Thrilling Non-League Finals Day with Tony Incenzo

talkSPORT Radio reporter Tony Incenzo takes us behind the scenes of the Buildbase FA Trophy and Vase Finals.

I firmly believe that Non-League Finals Day is a lovely occasion for the whole football family. Indeed, the 2022 event was a resounding success once again.

A bumper attendance of 46,111 flocked to Wembley Stadium including Hollywood superstars Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney, Will Ferrell and Blake Lively plus English national treasure David Beckham.

Here is my diary of the day: 

10.55am – I parked up in the official car park and had a leisurely five-minute stroll to the main media entrance on a lovely sunny day.

11.00am – I quickly passed through security and bag tagging. I noticed that everything was very quick this year. At the previous two Non-League Finals Days, it took an hour to get into Wembley due to all the Covid safety checks, which included temperature taking and lengthy health questionnaires. One radio pundit that I work with almost missed the start of the Buildbase FA Vase Final as a result.

11.10am – Into the press room where food and refreshments were being served. I immediately met up with a number of other journalists who are long-standing friends and we instinctively started talking the acquired language of Non-League football.

11.45am – I was invited out on to the pitch by the Football Association to talk to the crowd on the big screen. I said that the Buildbase FA Vase is my favourite competition anywhere in football because all the teams that enter have a chance of winning it. I added that the attraction of watching Non-League teams at this level is the affordability, accessibility and community aspect. I concluded by urging everyone present to continue the noble tradition of supporting their local clubs.

12.15pm – The Buildbase FA Vase kicked off. I made Littlehampton Town slight favourites having won the Southern Combination League title whilst scoring 130 goals in the process. But I knew that Newport Pagnell Town from the United Counties League would be no pushovers and it turned out to be a pulsating game.

We witnessed a majestic opening strike for Newport Pagnell on 19 minutes. Kieran Barnes unleashed a stunning half-volley into the top corner from 25 yards. It was one of the best goals I have ever seen in my 50 years of attending matches at the old and new Wembley Stadium. Certainly a moment that Barnes will savour for the rest of his life. What a way to launch Non-League Finals Day!

Littlehampton rallied after that and I fully expected them to get back into the game. But a key moment came just before half-time when their player-manager George Gaskin suffered a devastating blow to his head. He was eventually stretched off the Wembley turf after an anxious nine-minute delay. (Thankfully George was ok following treatment at St Mary’s Hospital in London).

From there, I feel that sickening injury affected the Littlehampton players psychologically and their performances dipped. In saying that, Newport Pagnell fully deserved the 3-0 victory.

My supposedly witty tweet on the final whistle read: “Two goals by Ben Shepherd were the TIPPING POINT for Newport Pagnell.”

Then I was tickled with amusement when top television presenter Ben Shephard (spelt slightly differently) re-tweeted my message to his 800,000 followers!

2.25pm – Newport Pagnell Town were presented with the Buildbase FA Vase and the post-match press conferences followed with the respective managers giving their verdict to the assembled media pack. More food and refreshments were consumed in the press room too.

3.15pm – Fans from both Wrexham and Bromley began filtering into the stadium ahead of the Buildbase FA Trophy Final.

3.40pm – There was a great buzz when Wrexham’s world famous owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney appeared on the side of the Wembley pitch. They have made a huge impact since buying the Welsh club last year and it was good to note that they had flown in from America to support their team in the Buildbase FA Trophy Final.

3.45pm – I was back out on the pitch to speak to the crowd again about the Trophy finalists. I said that Bromley have made remarkable progress in the past 15 years by moving up from the Isthmian League to the National League whilst creating some fabulous facilities for the benefit of their entire local community along the way. I added that Wrexham are a sleeping giant who I remember as a long-established Football League club with decent support before their relegation to the National League in 2008.

4.15pm – The Buildbase FA Trophy Final kicked-off with the television cameras regularly picking out that illustrious group of Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney, Will Ferrell, Blake Lively and David Beckham. They were all sitting together and really enjoying themselves with Ferrell cracking an array of non-stop jokes. It just shows how the profile of Non-League football is rising all the time.

The match itself was a really tight affair. Wrexham were favourites courtesy of the big money signings that the Hollywood stars have funded. But Bromley edged matters when Michael Cheek slotted home the only goal in the second half.

There was a frantic finish with Wrexham piling everyone forward. Five minutes into injury time at the end, they had a goal disallowed after substitute Jake Hyde put the ball into the net from close range. Rob McElhenney was pictured discussing the offside law with those around him.

Then it was left to Bromley skipper Byron Webster to lift the glistening Buildbase FA Trophy with that Hot Chocolate classic ‘Every 1’s a Winner’ blaring over the public address system. This was followed by Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ to help the party mood.

By the way, the overall attendance was just short of the record 46,781 registered when Non-League Finals Day was first inaugurated in 2016.

7pm – After the post-match press conferences, I returned to my car. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable eight hours at Wembley Stadium for me. Long live Non-League Finals Day! In fact, I can’t wait for those early rounds of the FA Trophy and FA Vase to start up again next season.

Read more from Tony and his passion for Non-League football

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