Hadleigh United FA Vase preview: Ex-finalists desperate for a place at Wembley Stadium

VASE FINALIST: Shane Wardley is bidding to reach his third FA Vase, but his first at Wembley Stadium
VASE FINALIST: Shane Wardley is bidding to reach his third FA Vase, but his first at Wembley Stadium

Hadleigh United duo Shane Wardley and Neil Calver may both have scored in an FA Vase final, but neither have stepped out at Wembley.

The experienced pair twice reached the final with AFC Sudbury, but with the old Wembley closed and the new one being built they had to settle for appearing at Birmigham City’s St Andrew’s ground in 2004 and Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane in 2005.

Eight years on, they want to put that right and finally appear at the national stadium as they prepare to visit Kent Hurlimann League Premier Division outfit Tunbridge Wells in Hadleigh United’s first ever FA Vase quarter-final on Saturday (3pm).

“I went to Wembley the other day to take my nephew on a stadium tour and we were talking about how I could be there in a few months’ time,” said left-back Wardley, who turned 33 on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a tough quarter-final, but we’ve got a good togetherness in the squad and a few experienced players.”

Losing finalists in both years, Wardley and Calver netted in the 2005 showpiece, but the former’s own goal proved to be decisive, with Stuart Beavon — now plying his trade in npower League One for Preston North End — scoring twice for victors Didcot Town that day.

“I went from the highest moment of my career to the bottom,” said Wardley. “But it was great to play at those grounds.”

Calver endured a low moment in the 2004 final, being sent off minutes after entering the game as a substitute in a 2-0 loss to Winchester City.

Reflecting on his two final appearances, the 31-year-old central midfielder said: “Not many people can probably say they’ve reached the Vase final and not played at Wembley, so to get there would be the best of the lot.”

Hadleigh edged past AFC Emley and Ampthill Town in the last two rounds with strong defensive showings, but Calver knows they must improve to advance further.

“With cup games you can battle it out, but you can’t always rely on that because your luck will run out in the end,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t get to the final — there’s one surprise team every year.”

If Hadleigh overcome Wells, they would also need to win a two-legged semi-final to reach the showpiece at Wembley Stadium on May 14.

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