As West Auckland made their first trip to Wembley in more than 50 years for the FA Vase final against Dunston UTS, Duncan Leatherdale joined supporters on the ten-hour round trip to watch 90 minutes of football

THERE was a look of disbelief on the players’ faces as they came down the Wemebley steps with runners-up medals in their hands, almost shellshock.

And that sentiment echoed the feelings of the fans who cheered throughout, watched their team do everything but score against Dunston UTS, and end up on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.

It was a day of high emotion for the West Auckland fans, involving hours of travel, the joy of watching their team play a cup final at Wembley, the devastation of seeing them lose, and in one or two cases, a fight.

For many, the day started shortly after 6am, when, despite the early hour, the sun shone brightly on the excited throng piling onto a fleet of buses outside West Auckland Working Men’s Club.

West Auckland turned out in force as men, women and children flocked on board, some of the lads carrying crates of lager, the girls with black and yellow ribbons in their hair. One enterprising teenager boarded the bus clutching a McDonald’s paper bag bursting with cans of lager, while two girls defied the chill in the air by wearing hot pants, and another man had even shaved the club’s initials on the back of his head.

And, at 6.35am, with the excitement of a cup final at Wembley in our hearts and a stern warning from our two comedian drivers, Leo and Dave, that the toilet was for “wee-wees only”, we headed up the A68 out of West Auckland.

Two hours later we stopped for much-needed refreshments and relief, where we met our first Dunston UTS fans.

The West supporters chanted “West Auckland are wonderful”, while the Gateshead-based fans meekly replied “Dunston UTS are okay” before they re-boarded their bus.

Back on the bus with the comedy duo of Dave and Leo – by now working through their extensive material about women drivers – West fans were in a jovial but realistic mood.

“What are your chances today then?” Leo asked.

“50-50” one fan immediately replied, and while it provoked an outburst of laughter, it probably was not far from the truth.

We could see Wembley long before we got to it, the giant arch tantalisingly glimpsed between houses and factory units, gradually getting larger as we made our way through the congested streets and eventually got to the Green Man Hotel where we alighted.

One family of Dunston UTS fans looked distinctly uncomfortable in their blue shirts as West fans occupied the picnic tables around them, but any banter between the two was good natured.

However, as the pints continued to be pulled, and two young women in tight trousers and shirts tried in vain to persuade the hardened ale drinkers among the West support to try a shot of Jagermeister, the chants grew louder and some, aimed at the Dunston minority, took on a more menacing tone.

And with less than an hour before kick-off there were ugly scenes as a fight broke out between fans in the pub grounds, although by this point many had started on the ten-minute walk to Wembley.

Along Wembley way and 2.55pm the 5,126-strong crowd broke out in euphoria as the teams emerged, West Auckland led out by captain Mattie Moffat who was wearing a face mask to protect his broken cheekbone.

During the match, chants about how pleasant West Auckland is compared to Dunston (or words to that effect) reverberated from the West fans, as well as boos for the Dunston substitutes warming up and ecstatic cheers for any hint that the boys in white may be gaining the upper hand through a neat flick here or angled pass there.

But as the game wore on, with chance after chance missed by West and Dunston hitting the bar twice, the excitement and enthusiasm of the County Durham fans started to waver, and the choral tones of the Gateshead fans became stronger, reaching climax when Andrew Bulford scored twice for the men in blue.

There was still good sportsmanship however, with the West fans applauding Dunston’s goalscorer and man of the match when he was substituted.

And come the final whistle, there was still a standing ovation for the West players, who can still take great pride in giving their faithful fans a day out at Wembley.

But as the buses pulled out for the fiveand- a-halfhour drive home, the question on many of the coaches would have been “how did we lose that?”