It’s been a long, long journey of around 1,200 miles there and back – to Newhaven, Deal, Fakenham, Hadley (Barnet), Long Eaton and Portsmouth.
They’ve been involved in four nerve-tingling penalty shoot-outs, during which they hit the target 17 times whilst seeing hero goalkeeper Chris Grace make save after save.
If ever a team deserved to be playing in the Buildbase FA Vase final, then it’s Binfield FC. Dreams have come true for the players and management team of this village club.
The magnificent Moles will be walking out at Wembley a week on Saturday, May 22nd (12.15pm ko) to face either Warrington Rylands from the North West Counties League or Walsall Wood, members of the Midland League who are managed by former Aston Villa striker Darren Byfield. Their semi is this coming Saturday.
Binfield booked their ticket to the home of English football by beating plucky United Services Portsmouth at the Victory Stadium last Saturday, drawing 1-1 after 90 minutes thanks to a late Liam Ferdinand equaliser before winning 4-3 on penalties with Grace making two crucial saves before Jack Broome banged home the spot-kick that triggered wild scenes of celebration on the Victory Stadium pitch.
What makes this an even greater achievement is that all six ties were played on their opponents’ ground – which could well be a record for any FA competition. Semi-finals of the FA Cup were played on neutral ground before being switched to Wembley, while the Trophy and Vase semis are usually over two legs with this Covid-hit season being an exception.
Following games on five successive Saturdays, they now have next weekend off to prepare for what will be the greatest day in the Hill Farm Lane club’s history.
Yet there were times when it looked like their hopes and dreams were going to be sunk in the Portsmouth docks. Despite dominating this semi-final against a side from a lower level, they were unable to turn their superiority into goals.
Lady Luck was clearly not smiling on Binfield as they struck the woodwork three times and had a decent shout for a penalty for handball turned down, in addition to squandering several good scoring chances.
It was beginning to look a similar story to the previous week when their Hellenic League rivals Flackwell Heath lost 2-0 with manager Marcus Richardson claiming his side could easily have won 6-2. And as the 80th-minute approached last Saturday the Binfield bosses, Jamie McClurg and Carl Withers, were probably thinking along the same lines with their side trailing to a 21st-minute goal.
But the Moles did not lose patience. They kept plugging away against a tiring defence and in the end they were rewarded with an equaliser from Ferdinand, who a week earlier had scored a hat-trick in their quarter-final 5-0 win at Long Eaton.
The Wessex League Division One side, however, deserve a lot of credit for keeping Binfield at bay for as long as they did. Well organised, they were a difficult team to play against and it was easy to see how they came to knock out higher-ranked teams in earlier rounds.
USP players had received a visit from local boxer, Michael McKinson, the WBO global welterweight champion, when they trained last week and he must have given them a lesson in how to soak up pressure and strike with a swift counter-punch.
For it was against the run of play when James Franklyn gave his side the lead midway through the first half.
It came after the Moles had forced four corners inside the opening 15 minutes and Moles skipper Sean Moore had forced keeper Tom Price into making a superb save.
Shortly after the goal, Moore headed over the bar and moments later Ferdinand, with time to spare and in a good position, dragged the ball wide of the post.
So they were behind at half-time and it meant the Moles were facing the most important 45 minutes of their season, even in their history in terms of cup competitions. And it was not long before they had a heart-stopping moment when the dangerous Franklyn, having got the better of the advancing Grace, came within inches of doubling his team’s lead with a header.
There was another let-off when Dec Seiden hit the post and Grace was forced to tip Andy Todd’s effort over the bar.
However, from then on, Binfield took back control of the game. Ollie Harris missed a good chance, Ferdinand saw his effort come back off the far post and Moore went equally as close, with the home goal having a charmed life.
With opportunities being squandered and time running out there were signs of frustration creeping in, although the unbeaten Hellenic League men continued to look the better and fitter side. And it was their extra class and experience that led to their 81st-minute equaliser. Tom Willment, in the right-back position, turned defence into attack with a long high clearance which home player Sonny Harnett-Balkwill could only help on its way. Ferdinand grabbed the opportunity to shrug off two defenders before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball into an empty net.
So once again Binfield faced a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out, but they had been there all before as this was their third in the past month. Josh Howell and Harris cancelled out USP’s first two successful efforts before Moore lost out to Price, who moments earlier had scored himself from the spot.
But, as he has done so often this season, Grace came to the rescue by superbly saving the next and then saw McClurg make it 3-3.
Grace denied USP a fourth and it was left to Broome, who had come as a second-half substitute, to clean up the tie and take Binfield to Wembley. At under 40 miles (via the M40) it will be their shortest trip of this wonderful season for this homely village club.
Let’s hope they will bring back the Vase which Hebburn Town had lifted on May 3rd in the final of the long-delayed 2019/20 season.