Hereford FC v Salisbury FC: Wembley the prize in FA Vase semi-final

The FA Vase final returned to Wembley in 2007
The FA Vase final returned to Wembley when the new Stadium reopened in 2007

It is one of the great quirks of post-war football history that, while the name Hereford United will forever be associated with the FA Cup, the Bulls never actually got to play at Wembley in their entire 90-year existence.

It would make for something of a irony then if Hereford FC, the phoenix club grown from the ashes of Hereford United's demise in December 2014, should go on to reach Wembley at the first time of asking.

In their first season in existence, the new Bulls are through to the semi-finals of the FA Vase - by fortunate coincidence, in the first season since Wembley was chosen to host the final as part of a two-match Final Day, shared with the FA Trophy, on Sunday 22 May.

Over two legs, the first at Edgar Street on Saturday, they take on another 'phoenix club' Salisbury - managed by BBC pundit, award-winning author and much-travelled former striker Steve Claridge.

Claridge himself has starred at Wembley, his stunning last-minute curler for Leicester City beating Crystal Palace to take the Foxes back to the Premier League in 1996.

It is now 44 years since Hereford fans enjoyed their finest hour - Ronnie Radford and Ricky George's heroics against Newcastle United
It is now 44 years since Hereford fans enjoyed their finest hour - Ronnie Radford and Ricky George's heroics against Newcastle United

But he admits that playing the tie over two legs reduces the chances of it being settled by such drama.

"The best team will probably win over two legs," said Claridge. "That doesn't always happen when it's one leg. One game can be decided on a bit of luck, someone hitting the post or bar and it not going in.

"Over two legs, it's a bit more tactical and gives both teams the correct time to apply themselves and show their true colours."

It was also 20 years since the old Hereford came closest to Wembley, losing to Darlington in the Third Division play-off semi-finals.

If the reborn Bulls do make it to Wembley following the second leg (Saturday, 19 March at 15:00 GMT), they would more than make up for it by becoming the first club to win the FA Vase in their first season of existence.

Sell-out at Edgar Street

The two games are likely to break the FA Vase's semi-final attendance records.

Both legs are all-ticket, starting with Saturday's sell-out at the 4,913-capacity Edgar Street (12 March, 15:00 GMT), followed by the second leg at Salisbury's Raymond McEnhill Stadium, where they had 1,800 fans for the quarter-final win over Ashford.

In the other two-leg semi-final, Essex Senior League side Bowers & Pitsea play Northumberland side Morpeth, starting with Saturday's first leg at the Len Salmon Stadium.

But Claridge admits that, with all respect to their other two possible final opponents, Hereford v Salisbury would have made for a better supported Wembley occasion than a mere semi-final.

"We have two games here where we could probably have sold the tickets two or three times over," he said. "But, if we both were to have got to Wembley, we might have got 20,000 or possibly 30,000."

Both sides go into Saturday's opener top of their respective leagues.

Salisbury are eight points clear, having won 21 of their 25 games under manager/director Claridge.

Hereford, by way of contrast, have stumbled slightly of late, losing 2-0 at home to Highgate United on 23 February - their first league defeat in almost exactly six months.

'Wembley fever is building'

BBC Hereford & Worcester's Terry Goodwin

"Just 18 months ago, the old Hereford United were languishing in the Southern League with crowds of around 500, while most fans stayed away in protest at the club's ownership. The former FA Cup giant-killers had been taken over, relegated two divisions and were weeks from bankruptcy.

"The re-formed Hereford FC started this season in English football's ninth tier - five divisions below the Football League. But they have had a phenomenal run, topping the table and attracting 4,000-plus crowds to Edgar Street.

"Fans dream of a double - promotion from the Midland League, and a Wembley visit in the FA Vase final. The whole city is backing the Bulls, who have a trip to the national stadium in their sights."

BBC Wiltshire's Will Walder

"The last six years have been a mixture of on-field success and off-field pitch disaster for football fans in Salisbury. Thrown out of the Conference in 2010 after missing a deadline to pay creditors, Salisbury won promotion back into the Conference Premier in 2013, only to be expelled again a year later.

"In a period known as the WhatsApp era at BBC Wiltshire, the club was taken over by supporter Mark Winter and mysterious Moroccan businessman Medi Otail Touzar, a man who would only communicate with us using the messaging app.

"Mark Winter took Mr Touzar to court to try to overturn the ownership. This failed and ensuing court cases against Mr Touzar meant the club ultimately went bust and out of business. But, as the newly-formed Salisbury FC, Wembley fever is building in Wiltshire's only city."

Smoke does not go down a bomb for Bulls

Hereford FC have been forced to upgrade the close-circuit television system at Edgar Street "at significant cost to the club" following a smoke bomb thrown during the FA Vase sixth-round win over Camberley.

The Football Association requested a comprehensive response to the incident, which involved two full days of internal evidence gathering at the club before the submission of a 4,000-word report.

And they remain under surveillance by the FA, who are now sending an advisor on crowd control to the Salisbury game.

The club warned in a statement: "We cannot overstate how seriously the FA treat incidents like the one that occurred at the Camberley game. They have a wide range of punishments available to them if further incidents occur.

"Hereford FC will not hesitate to take action against any individual who acts in a way that not only costs the club thousands of pounds, but also tarnishes the good reputation we all want to build."

Meanwhile in the FA Trophy...

Two seventh-tier clubs, Northern Premier League side Nantwich Town and Isthmian League high-fliers Bognor Regis Town, both have two-leg ties against National League sides on successive Saturdays (12 and 19 March).

Former FA Vase winners Nantwich, bidding to become the first team to win both national non-league knockout competitions, start at home against struggling Halifax.

Bognor's first leg is also at home against 2013 Trophy runners-up Grimsby Town, currently third in the National League.

Nantwich, Bognor and Grimsby all go into the two-leg semis having all won four of their last five matches.

Grimsby's most recent victory was 4-2 at Halifax last weekend which, according to the form book, may yet to prove a dress rehearsal for Finals Day on Sunday 22 May - when, for the first time, the Vase and the Trophy are on the same day.

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