HEBBURN were in heaven, Consett’s players slumped to the Wembley turf in despair. This might have been an FA Vase final like no other, devoid of spectators and delayed by almost a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the emotions at the final whistle were as stark and powerful as ever.

Oliver Martin, Hebburn’s super-sub match-winner, looked like he could barely believe what had just happened. Jermaine Metz, the Consett wing-back who had run himself ragged up and down the right flank, could barely muster the strength to stay standing. Kevin Bolam, the Hebburn manager, outsprinted his players as he burst onto the field, arms aloft in celebration.

The twin Northern League representatives had done North-East non-league football proud, serving up a final full of drama and entertainment. The crying shame, of course, was that their supporters were not present to be part of it, and for all that Hebburn’s players and staff made the most of the moment of triumph, soaking half of Wembley with champagne after skipper Louis Storey hoisted the Vase above his head, the occasion was undoubtedly diminished because of the empty stands.

Hebburn’s hope will be that they return to defend their trophy in the 2020-21 final as yesterday’s game was the 2019-20 edition, held over because of Covid. They have every chance given that they have made it through to the quarter-finals, and if they do book a return journey to Wembley, the intention at the moment is that fans will be present. What a double celebration that would be.

Consett waited 122 years for their first trip to the national stadium, so goodness only knows when they will be back with their fans to cheer them on. Had they been present yesterday, the Steelmen’s support would have shouted themselves hoarse.

Originally due to take place last May, yesterday’s game was initially pushed back to September, only to be rearranged again in the hope that a crowd would be permitted. Sadly, that proved a futile ambition. Having waited so long, could the FA not have pushed things back again in the hope of finally being able to accommodate supporters? Could they not have used yesterday’s game as one of the Government’s test events instead of last month’s Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham, two clubs whose supporters have spent much of the last decade watching matches at Wembley?

Clearly, that would have been too much like common sense, so instead of Wembley Way being thronged with thousands of loyal North-East football fans yesterday lunchtime, it played host to a handful of families heading to the nearby Westfield shopping centre. Scarves were in evidence, but they were a response to the unseasonably chilly weather rather than a show of tribal Northern League support.

Inside the ground, officials from both clubs were resplendent in their suits and club ties, while a couple of banners draped behind the goals offered support from the ‘Conny Army’. By full-time, however, it was Hebburn’s colours that were draped around the Vase.

The Tynesiders were triumphant, but given the standard of football on display and the entertainment levels that did not drop from first minute to last, the big winner was probably the Northern League. Consett and Hebburn might have been making their Wembley debuts, but the sight of a North-East side contesting the FA Vase final was nothing new. In fact, the sight of two North-East teams going head-to-head was not that novel either with Dunston and West Auckland having lined up alongside each other at Wembley as recently as 2012.

Since then, Spennymoor, West Auckland (again), North Shields, Morpeth, South Shields and Stockton have all featured in an FA Vase final, a roll of honour that underlines the enduring strength of the North-East’s non-league game.

A history-making footnote to yesterday’s final was the appearance of twin brothers Arjun and Amar Purewal on either side of the divide. Arjun, who boasts Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Blyth Spartans among his former clubs, skippered Consett as part of the County Durham club’s three-man central defence. Amar, whose well-travelled career started as a youth at Newcastle United and has encompassed a host of North-East clubs including Darlington, Bishop Auckland, West Auckland and Shildon, was stationed in a wide-attacking role for Hebburn.

Together, they became the first set of identical twins to play on opposite sides in a Wembley final, as well as becoming the first set of Asian-origin twins to line up against each other at the home of English football. Having been born in Britain after their parents emigrated from the Punjab to Coventry in the 1970s, the brothers are proud to fly the flag for the British-Indian footballing community. Their mother, Kulwinder, who runs a convenience store in Sunderland, must have watched yesterday’s game with a tear in her eye.

She would not have known whether to laugh or cry 19 minutes in, when her sons were at the heart of one of a number of dramatic incidents that peppered a breathless first half.

Amar was released into the left-hand side of the area by a slide-rule through ball from Michael McKeown, and while a covering Arjun slid in with a desperate last-ditch tackle, the younger of the two twins retained his composure to stroke a fine finish past Consett goalkeeper Kyle Hayes’ left hand.

The goal was an instant riposte to Consett’s opener, which had come just 60 seconds earlier. It was also the result of a superb defence-splitting pass, with wing-back Darren Holden releasing Ali Alshabeeb beyond the Hebburn defence. The diminutive winger still had plenty to do after rounding goalkeeper Mark Foden, but despite the presence of two covering defenders, he fired an inch-perfect finish into the net.

Consett’s first-half momentum was checked by a nasty injury that resulted in Jake Orrell being stretchered off – the midfielder was conscious but headed straight to hospital for precautionary checks – but the Steelmen reclaimed the lead three minutes before the break.

It was another expertly-fashioned effort, with wing-back Jermaine Metz displaying deft footwork as he slipped inside his marker to pick out Dale Pearson in the box. The Consett striker controlled the ball neatly before calmly stroking a low shot into the corner.

Hebburn had rallied instantly after falling behind earlier in the half, and the Tynesiders produced an immediate response for a second time to ensure Consett’s second lead only lasted a few seconds longer than their first.

Hayes made a smart save to deny Louis Storey, but Darren Lough seized on the loose ball and slid a low cross across the area that Michael Richardson stabbed home.

Understandably, the second half was a much cagier affair than the first, but while Graeme Armstrong missed a glorious chance to settle it for Hebburn when he scuffed wide, Martin wrote his name into Hebburn folklore with seven minutes left. Man of the Match Richardson squared, and Martin slotted home.