Non-League Finals Day 2021…what a day!

Thousands of fans were treated to a veritable feast of football with two pulsating matches at Non-League Finals Day 2021, explains talkSPORT Radio reporter Tony Incenzo.

Finals Day is always the highlight of the season for us Non-League aficionados. But this year, it was made all the more special by the return of spectators to a big Non-League occasion after repeated cycles of lockdown due to the pandemic.

A total of 9,000 fans were allowed inside Wembley Stadium. And they were treated to a veritable feast of football with two thoroughly pulsating matches.

Buildbase FA Vase Final

Warrington Rylands players celebrate with the Buildbase FA Vase trophy after victory in the FA Vase Final between Binfield and Warrington Rylands at Wembley Stadium on May 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

It started with an absorbing Buildbase FA Vase Final where Warrington Rylands of the North West Counties League edged a thrilling encounter 3-2 against Hellenic League members Binfield. Elliott Nevitt scored all three for Rylands with Liam Ferdinand of Binfield grabbing the two goals for his team.

Following the full-time whistle, I headed down to the touchline for post-match interviews. Everyone I spoke to was bursting with adrenalin after taking part in a wonderful Wembley showpiece.

Warrington Rylands manager Dave McNabb said: “My overriding emotion is that I am very proud and pleased for my players. The lads care so much about each other and the football club and that’s what carried them to victory. They put their bodies on the line and defended with their lives as Binfield threw everybody forward towards the end. Therefore my team deserved every success.

“Binfield are a fantastic side. Fair play to them for pushing us all the way. Luckily we just had enough to cling on at the end.”

Hat-trick hero

Rylands’ hat-trick hero Elliott Nevitt added: “I feel so happy! I went to sleep the night before the game praying that I would score a goal but I ended up hitting three so I’m made up! I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

“I had loads of my friends and family in the stands. That was great because it was always my boyhood ambition to play here at Wembley.”

Meanwhile, the Binfield joint manager Carl Withers was magnanimous in defeat. He told me: “We wanted to win the Buildbase FA Vase so much with all our families and friends present. I had a bit of a tear in my eye on the full time whistle when I saw my wife, my kids and my mum and dad in the crowd. I think it really hit home what we have achieved to get to a Wembley final.

“I am so proud of my lads for the effort that they have given us on the pitch. They kept going right until the bitter end but it just wasn’t our day.

“That’s football, so we now have to regroup and go again next season. I also want to say congratulations to the manager and all the players of Warrington Rylands who are a very good team.”

Buildbase FA Trophy Final

Rickie Hayles of Hornchurch and Lewis Spence of Hornchurch lifts The FA trophy following his side’s victory in the FA Trophy Final between Hereford and Hornchurch at Wembley Stadium on May 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Dulat – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

The Buildbase FA Trophy Final followed with another dramatic contest. National League North favourites Hereford took the lead early on through Tom Owen-Evans, but underdogs Hornchurch from the Isthmian League stormed back with an incredible late blitz. They mustered three goals in the last 15 minutes from Charlie Ruff, Liam Nash and Ellis Brown to prompt wild celebrations at the end.

It meant that the Hornchurch boss Mark Stimson has now won the FA Trophy five times during his entire football career – once as a player and four times as a manager.

I caught up with Mark at the side of the pitch afterwards and I asked him for the secret of his success in the Trophy.

“I just encourage my players to win every game,” he said. “And I tell them that the chance of playing in a Wembley final doesn’t come around very often in your life. So grab every opportunity you can.

“I am very happy today. We knew it was going to be a tough match as Hereford are a good side. They controlled the game in the first half and we weren’t really at the races. You have to give full credit to Hereford for that as they moved the ball around better than us. They scored a very good goal from a set piece that caught us cold.

“But football and life are all about reactions. It is how you react to things. So we spoke in the dressing room at half time about reacting and trying to get a shorter passing game going.

“To come to a marvellous stadium like Wembley with a club the size of Hornchurch is an achievement first and foremost. But to actually go and win after being a goal down means there should be a movie made about us! And now we take that great Trophy back to Essex. Fingers crossed, we can go and retain the Buildbase FA Trophy next year!”

A dream come true

Hornchurch goalscorer Liam Nash added: “I feel so many different emotions. It is very hard to put into words. A little team from Hornchurch has gone and won a cup final at Wembley! It’s a dream come true.

“We rode the wave when Hereford had a lot of possession in the first half. We knew they were on top and having a good spell. So we sat back and soaked up the pressure.

“But if you have watched our results in the Buildbase FA Trophy this season, you are never going to write off Hornchurch and we came good in the end.”

Meanwhile, Hereford manager Josh Gowling told me: “We were 1-0 up at the break and controlling the tempo. We spoke at half time about getting the second goal and understanding Hornchurch’s threats.

“If we had scored again early in the second half then I think we would have secured the win. But we are a possession-based team and we ended up going too direct. That’s what cost us the game in the end.”

All in all, it was a great day out at Wembley Stadium. In fact, I personally believe that this was the best ever Non-League Finals Day in terms of the magnificent entertainment that was dished up. The four teams involved were quite simply a credit to football.

Read more from Tony and his passion for non-league football in our Groundhopper Diary

Tony Incenzo is a reporter for talkSPORT Radio and Sky TV. You can follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyIncenzo