The FA Vase is still my favourite national competition, giving the opportunity for clubs mainly at Step 5/6 a chance to compete for a trip to Wembley next May. It still has that proper feel of a proper non-league competition with a real prize (although the double finals day with the FA Trophy has taken a bit of the gloss off it in my opinion).
At the moment for various reasons, mainly financial, i am having to stay closer to home with regards to choice of games / grounds to visit. Having visited nearly every Step 5/6 ground within god knows how many miles of London, it does throw up the issue of trying to find something a bit different.
I scanned the Vase fixtures the other day and amongst a few possibles, one name intrigued me St Panteleimon FC, i will be totally honest it wasn’t a name i had come across before and i had to do a little digging. I discovered they hail from the Harrow area of North West London and were established in 2015 by the Greek Orthodox community in the Harrow area to provide a football team to represent them.
I have watched quite a bit of Middlesex County League football over the years mainly the Premier division at Step 7 and hadn’t come across St Panteleimon at any of these games, mainly because after 2 seasons in the Cypriot KOPA League in London, they only entered the FA non-league pyramid at Step 8 in 2017/18 and won the Middlesex County League Division 1 at the first attempt. This season they are playing at Step 7 in the Middlesex County League Premier Division and it seems have aspirations to continue to climb the pyramid.
They are playing in the FA Vase this season, thanks to the facilities provided by a groundshare with North Greenford United and beat the higher ranked Holmer Green in the 1st qualifying round, to set up another home tie today with Long Buckby, who had travelled from Northamptonshire. Long Buckby the last time i saw them a few years ago were at Step 5 but have struggled recently and arrived in London, one off the bottom of the United Counties League Division 1 (Step 6). I guess on paper however, they were still favourites against opponents playing County League football.
However, within 5 minutes of the kick off it became very clear to everyone watching that it was going to be a difficult afternoon for the visitors. St Panteleimon were very impressive going forward early on, moving the ball well, looking a very well drilled side and having a midfield and forward line who were keen to impose themselves on the opposition. After a couple of near misses , it was no surprise when the home side went in front after a cool finish from number 15* and the lead was doubled in the 24th minute when number 11 showed great composure to find the room to drill home a left foot shot. The visitors were struggling to cope with pace and directness of the St Panteleimon forwards and to be honest at that stage you really did fear for them.
However Long Buckby did begin to piece together a few attacks and trouble the home defence and from a knock down, the visitors captain number 5 managed to poke the ball home and bring them back into the game. The respite was brief though as the home side continued to dominate and went further in front after a perfect through ball left 11 through on goal again and he coolly finished past the advancing keeper.
Long Buckby looked a dispirited side at times and argued amongst themselves but to be fair to them i doubt they have come up against a side who pressed and harassed and looked for a mistake quite like St Panteleimon this season, they were relentless and it continued into the second half, where it is no exaggeration to say the home side could and probably should have scored 8 or 9, they really were that dominant going forward, only some poor finishing and players taking shots on when team mates were better placed stopped them. In the end they had to make do with just one more goal, as 11 again finished after a ball over the top on 82 minutes to make it 4-1.
So, in evaluation, St Panteleimon were as complete a Step 7 as i have seen play at this level in a long time, some of the football they played was a delight to watch and their pressing and hunting for the ball was reminiscent of a team or two much higher up the football pyramid. Long Buckby never gave up but they were up against opponents who on the day were far too good for them and it showed.
It will be very interesting to watch St Panteleimon as this competition progresses, i have watched a lot of FA Vase football over the years and this was as good an attacking display as i have seen from a Step 7 side. Teams higher up won’t know too much about them in future rounds and one or two more could come a cropper if they aren’t careful. On the flip side their defence wasn’t overly tested today and it will be interesting to see how they fare against a more purposeful attacking side.
Long Buckby will go back to league football now and hope to improve their league position, i believe they were missing a cup-tied forward on loan from Rugby Town today who may add more of an attacking threat, as they just seemed a bit off the pace today all over the pitch.
One thing is for certain though, i definitely know who St Panteleimon are now, an excellent afternoon’s entertainment. I look forward to taking in another game involving them if the opportunity arises.
Couple of side notes! (i don’t normally do this!)
1 * no teamsheet i could see today, so apologies for no players / scorers names in the report.
2. For any future Saturday / Sunday afternoon home games in the FA Vase , it would be great if St Panteleimon could persuade NGU to open the tea-bar and provide some hot food for supporters to purchase!