football managers are often known to have a propensity for using hyperbole and embellishment, but it would take a severely bitter person to suggest that Gray’s statements are anything but fair. Morpeth dispatched of Hereford with great panache and their victory will serve as a stark reminder to all in the world of football that those who write off the underdog before a game do so at their peril.
Most had Hereford pegged as comfortable champions and those predictions looked like coming to fruition when the Bulls grabbed the game’s first goal after just one minute of play. Hereford could even have been forgiven for easing up slightly following an opening half-hour of dominance in which it seemed like their second goal was all but inevitable.
However, the Northern League’s successes in the FA Vase should have been in the back of the minds of those Hereford players, as the pedigree of the country’s most successful branch of non-league football is something that cannot be ignored, now even more so.
Morpeth’s victory meant that the Vase was claimed by a Northern League side for the seventh time in eight seasons, a statistic that provides robust evidence of the high level of football available in the region and the standard of football that Morpeth have had to face this season surely played its part in their victory, a factor the team were all too aware of.
“We knew that they haven’t come up against a Northern League side yet this season,” said Sean Taylor, “No disrespect to them, but their league is not as strong and not as physical and we knew that.”
Gray said: “Hereford are a very, very good side and no disrespect to their league, they have some games where 50 per cent of the time they don’t need to try that hard. In the Northern League you get beat off the bottom teams all the time because it’s that competitive and that’s the reason we have had the success we have had this season.”
It is also the league’s inherent competitive nature that means, while the town and the club’s supporters are just beginning to make the most of the bragging rights bestowed upon them by their team’s victory, Gray and Morpeth Town FC are already looking to the future and the opportunity the club now has to turn this monumental occasion into another, with league success now the club’s main target.
Gray said: “I think we have to build on it. Every year we talk about progress, but we did not think we could win the FA Vase this year. At the start of the season we were stressing that the league was the most important thing, but his year it was a challenge too far after we didn’t play a league game for three months. We now need to progress next year. Our eyes are now on next season and we have to go and win the league.”
Whether they can build on this success next season remains to be seen, but following such a convincing comeback on Sunday, it would take a brave person to bet against them doing so. For now though, the club has a major achievement to celebrate, with such an improbable victory making celebrations all the more special.
The club will parade the trophy through Morpeth on an open top bus on June 12, and Gray was delighted that he will now have something to show for his side’s efforts.
He said: “I told everyone I couldn’t face being on an open top bus just holding my phone or whatever. I didn’t want to be up there with people just saying, ‘at least they got there’. For me, that’s hollow. But us bringing the trophy back with us will raise the town up. There will have been people at the final who have never been to a game before and now they will want to come back, which can only be good for us and great for the town.”