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11th March 2018

As with technology, those at the top usually get their way and after many years of arguments it looks likely that some form of winter break will happen in the future.

It has been muted that a break for the teams in the top flight will be assisted by changes to the FA Cup. Mid-week cup ties and no replays are looking like the way of accommodating the players being given the chance to rest and recuperate during the season. So definitely no lucrative overseas friendlies arranged during the 'break' then?

The Premier League is now becoming a closed shop for the top six or seven clubs and the Cups represent the only chance for the remainder of some success in a season when staying up is the only real motivation. Beyond the top flight the Cup has always been of massive importance. Down the divisions the revenue created is absolutely vital and the romance has never faltered as we have seen last season with the fairy tales of non-league Sutton United and Lincoln City.

This season Newport County and Rochdale both held Tottenham Hotspur to home draws and earned replays at Wembley, the highlights of some players careers and the rewards for a lifetimes support for the followers of these clubs.

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Football is not all about the big teams at the top, something we in the north-east are very much aware of. The tag of 'Football Hotbed' may have gradually been watered down over the decades without significant success, but that criticism certainly cannot be levelled at the region when it comes to non-league football.

I have always maintained that the main reason that so many top class match officials have come from the area is down to the grounding they received whilst learning the tricks of the trade in their own back garden, or more to the point on the grounds of clubs that are spread throughout the region.

It is very sad to hear that some of the stalwart clubs have fell by the wayside due in the main to the extreme financial pressures the game has inflicted upon them to survive in a sport that has increasing demands in terms of ground improvements and standards. Whilst some have gone, there are many new clubs, many who weren't even around in my Northern League days that have shot to prominence.

The proof of the pudding is most certainly in the eating and the record of clubs in our region in the FA Vase in recent years has been second to none. We are guaranteed at least one side at Wembley again this year with Marske United are facing Stockton Town over two legs over the next two Saturdays.

With Boro at Brentford next Saturday and it being an International break the following weekend I'm sure both grounds will be full to bursting and it's a pity that they were paired together at the semi-final stage as the tie between the two could easily have been at Wembley in the final.

Spennymoor United, under the guidance of Jason Ainsley, a top player during my days refereeing in non-league, have enjoyed a great run this season in the FA Trophy but more amazingly have seen their emergence leaving them looking at the possibility of promotion via the play-offs to The National League next season, which if Sunderland are relegated would leave them only two divisions apart next season.

As frightening as that sounds for the Mackems and their supporters, it shows that the game is strengthened by care and attention being given to the whole game and not just the Big clubs at the very top of the pyramid.

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