When football clubs play their first FA Vase game of the season it is often described as ‘starting out on the road to Wembley’.
That is a familiar and well trodden route for Whitley Bay, whose record-breaking three consecutive Wembley victories may never be equalled.
But like many other clubs across the country, they set out on that road this weekend hoping for cup glory next spring.
For the first time since 2006, Whitley enter the competition at the second qualifying round stage.
Eight years ago a last minute goal earned them a 3-2 win at Morpeth, while in their first ever game at the qualifying stage back in 2001 they travelled to Lancashire and won by the only goal of the game at Colne.
That season Whitley went on to win the competition for the first time in the final at Villa Park.
Saturday’s game at Hillheads, kick-off 3pm, is a cross-Tyne derby against South Shields, who are managed by former Bay striker Jon King.
The Mariners, who currently play their home games at Peterlee, were relegated to the Northern League second division at the end of the 2012-13 campaign but have made an impressive start to the new season, recently going on a six-match winning run which took them up to third place in the table.
Defeats in the past week have seen them drop to seventh but they will still pose a real threat to Whitley.
Leon Ryan is one of six Bay players who were members of the club’s FA Vase winning sides and the manager, who captained Whitley to victory in 2010 and won the trophy again with Spennymoor in 2013, is well aware of the importance of the competition to everyone associated with the club.
He said: “The FA Vase brings loads of great memories for me personally, and this club is steeped in Vase tradition.
“We are all looking forward to Saturday but we appreciate that we will need to be at our best if we are to beat an improving South Shields.”
After an opening two months when the club has been plagued with injuries, the manager reports that he will have a near full strength squad available.
Chris Reid, who came through the final quarter of last weekend’s game at Newton Aycliffe, will be in contention for a place in the starting line-up but Alex Kempster will definitely miss the game with a foot injury.
The Mariners will be without at least two players through suspension.
As usual in FA Vase ties, extra time will be played if the scores are level after 90 minutes, and if there is still no winner, there will be a replay at Eden Lane, Peterlee, next Tuesday evening when the game would be played to a conclusion, with penalties if required.