(ON THE MARCH: Dean Holmes nets an important goal in North Shields’ Vase campaign in 2015 sparking a pitch invasion)
By Mark Carruthers
Dean Holmes hasn’t had an easy start to life at Newcastle Benfield.
The pacey winger moved to Sam Smith’s Park from Northern League Division One rivals North Shields during the summer, but has faced a tough battle to find a regular place in the Lions’ starting line-up.
Slowly, but surely, Holmes has started to make inroads and caught the eye in Benfield’s 2-0 win against 1874 Northwich in the FA Vase second round.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that Holmes excelled in a competition that he knows all too well.
Holmes made just under 300 appearances over two spells with North Shields and was a key figure in their run to the FA Vase Final in 2015.
The Robins saw off the likes of Consett, Phoenix Sports, Erith & Belvedere and Highworth Town to set up a Wembley date with Glossop North End.
Graham Fenton’s side went into the final as outsiders, but goals from Gareth Bainbridge and Adam Forster helped them recover from going behind on 55 minutes to ensure that the Vase was won by a North East club for the sixth time in seven years.
Holmes played for just under 70 minutes of the final before being forced off with a hamstring injury but the experience has left an indelible impact on his career.
“It’s massive for us at this level,” he told The NLP. “It’s the biggest competition for players at Step 5 and below in my opinion. Yes, we have the FA Cup, but it’s unrealistic for any Non-League club to think that they can get to Wembley.
“I have always said that there are professional players, top players, that don’t get to play at Wembley during their careers.
“But then you get normal, working-class lads being able to live that dream and play in front of their friends and families in a cup final there. It’s a wonderful competition and one that will always be special to me because of what we achieved at North Shields.”
Holmes will resume his quest to make a return to the home of English football in this year’s competition when Benfield host Runcorn Town in the third round on the first weekend of December.
Talk has already turned towards that tie as Tom Wade’s side look to move within four wins of walking out at Wembley.
The winger believes there is a special buzz about Vase ties and admitted he couldn’t have dreamt of the success he has experienced in the competition.
“There’s bigger crowds, there is something unique about waking up on the morning of Vase game,” Holmes added.
“You know the league is the bread and butter, every manager says that, but you can’t deny there is a special feel about preparing for a Vase game.
“It’s the best feeling ever and it gets better and better as you get towards Wembley.
“The quarter-final and semi-finals are every bit as special as being at Wembley and I have as many fond memories of those games as I do about walking out in the final.
“But I found walking out at Wembley a quite a emotional experience.
“I didn’t even dream of it as a kid, because it just didn’t feel as if it would ever happen.
“It was one of the best moments of my life and it was extra special to leave Wembley as a winner alongside a lot of very good friends.
“You can’t help but dream about doing that all over again.”