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FA Vase preview: Best of enemies! Marske United and Stockton Town bosses put friendship to one side

By Mark Carruthers

There is nothing particularly unique about two people sitting down to discuss football over a drink.

But in a bustling Teesside pub, there is something extra special about the conversation taking place between two particular friends.

It’s not about the impact of Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough, or the fine work of Boro chairman Steve Gibson, no, this conversation is about the two men pitting their sides against each other for a place at Wembley in one of the biggest Non-League ties that Teesside has witnessed in many a year.

Marske United manager Carl Jarrett and Stockton Town boss Michael Dunwell are former colleagues, opposing managers and long-term friends. Dunwell actually played under Jarrett during his time at Billingham Town.

“He was a nightmare when I had to tell him he was dropped,” said Jarrett. “He forgets I finished top-scorer that season,” was the instant reply from Dunwell.

Over the next two weeks their sides will meet as they look to become the ninth different Northern League club to play in an FA Vase Final in the last ten years. Marske go into the tie as slight favourites to progress and are seen as the bookmakers favourites to win the competition.

Jarrett admitted the tie has extra spice given the close bond between the two clubs, but refused to pay any attention to pre-tie predictions.

He said: “Looking at the scale of the game, given the league we play in and where we are from, it’s a huge game. I know their players, they know mine, it’s bigger than a normal game because of that.

“They will be hard games, we won’t take it lightly. Do I think we will turn them over?  I am not going to say yes, but it will be tough, very tough.”

The two sides have met earlier this season as Marske came out on top with a 3-0 win at Stockton’s Bishopton Road ground. Dunwell believes his side are stronger since that defeat in September but conceded that his side go into the tie as underdogs.

“I think they are favourites, but to say overwhelming favourites would be harsh on my squad,” said the former Hartlepool United striker. “We have some really good players and we have grown into the season.

“We didn’t have our strongest side out when we played them earlier in the season. We are a different side since then and I think we can trouble them.

“So in my eyes I think over two legs there isn’t much between us.”

“The bond between the two of us is clear. We speak about three times a day, he won’t leave me alone if I am honest with you,” he joked.

But does this mean it would hurt to put their opposition out of the competition with a glory day at Wembley within their grasp?

“Both clubs get respect for what they have done recently. He has done a great job and he deserves accolades.

“It would have been hard to beat them at Wembley because I am not sure you would want to see a good mate go through that.

“A semi-final defeat I think you can get over eventually. If we beat them they will support us, and we will support them at Wembley if they beat us.”

Now both friends can certainly raise a glass to that sentiment.


*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper which is available every Sunday and Monday

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